by Rohan Sinha (’23) | October 7, 2022
From August 8 to 9, Saint Francis faculty and students gathered on campus for the first-ever Freshman Connection Days, an event to welcome the Class of 2026. This new addition to freshman programming enabled the newest members of the Lancer community to explore campus opportunities before the school year began.
Freshman students participated in 45-minute student-led exploration sessions featuring various aspects of student life. Some sessions showcased clubs, as was the case with the “Creative Frame of Mind” session featuring Mindframes. These sessions allowed freshmen to preview clubs before joining them during the school year. Other sessions offered participants the chance to build community without necessarily promoting an activity, such as the “Hoop, There It Is” session that featured pickup basketball.
Ms. Natalie Lai (’06), Director of School Culture and Belonging, described the brainstorming process for this event that began in March. She noted the importance of developing close connections within the freshman class, given the recent return to in-person classes: “[O]ur freshman Lancers’ middle school years were interrupted by online school for two years…starting high school may be especially intimidating because of that interruption.” For many students, the Connection Days helped ease the transition to in-person learning in a new environment.
To facilitate community-building among the Class of 2026, the flexible “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” format of the Connection Days enabled participants to attend exploration sessions based on their interests, a departure from the structure and rigidity often associated with welcome events. Ms. Lai added, “Each club and program had the flexibility to choose what they wanted to do in each of their sessions, which led to organic conversations and mentorship.”
The schedule for the Connection Days was similar across both days, beginning with a welcome message and prayer from Ms. Lai and student leaders. After Ms. Lai explained the structure of the Freshman Connection Days, freshmen participants had the opportunity to choose exploration sessions to attend.
Freshman participants and student leaders alike were enthusiastic. Quiz Bowl board member Ishan Pachauri (’24) described a well-received exploration session he helped lead for Quiz Bowl, “Buzz in to Win,” which featured a Jeopardy-style trivia contest. Pachauri noted the large number of “freshmen eagerly awaiting to get their tickets,” exceeding his expectations. He added that the buzzer system, part of any Jeopardy competition, added an element of friendly competition and energy.
This combination of enthusiasm among the Class of 2026, as well as student and faculty leadership, inspired Ms. Lai, who described the diverse “representation from so many different parts of our school, ranging from performances by Fanaa and Varsity Pom Squad, to student and educator speakers, and around 15 different programs that offered Exploration Sessions at each hour on both days.” She also appreciated the energetic reception of the event by the freshman class, who demonstrated eagerness to participate in new activities.
After the last exploration sessions concluded, freshmen, student leaders, and faculty congregated in the Burns Gym to reflect on the day. The Connection Days featured a performance by the Fanaa Bollywood dance team, with an opening speech by Vera Borodyansky (’23). With her speech and subsequent performance, Borodyansky hoped to convey the unique role Fanaa has in community building on campus: “Fanaa is not some random group of students, but an inclusive family that depends on its members.”
The Connection Days were a success, with seventy percent of the freshman class in attendance according to Ms. Lai. Moreover, over 100 student leaders and twenty educators volunteered to welcome the Class of 2026, either by offering exploration sessions or serving as greeters and ushers. Ultimately, the Freshman Connection Days were a product of the enthusiasm of the freshman class and the hard work of Saint Francis faculty and student leaders helping the newest Lancers feel at home.
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