The freshman perspective
Comparing the class of 2024 freshman experience to that of previous years
When senior Eric Zheng first stepped onto campus three years ago, on his first day of freshman year, he remembers feeling that MVHS was intimidating, confusing and somewhat hectic as he tried to find his way through the campus and get to class.
“In the beginning, it was pretty bad because I really had no clue where to go,” Eric said. “I remember just going [around] with this planner to find [each] place. Every teacher is like, ‘Go into your planner, mark your classes.’ I’d say on a scale from one to 10, one being really easy and 10 being super hard, finding a classroom was a seven [during] the first, maybe three, four days.”
Daunted by the sheer number of students, Eric found his first-day experience a starkly different one from his time at Kennedy Middle School. Throughout the day, his main goals were to navigate the campus and meet up with his friends.
“I was so confused by everyone, and it was because [high school] was double the amount of people in middle school,” Eric said. “[There were] a lot of upperclassmen, a lot more diversity than [in] my middle school as well … You could feel the competitive air. So that experience is a lot different and very intimidating.”
With school starting remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the incoming freshman class of 2024 is getting a different experience. Freshman Michelle Zheng, Eric’s younger sister, feels that her first week of online high school was underwhelming.
“[The] first week was awkward — to be honest — it was just a teacher giving a presentation [then] sending us to breakout rooms,” Michelle said. “Inside of the breakout rooms … nobody was willing to speak to each other unless [they] were paired up with friends.”
Freshman Ishanvi Kommula shared a similar experience with Michelle. She found it frustrating to communicate with both her friends and new classmates.
“Usually when I come into the first few weeks of school, I’m pretty outgoing and I make friends kind of easily,” Ishanvi said. “But I think for the first day of school, I didn’t talk to anyone at all. Then on the second day … the teachers made it clear that they wanted you to participate.”
Ishanvi’s experience highlights how many teachers, such as English teacher Vanessa Otto, relied on icebreakers and interest forms to welcome their students without in-person interaction. To Michelle, however, these introductions were short, and the online factor limited any further interactions.
“[The teachers] did the presentations, but I wouldn’t say [they were proper introductions] because … usually I would also talk to teachers after school,” Michelle said. “So I [wouldn’t] say [we] connected as well.”
Ishanvi also feels that her teachers’ pre-recorded presentations and icebreakers were not very engaging. She believes that her overall first week classes made shallow attempts at generating connections between her teachers and peers alike.
Eric, on the other hand, had more extensive in-person interactions with his peers and teachers during the beginning of his freshman year. Thus, he says he managed to create quite a strong connection from the get-go with biology teacher Kenneth Gan. Doing so set him up for a productive and hands-on summer.
“I actually went to a summer camp at Stanford, and I asked Gan for a [recommendation] letter,” Eric said. “He wrote me a really good [one] and that’s how I got in. So [the] first connection with the teacher does help.”
Like Eric, senior Abhinav Kommula, Ishanvi’s older brother, feels that he had a good opportunity to network with his teachers in order to connect with them later on in the year. Abhinav believes that establishing proper relationships with teachers is important when it comes to high school, a change from his mindset in middle school. While Eric was intimidated by the large student body at school, Abhinav found this and the MVHS culture fun and interesting.
“Entering Monta Vista, seeing the huge campus and adjusting to the new culture because obviously, [at] MVHS [it] seems like students have a lot of emphasis on studies,” Abhinav said. “I guess my most memorable [memory] would probably be when I first entered my Biology classroom and I learned that we were going to do pig dissections … That’s something that’s very exciting and very hands-on, and I never expected you to do something that massive in high school.”
In regards to the experiences and opportunities for MVHS freshmen, Eric believes that future classes’ first day experiences would likely differ from that of the Class of 2024.
“[The Class of] 2024 really didn’t have a first day of school,” Eric said. “If we went back to school [during] second semester, I think it’ll be a different experience for us and a different experience for 2025. [Their] experience will probably be normal.”
Eric advises incoming students to set themselves up for the upcoming years, emphasizing the importance of adapting to the quarantine period by developing new study habits. These habits, he believes, will be essential in taking on the more demanding load of high school.
“I know a lot of people, including myself, have a really poor [study] schedule, or not as good as what we have in face-to-face learning,” Eric said. “I think it’d be important for freshmen to establish a good working habit early on to avoid suffering in junior year. That’s really important.”