Fast Start; Integration or Isolation?

Each year, Harvard-Westlake welcomes around 80 new ninth grade students in addition to the existing 200. New students go through the Fast Start program, a process seventh graders go through as well. However, the ninth grade Fast Start program has done little to integrate the new students into the grade as a whole.

The Fast Start program introduces incoming students to the campus, and way of life here at Harvard-Westlake. The program lasts five days, where students go through four class periods a day, starting two weeks before school starts. Students don’t get to attend their real classes, but they get acquainted with skills such as using the Hub, the student portal, and the Honor Code.

“The first part of the process [of integrating the students] is fast start. We encourage all new ninth graders to do Fast Start because it is so important. They get to meet each other, who are all in the same boat. And on the first day, when they show up, it is not as daunting,” said ninth-grade dean Elizabeth Ilg.

However, while Fast Start introduces students to the works of the campus, it fails to integrate students into the grade as a whole. The pre-existing students had little exposure to the new students before the school year started, creating cliques.

“I do see a lot of the new ninth graders who met at fast start grouping up and staying together, kind of isolating themselves from the rest of the grade,” said Abel Pereira ‘23, a new ninth grader.

It is human nature to cling to comfortability, and due to our hormonal teenage awkwardness, talking to new people can be quite intimidating. When thrown in a school setting, where competition and social status becomes more evident, the pressure from ourselves to appear a certain way can hurt the ability students have to mingle between different cliques.

Seventh grade Fast Start enables students who were in the program to fully interact and observe their entire grade in a low pressure environment. While most will not have the chance to personally get to know the whole class, they have an opportunity to familiarize themselves with over two-fifths of their grade.

“I feel like I’ve gotten to know a good portion of by grade through fast start, so I didn’t feel as lost on the first day,” states Tiffany Armour ‘25.

While Fast Start would be redundant for pre-existing students to go to, it would be ideal to be able to have some sort of interaction with students before the beginning of the school year, in a more relaxed environment.

“I think the new ninth graders are integrated well with the other new ninth graders, but I think the school could put a little more effort in integrating them with the old ninth graders,” said Lily Lee, ‘23.

The school should do more to integrate the new and old students, but we should also keep in mind the responsibilities students have to be as warm and welcoming to others. It’s intimidating to put yourself out there to be judged, and be vulnerable to rejection. But human connections are vital, and you never know what’s going to last. It’s never too late to meet new people, so current and future ninth-graders; put yourself out there, make new friendships, and embrace all people.

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