'Looking forward to a great year' on New Trier's freshman campus
The principal first felt it earlier this month when athletes started scrambling around Robert Naughton Field at New Trier's freshman campus in Northfield.
A senior felt it when he was back with his pals in the cafeteria.
The nearly 900 members of the Class of 2025 felt it when they piled into the Naughton Field bleachers for New Trier's annual Freshman Welcome Rally on Aug. 23, first day of school for New Trier Township High School District 203.
"It feels great," said Paul Waechtler, in his 10th year as Northfield Campus principal, and his 22nd year overall at New Trier.
"It's been, obviously, 15 months since we've had anywhere near that number of kids on this campus," he said. "Seeing that energy, seeing them excited about being on a high school campus again, getting excited for the year just made me smile. I walked around all day looking in classrooms and in hallways, and it just felt so great to have a lot of energy back on the campus."
The freshman campus at 7 Happ Road, Northfield, opened in 2001. Founded in 1901, the main New Trier campus is at 385 Winnetka Road, in Winnetka.
The Welcome Rally has been held before in a gymnasium, but on a hot Monday, the freshmen were greeted by several presentations from the Trevians cheerleading squad on Naughton's turf field, including renditions of the school song the freshmen hopefully committed to memory.
Several people delivered brief speeches: Waechtler; Paul Moretta, freshman campus athletics coordinator; Dan Paustian, Social Work Department coordinator; and New Trier seniors Natalie Freres and Cole Handelman.
Moretta and Paustian also are part of a nifty program at New Trier, the Adviser Program, which debuted in 1928. Diverse groups of about 25 freshmen are each assigned an adviser who will meet with them for about 25 minutes at the start of each day spanning their sophomore, junior and senior years.
Friendships are made, and parents are in the loop, said Nicole Dizon, New Trier's director of communications and alumni relations.
"They (advisers) really get to know these kids very well," she said.
The message to the frosh from both Freres and Handelman was the importance of getting involved.
Freres, a member of New Trier's lacrosse and field hockey teams, said that her involvement produced a possible career choice.
"For me, personally, I went into High-Five Choir, which is a class for kids with special needs as well as typical students who sing together," said Freres, whose top college choices are Wisconsin and Vanderbilt.
"That really sparked a passion for me in the special education community, and it has taught me that's what I want to do when I'm older. So getting involved, finding what you love, finding the people that you love within those small communities, is really important in this big of a school," she said.
Handelman, point guard on the Trevians varsity boys basketball team, agreed.
Involvement is "super, super, super important," he told the crowd.
After the freshmen had left Naughton Field, he said they were "lucky" to have a more normal first day compared to what he'd experienced under the COVID-19 pandemic.
He'd had questions himself about the start of the 2021-22 campaign.
"I didn't know how school was going to go, and then after the first day today, it felt supernormal, just with masks on," he said.
"We ate lunch as whole tables, we sat close to each other in class, we can do group stuff, the periods are good. I just felt super-comfortable; it's just obviously we're wearing masks right now and hopefully in the future things will be different. But these guys have four really good years ahead of them, so I think it's all going to be normal for them."
Once in season, or as part of an extracurricular activity, students such as Freres and Handelman and those unvaccinated must participate in mandatory weekly COVID testing using the SHIELD test, Waechtler said, but testing is available to all students.
With the support of the New Trier community inside the school and out, he said, the challenges to start this school year were "relatively small" compared to last school year.
"It feels great to start a school year again pretty close to normal," he said. "I think our teachers are excited to have full classrooms and not worry about hybrid. So there's lots of really positive energy from both students and staff, and we're just looking forward to a great year."