The first day of high school can be stressful for incoming students. A massive school building, new classmates, and greater responsibilities can be overwhelming.
Suzanne Sevick, teacher and English Department Chair at Derby High School, recognizes the new pressures incoming freshmen face when walking through the DHS doors for the first time. Sevick proposed the need for Panther Crew eight years ago and the program has evolved and improved throughout the years.
Panther Crew is a group of DHS students who act as peer leaders and mentors to incoming freshmen as well as transfer students. The students are all returning DHS students who lead their new peers on orientation day on Aug. 13 and serve as friendly faces the first weeks of school. Instead of just having teachers or staff members lead orientation, there is value in having peers being the ones to help new students out when adjusting to high school.
Orientation first consists of helping new students navigate through the school with their new class schedule. Panther Crew also leads real talk where new students can ask the questions older students might be better equipped to answer than teachers, such as how to balance school, extracurriculars, and dating.
Students also get a chance to meet new classmates when coming into a bigger school.
“I always enjoy being able to see them shy in the first hour and then get more involved and talk,” said senior Daniel Archer, Panther Crew’s president.
A highlight of the day is the skits performed by teachers. Teachers are quick to volunteer to perform humorous skits to show appropriate and inappropriate behavior by students. Mr. Packard, Mr. Rhodes, and Mr. Belson are some of the teachers who have particularly enjoyed hamming it up for students in years past.
Another big aspect of this year is promoting incoming students to learn and get involved with all that the high school has to offer. There are clubs, sports and extracurricular activities that fit all different types of personalities and hobbies. This year many clubs will have tables set up in the hall for orientation, so new students can learn about different activities they can get involved with.
“There is something for every kid,” said Sevick. “There are a lot of opportunities in high school.”
For the first few weeks of school, members of Panther Crew wear green shirts identifying them so new students know who can help them out if they get lost on the way to class or just don’t know who to sit with at lunch. If there are some students that are a little more emotional on the first days of school, Panther Crew members also are there to be as a friend if adjusting
is harder than expected.
Archer, while already a more outgoing student, shared that he benefited from meeting a senior track athlete who was on Panther Crew his freshman year. When Archer joined track himself, he knew a friendly face on the team right from the start.
Beyond helping new students, Panther Crew is a great opportunity for leadership among returning Derby students. The group consists of all different types of teens. Some are athletes, thespians, musicians, ROTC, student government, and some just want to get involved in the school in a way they have not been before. Students who want to become Panther Crew members are all interviewed and have their school record checked to ensure they are a good fit for the Crew.
Beyond the first weeks of school, Panther Crew members are also an important part of 8th grade tours in the winter.
For those still nervous about starting at DHS, Archer hopes students and parents realize there is no reason to stress.
“Derby is the best high school,” said Archer.