How FAME went from an unpredictable trial to a polished program

Madison Hart, print director

In late August, approximately five hundred students file through the high school doors for the first time filled with nerves, fear, and worry that they will never be able to find their classes, let alone be able to get to them within five minutes. As syllabuses and information about the year gets packed into their brains all morning long, they finally make it to the time of day where they can find familiarity in a brand new and overwhelming school: the lunchroom.

After quickly reuniting with friends and talking about their days and classes, a bell goes off in the middle of the period. Suddenly, the freshman are led away to classes filled with other freshman they do not know, and the dread settles in as they realize half of their lunch will be taken away three times a week for the entire year.

However, this year’s freshman class has a different outlook on the lunch time class. Rather than dreading spending twenty two minutes in a classroom with their peers, they have embraced the Freshman Achieving Maximum Excellence program (FAME), and are making an effort to put their best foot forward.

“I first heard about the program at the beginning of eighth grade because I had friends who were freshman in high school,” Ashleigh Miller, 2015-2016 FAME student, said. “They said it was helpful and it was really nice to have people to look up to for guidance, and so far the program has exceeded my expectations.”

When the FAME program was implemented in the 2014-2015 school year, many people had reservations about the impact the program would have or were critical of the program’s three day schedule. Now that the program has completed its first year, FAME has not only improved, but it has found a way to get freshman excited as well.

“I think last year’s kids were just upset that they weren’t getting their full lunch period, but they didn’t realize as freshmen that you don’t need a full forty minutes to eat lunch. It was hard to be the first year without a full lunch, and I get that, so it was probably just the fact that nobody else had to give up their lunch until last year’s freshman came,” Sangami Pugazenthi, senior FAME leader, said. “On the flip side, I think this year’s freshmen came in thinking things like, ‘Why are we doing this? Why do we need FAME? Why do we need to miss our lunch?’ But now I think they realize how the things we teach them about from studying to socializing really do come in handy, and that they can use those lessons everyday.”

Before the program began, freshman like Jacklyn Schlender, 2014-2015 FAME student, were concerned that losing half of a lunch period would not allow them to study or meet with teachers, which in turn would create more stress in an environment that was already hard to adapt to. While Schlender says she did manage to work around the program and found some things beneficial, FAME quickly lost her interest.

“My least favorite part of FAME was that it was three times a week every week. It dragged on so much longer than necessary,” Schlender said. “We only needed it to get used to how high school worked and get the swing of things or fit in during the first month of the year. After that it became sort of pointless.”

Using this feedback, as well as other critiques from last year’s freshman, Pugazenthi says the leaders and counseling department have revamped some of the lessons in order to make every class contain helpful information as well as tips for coping with a naturally stressful freshman year.

“I wish I had the opportunity to go through the FAME program because freshman year was a lot of trial and error trying to figure out where to go for problems and who to talk to,” Pugazenthi said. “Now we are able to give them all of that information early on. It’s super structured and organized because they get all of that information, and though it was a learning curve for the upperclassmen when we were freshmen, now the current freshman have all the information they need from learning how to study for finals to calculating their own GPA. I learn something from the things I teach the freshmen all the time, and I think they are lucky to have these kind of resources early on so they can use the tips and tricks throughout high school.”

While Miller and Schlender may have different opinions on the value of the lessons taught in FAME, both agree that the leaders are the best part of the program and the key to its success.

“The best part of the FAME program is the fact that the leaders are people that I can look up to and they are always there to give advice or help when I need it,” Miller said. “They don’t treat us like we’re freshman. They treat us as though we’re their friends, rather than looking down on us because we are underclassman.”

Pugazenthi also says that the best part of her experience as a leader in the program has been the relationships she creates with the freshman, and that while the lessons are valuable, the leaders create the biggest impact.

“I think the best part for the freshmen specifically is that they have an upperclassman who is there for them and can answer all their questions about high school. We’re there to be their mentor and friend,” Pugazenthi said. “My favorite part of being a FAME leader is making a difference with the kids, whether it’s asking them about their day to giving them advice about certain classes. It’s awesome seeing them change and seeing their attitudes change about the program, as well as seeing them take into account the advice we give them and apply it to their own lives.”

Though the freshmen still have awhile to go in this year’s program, Miller is already working to make sure next year’s incoming class takes as much out of the program as she has and that they keep an open mind about what is in store.

“We write letters to next year’s freshman about what to take in about FAME, and the point I tried to make to them was that high school isn’t what you think,” Miller said. “You won’t get shoved in lockers or bullied, and ignore people’s negative opinions of FAME and freshman year because high school is a different experience for everyone. If you come in with a good attitude, everything will become a lot easier.”