Herds of cows walked past ambulatory crayons and a chain gang in the halls of Juneau-Douglas High School last week.
"Don't laugh at us," said Bethany Santos, costumed in brown paper as a cow, to a bunch of clowns with pointy caps. "You look bad, too."
Santos and 484 other freshmen were getting a look at the high school Friday before classes start Monday. They began with a pep rally with counselors, broke up into smaller groups for team-building activities with 55 upperclassmen, toured the school in costumes, heard from a panel of students and met teachers.
The unusual orientation, which is used in several hundred schools nationwide, is called Link because freshmen connect with upperclassmen who will spend some time with them throughout the year.
"When I was a freshman I didn't have anyone to help me through and I was terrified the first day," said senior Julia Johnson, one of the Link crew leaders.
As students entered the gym for a pep rally, upperclassmen gave them high fives and said, "Come on in."
Inside, counselor Lee Pearsall said she wasn't going to talk a lot about rules.
"We want to show you that we're a community of people," she said.
She told the freshmen, who filled the bleachers on one side of the gym, to give each other back rubs. She led them in silly songs and gestures, with their hands fluttering like birds around their heads. She enlisted volunteers in a game of breaking balloons by hugging a student.
"We want you to leave here today thinking this is a pretty cool place," counselor Jimmy McConnell told the crowd.
Freshmen Jenny Connally and Kristyn Johnson-Peters weren't too worried about high school because they had friends already from middle school days. But they looked forward to seeing the school during orientation.
"If you have a lot of friends and people you can count on to help you, it's not really a big concern," Connally said.
Emily Hemenway, though, who moved to Juneau from tiny Elfin Cove, population 50, was standing alone in a crowded, noisy commons, population 450, during a break.
"It's busy," she said looking around. "I've never been with this many kids before."
Hemenway was thankful for the orientation, she said, "because I don't know anybody here. It's really good because I didn't know where anything was."
Jenny Baxter, a senior, led 10 freshmen through a team-building game in a classroom.
The students had to cross a sewage-filled pond, one by one, by stepping on firm rocks and avoiding slippery turtles, all represented by white squares of paper on the floor. Baxter would tell them when a square was a safe rock or a turtle they had to get off of in a few seconds.
But there's always someone with a logical mind.
"So I don't get why you don't just jet across there," David Jones said. "You know another thing? You can totally tell the difference between a rock and a turtle when you're walking."
Still, they made it across. And then Baxter sprang her surprise -- brown and white-spotted paper costumes, with yellow stuffed paper udders, little brown ears on barrettes, and bells.
"I made you guys cow costumes and I'm a farmer. We get judged," Baxter said proudly of the costumes she had made for a contest.
"Do we have to wear that?" a girl asked. "Do we have to go in front of people?"
"How come none of us are guy cows?" logical guy Jones asked.
"We're moooving on," Baxter said, herding her cows through the hallways, as she pointed out teachers' rooms.
Baxter and the other Link leaders will stay in touch with their herds of freshmen throughout the year. They'll meet for monthly lunches and perhaps hold parties before dances. And they'll be there to protect freshmen from hazing at the first dance of the year, said senior Tom Bell.
"Link crew is so, so determined to keep that from happening," he said.
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