COLONIE — Being smart can mean many things. Some people can master quantum physics but can’t tie their shoes. Others can create beautiful works of art but can’t balance a checkbook. Still others can build the Taj Mahal but can’t grasp a haiku.
At Colonie High, SMART was turned into a universal acronym for its incoming freshmen: Students Making a Responsible Tomorrow.
For the first time — in addition to traditional orientation materials and activities — to help prepare students for the leap from one of South Colonie’s two middle schools to its high school, students were exposed to health and wellness practices, conflict resolution ideas, diversity, equity and inclusion, problem solving and civic responsibility.
The nearly two-week program culminated on Friday, July 22, with a massive cleanup of Schuyler Flatts Cultural Park where scores of incoming freshman trimmed hedges and walked around the park with garbage bags picking up debris left behind by those who are less civic minded.
“We collaborated on what would be a better more fulfilling experience for our students as they become familiar with the expectations of culture and humanitarianism at Colonie High school,” said Executive Principal Tom Kachadurian. “Doing it during freshman orientation is a new concept, but giving back to the community is nothing new at all at Colonie High and we want to make sure, as we come out of the pandemic, our students understand the cultural expectations, that we are service oriented and we are civically responsible and we need to give back in any way we can.”
The students — armed with clippers, gloves, rakes, bags, litter picker-uppers and other implements of civic responsibility — were enjoying the hard work and meeting students from the “other” middle school.
“This is one of the best days of my life because we get to meet people, and help out our community. It is a good feeling to help others and to make this whole area a better place,” said incoming freshman Kaylee Connell while taking a break from picking up branches and doing a television news report. “I feel like once you get into high school you have more freedom and new opportunities and it is nice mixing with the other middle school and meeting a lot of new people and it is really exciting.”
“I think it is great to be helping out the community and cleaning up the park so everyone can enjoy it,” said Levi Schoonover, an incoming freshman who was taking a break from loading up a truck with newly trimmed branches.
Associate Principal Stephanie Luce, who will be the Class of ‘27’s principal for the next four years, said the goal of the new type of orientation is to prepare the whole student in addition to getting them ready to become book smart.
“Each student did four hours of traditional orientation and this is our capstone project,” she said. “We feel strongly about community service at Colonie and it really brings kids together and allows them to build friendships as well as work towards a common goal. They are working together and doing a great job and making new friendships prior to starting the school year in September.”
The orientation compliments Colonie High’s goal of seeing all students earn the Seal of Civic Readiness through the state Education Department. That status is achieved by students earning points that show an understanding of “a commitment to participatory government, civic responsivity and civic values.”
“It’s a wonderful way to give back to the community, but also to teach students that somethings are bigger than themselves and you can learn outside a traditional classroom,” said Superintendent David Perry. “We have done some cleanups but nothing of this magnitude and certainly not with the freshman class. This is a great way to get to know each other and start the school year on a positive note.”
One of the more difficult logistical hurdles was finding a park in the Town of Colonie that needed the attention of dozens of ambitious, high-energy teenagers. But, the plan is to implement a similar program for incoming freshmen going forward.
“A collective agency of these kids working in one direction towards a common good is the concept I want to make sure they get here,” Kachadurian said. “Together they can do anything, and among that is achieve some greatness and restoring peace and posterity and positivity in this world.”
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