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Freshman orientation gets new look in COVID world

Alana and Marlie welcoming first-year students to orientation at ETHS today.

Marlie remembers the good old days, when she was a freshman at Evanston Township High School.

Those good old days were two years ago. Marlie recalls a sense of “general exuberance” and “being a little nervous, too.”

Standing a socially distanced six feet away, Alana, another ETHS junior, remembers her freshman orientation as well, and how upper class student ambassadors “reassured her that things were going to be fine.”

Today, now student ambassadors themselves, Marlie and Alana stood alongside the road leading to ETHS, wearing school t-shirts, and holding signs reminding everyone showing up to wear a mask and to socially distance.

Things have certainly changed. When Marlie and Alana had orientation, everything was inside the school … pick up Chromebooks and actual books, sign papers if necessary, and ask those questions that a slightly frightened freshman might have about entering such a huge school. Find your locker too.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of changes. Everything is outdoors. Lockers are irrelevant when school is remote. There are orientation stations along the driveway, and teacher-staffed covered areas for those with concerns.

The field house is filled with hundreds of book bags, each one loaded with a computer, with good old-fashioned real-live books, and with items specific to certain classes. The book bags are loaded into the car as mom or dad pulls up. Sort of the academic equivalent of no-touch delivery.

Associate Principal Taya Kinzie was one of those braving the heat at an outdoor station. “We have a whole system in place,” Kinzie says. Freshman orientation (transfer student orientation as well) runs through Wednesday. ETHS has more than 900 incoming first year students.

Back along the road holding their signs, Marlie and Alana are comfortable with the system. “We’re trying to make it as safe and comfortable as possible,” Alana says. Marlie agrees. “I think ETHS is doing a good job” under circumstances nobody could have envisioned in the good old days, back when they were freshmen.

keywords » COVID-19

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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