At the end of most school days, the Ferndale High School leadership class hosts a frenetic 30-second party for one student. Specifically, one ninth grader.
When the ninth grader opens the door to the leadership classroom, they’re greeted with a blast of noise and excitement. The entire leadership class forms a tunnel – many of them standing on top of chairs – and cheer for the student like they just won the Super Bowl. At the end of the tunnel, the student receives a letter, a small gift, and a poster with their name on it. And it all wraps up in about half a minute, giving the student a burst of endorphins without missing much class.
“It’s really nice!” said ninth grader Emilia Belous, who was honored on April 11. “When the (leadership kids) were on the chairs, that was cool.”
Freshmen celebrations have become a beloved FHS tradition over the past two years. Some of the four leadership students who run the events this year specifically said their ninth grade memories made them want to give that same experience to this year’s freshmen.
“I remember when it happened for me – I told myself that when I was in leadership, this was going to be a project that I took on,” said junior Ella Archer. I want to be able to do this to somebody else, because I remember how it made me feel.”
“They came and got us, and I was like, ‘oh, what’s going on?’ Then it was a big celebration,” said fellow junior Mallory Butenschoen. “I was like, ‘This is awesome, I want to be part of this when I’m older.’ ”
FHS teachers and staff can nominate any ninth grader who they feel are a stand-out student. Throughout the school year, the leadership class works through that list of nominees, picking one student per day. About 20 minutes before the final bell rings, a few students quietly pull the ninth grader out of class (with their teacher’s permission) and bring them to the leadership room.
The celebrations began in March 2021, not long after students returned to in-person school after a year of distance learning, said leadership teacher Marty Moravec.
“Our students were really aware that the current freshmen at that time had never experienced a high school assembly or a game, with the hype and excitement and celebration,” he said. “They came up with a way to bring that energy to one student at a time.”
Spencer Richins, a junior in the leadership class, said it’s important to embrace younger students as part of the FHS community.
“High school is a big place and getting used to it is a little difficult – I know it was for me,” he said. “It’s cool for us to recognize them and let them know that they're noticed, everyone matters, and they belong.”
Moravec agreed, adding that the celebrations create an opportunity to praise students who may not otherwise get their time in the spotlight.
“So many kids don’t play sports or aren’t in a club, but they’re still being amazing human beings,” he said. “Freshmen celebrations give us an opportunity to recognize and celebrate that.”
The leadership students who organize the celebrations said they love to see the ninth graders glow with appreciation.
“I just like that it brings a smile to the freshman’s face when they walk through the doors and everyone’s cheering for them,” said senior Jordan Mason.