New MD students attend Dorr-ientation

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Nikita Pande, Staff Writer

For the first time since 2019, the Middle Division’s Dorr Orientation program returned to in- person programming. Starting August 19, rising sixth graders attended an overnight retreat to the John Dorr Nature Laboratory, Dean of the Class of 2029 John McNally said. 

Everyday, two new sixth grade advisories went on the trip, accompanied by their advisors, their Upper Division (UD) student mentors, and the Dorr faculty, he said. Rising seventh and eighth graders, typically in groups of 25 to 30 students, spent the following weekend at Dorr. Half of them were new students and the other half were returning peer mentors, Director of Dorr Nick DePreter said.  

Before orientation, students often feel anxious because major changes tend to be nerve wracking, McNally said. “We consider all incoming sixth graders new students, regardless if they’re from Lower Division or any other school.” It is normal for sixth grade students to be worried about making friends, getting lost, and not knowing what to do, he said.

The orientation program provides the students with a welcoming environment and new friends from the first day, alleviating students worries, McNally said. It familiarizes students with their advisor, dean, and Head of Division — a few of the many people who will look out for them and help them throughout their year, he said.

Four sixth grade advisories used to travel up to Dorr for three days and two nights, but orientation was modified to accommodate a smaller number of people for a shorter amount of time, DePreter said. Orientation will now focus more on each individual person and allow participants to build closer relationships with those around them. Additionally, families find it helpful that the program is one night long because it is easier to plan around and gives them more time to spend together before school starts, he said.

Allowing sixth graders to experience the program with their advisory is important, since advisories stay the same throughout middle school, DePreter said. “This amount of time that they’re a group is a real gift to them,” he said.

The orientation experience is so vital that students who aren’t able to go on the trip with their advisory come with another group instead, Head of the Middle Division Javaid Khan said. “Every student takes part in Dorr Orientation. That’s a hallmark of our program — we put it on the calendar now in July for next year,” he said.

Team-building initiatives and icebreaker games were among the activities students participated in at orientation, DePreter said. Dorr is a different environment from regular school, which makes it special, DePreter said. “Visiting MD faculty have a chance to see their kids for who they are.”

Building a raft with students’ advisories and UD mentors is often the highlight of the trip. The Dorr faculty has never seen two identical rafts take sail, DePreter said. 

Older middle schoolers enjoyed climbing the Odyssey, a ropes course. Although some students had a fear of heights, they worked together to conquer their mutual fear. This reinforces the important message that it is okay to be vulnerable around peers and rely on them for support, he said.

One activity students participated in was the Circle of Uniqueness, Khan said. In this activity, each person shares something interesting about themselves and anyone who relates to it steps into the circle to join them. Once school begins, it reminds students of the similarities they have with their peers, which helps them facilitate conversations and make friends, he said. 

In addition to games and bonding activities, a major component of the program is Beauty and Order. This aspect of the orientation involves students splitting into teams with different responsibilities to care for the facility, such as preparing and clearing the tables for meals, washing dishes, and cleaning the bathrooms, DePreter said. 

Another difference from last year’s program is that after the trip to Dorr, sixth graders spent a few hours on campus where they met McNally and Khan again, McNally said. “We give them a number of problems that they might face — and when I say ‘might,’ I mean they will, whether it’s they themselves or a good friend of theirs,” Khan said. These scenarios range from losing items, to being unable to open their lockers,or missing class. They brainstorm solutions to these issues as a group, which helps students remember what to do when the time calls for it, he said.

A key component of the orientation program is making students aware of who is available as a resource, Khan said. “If we can at least point you to the right people and say ‘here’s how you can get the solution to the thing you’re looking for,’ you feel so much better,” he said.

The positive effects of the Dorr trip happen overnight, Khan said. So far, students have appeared to come back having grown exponentially closer as a group. “It’s almost like they’ve been in this school already.”