The transition from middle school to high school can be a tough one for any incoming freshman, especially with the recent renovations that have taken place at St. Croix Central High School. That is one of the reasons why principal Kurt Soderberg and his staff decided to create the Pathfinders group, which is made up of 28 juniors and seniors.
"We are getting big enough now that we feel like it isn't the case any more that most of the freshman walk into the high school and have already been here and know what is going on. A lot of kids haven't been in the high school before, other than for athletic events," Soderberg said. "Immediately, those freshman have two Pathfinder leaders in their group that they know they can count on and rely on for anything. We wanted to connect the older kids who have been around with the incoming freshman to try and make it as comfortable as we can for them. The advantage is that, the more comfortable as human beings we are in this place, the more likely they are to learn and want to be there."
According to Soderberg, 50 students applied to be one of the 28 members of the Pathfinders group, which is meant to be a leadership group that helps transition freshman to the high school every year.
"The selection for Pathfinders wasn't all about selecting the best, brightest or most popular students. We tried to get a real cross section of interest level so we could make connections with more students," Soderberg said. "We did have a larger number of girls get accepted than we had boys, but ideally we'd be 50/50 split between boys and girls. That being said, this year worked out great."
Students can apply to be a Pathfinder starting in the spring, with the students going through a three-hour leadership course put on by the high school staff to prepare them to help the freshman when they arrive at freshman orientation, or Panther 101. The Pathfinder leaders are split up and given a small group of freshman to lead through activities during orientation.
"We are talking about these juniors and seniors coming in on a Sunday night in the summer and training for three hours. They were also in on a Wednesday from 7 a.m. to noon to commit to those freshman. That is pretty impressive in itself," Soderberg said. "They get that experience which they will have to use in all situations for the rest of their lives. It is a scary time for the freshman, and parents as well, and having the Pathfinders in place puts everybody at ease."
Soderberg thinks that one thing the administration will change to next year's schedule for the Pathfinders is to take the group to the middle school to meet with the freshman for the first time on their turf.
During the first three days of the school year, the Pathfinders wear a brightly colored t-shirt — this year's was bright green — to let freshman know who they can come to if they have any questions during the first few days of their freshman year.
"It is beneficial to both groups, since the freshman get a connection and the juniors and seniors get a chance to really lead," Soderberg said.
The Pathfinders and freshman connect four times throughout the semester to do a fun activity and spend time together. The Pathfinders also get together by themselves to continue their leadership training.
"I'd say it has helped with upperclassmen to develop in social and peer leadership. In the training, we covered how to manage and facilitate conversations, how to communicate effectively and how to listen effectively. Those are some of the big skills that leaders, and humans in general, need to be effective people," Koele said.
Teachers involved with the Pathfinders include: Zach Turpin, Emily Timmers, Courtney Hawkins, Jeff Fern and Tracy Klein.