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Writing Portfolio – Incoming Students Earn Their HALOs

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Incoming SJA Students Earn Their HALOs – July 20, 2011
The Caledonian-Record
by Leah Carey
Staff Writer

It’s not every day you see a free lunch being served in the park outside the Caledonia County Courthouse.

More precisely, it’s one day a year that incoming St. Johnsbury Academy freshmen serve lunch as part of the Hilltopper Alternative Learning Opportunities program.

This year, 30 incoming freshmen participated along with eight junior counselors – former HALO attendees who are now rising sophomores, juniors and seniors – and 10 faculty members. The HALO program began Sunday and concludes today with a hike up Burke Mountain. The week emphasized various themes including attitude, goal setting, respect, kindness, service and gratitude.

Richard Boisseau and Bruce Burke began the program 12 years ago when they recognized that there were some freshmen who needed extra help with integration.

“We discovered they were detached – from school, from social groups – so we took them on some hikes and saw how useful it was. We started thinking of ideas to avoid discovering the students who need help later and to get them before they come in. This way, the transition can be smooth, positive and successful.”

According to current coordinator Jerry Prevost, the HALO program has developed into a week of activities to “get students acclimated through team building, ropes courses and a dinner they cooked for their families that served about 250 people.”

The program also includes an introduction to the classrooms and academic areas the students will encounter during their freshman year.

Middle school guidance counselors identify students who may be at risk of having trouble transitioning and recommend them for the program. Some parents also request their students be included.

Faculty member Sarah Garey says the program is particularly good for helping students who have high anxiety about moving into high school.

“It’s also really helpful for kids who have been home schooled,” Garey said.

The support doesn’t just end with closing ceremonies either. Prevost said they will continue to check in with the students and do support meetings throughout high school.

“They even put together a time capsule this week to open two weeks before they graduate in four years,” he said.

This year’s dean of freshmen, Terrence Reed, marvels at how much he has already seen the students grow in the past five days.

“It’s been amazing,” Reed said. “It’s a great way for them to support each other in the beginning, and then, when the rest of the class shows up, they step into leadership roles.”

Alana Mach, a rising sophomore who participated in HALO last year and is a junior counselor this year, agreed.

“I loved it last year,” Mach said. “Getting to learn the school was my biggest dilemma. So I did it, but it was so much more than learning the school. I got to meet people from all different schools and make friends. This year I get to be more of a leader with others, rather than just following.”

“Kindness and service” was the theme for the day on Thursday. The free lunch that HALO students prepared and served in Courthouse Park, and in front of the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center, was designed to exemplify that theme through community service.

Incoming freshman Lauren Blackmon said, “It’s a free lunch that’s supposed to be motivating and positive.”

Prevost estimated that they would serve about 300 to 400 people at both locations.

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