How students and staff feel about the new addition to their Fridays.
BY ANTONIA CAMPBELL, ’22. GRAPHICS BY MOLLY HENCH, ’22. PHOTOS BY BELLA VANMETER, ’22
High school can be a stressful and intimidating environment for any student; it is a time in life when insecurities are high and guards are up. These universal experiences are why the Upper Arlington High School administration created a new way for students to interact this year.
The Bear Connection period takes place every Friday between 5th and 6th period and lasts twenty minutes. Each Bear Connection group contains around 20 students of all grade levels, including student mentors, accompanied by one teacher to lead activities. Freshman mentors are there to answer questions and offer help, but ultimately, they are part of the group of students, and it is the teacher’s job to lead activities. Students are in the same Bear Connection with the same teacher all four years of high school, with seniors being replaced by incoming freshmen after they graduate.
“The basic purpose of Bear Connection is that we want kids to feel like they have a place where they can connect to one more adult and more students so that two thousand kids doesn’t feel as big as two thousand kids,” teacher Melissa Hasebrook said. “It should be fun and a place where there’s familiar faces for all four years.”
Hasebrook, who is a Bear Connection house leader along with a handful of other teachers, is responsible for brainstorming activities for Bear Connections that will fulfill the class’s purpose. Each house leader is assigned multiple Bear Connection teachers to overlook and offer assistance.
“I work with 25 teachers, and my job is to help them know what to do during that time, give them ideas and connect them to people,” Hasebrook said. “I cover for teachers who are out during that time if they need coverage for it. It’s really just helping teachers know what to do in that time.”
What is done in a given Bear Connection is up to the students and teacher in the class, as long as they are participating in something constructive for connection.
Senior and mentor leader Emma Morris has done a number of activities in her Bear Connection.
“We’ve been playing board games in tournament style for prizes, [doing] coloring pages [or] just talking. We’ve gone on walks outside [as well],” she said.
In these first weeks, most Bear Connections have done activities that focus on learning about each other and creating a level of familiarity so that they can begin to connect on a deeper level.
“I did a lot of what the other teachers were doing like the get-to-know-you games and whatnot,” teacher Michael Rice said. “I moved beyond the introductions after getting ideas from other teachers and said to my Bear Connection, ‘I think we’re going to start to learn each other better if we stop trying to learn each other,’ and start doing things of value during that time.”
Whether or not students and teachers enjoy Bear Connection varies from classroom to classroom. Many students appreciate the break from schoolwork and time to relax.
“It’s nice to have a break in the day that’s not lunch because it’s a long day, and especially on a Friday, you just want the week to come to an end,” sophomore Manny Stavridis said. “[Bear Connection] kind of gives you the little push you need to finish off the day.”
With any new addition to the school’s schedule, some flaws need to be identified and improved. Bear Connection has yet to be perfected and its purpose has not been fulfilled in every class.
“I think Bear Connection needs time for people to settle in and get comfortable; figure out what they’re doing,” Hasebrook said. “I’ve been surprised that students don’t like this part of their day and that they’re uncomfortable, so I think we need a mechanism to help students feel more comfortable outside of their normal social circles.”
A suggested mechanism to solve the awkwardness and enhance connection is to participate in activities that have students of a certain Bear Connection working toward a common goal beyond card games and get-to-know-you activities.
“If there was something to do as a whole school but within your Bear Connection, I feel that would make the goal of connection and community building happen,” Morris said. “Whether that means doing something Bear Connection versus Bear Connection or something like a school-wide Kahoot.”
On the other hand, many see that no matter what activities a Bear Connection does, time is what will eventually strengthen connections within classes.
“I think the biggest thing honestly is that it’s going to take some time to get to know people and feel comfortable in your Bear Connection, to get to know your teachers and for teachers to know students. So I think before we rush to make significant changes, we have to let it play out a little bit first,” Rice said.
While there’s still room for improvement, the idea of Bear Connection has positive intentions, and the immediate outcomes have not been negative. Many students have been bonding and having a good time during their small break at the end of the school week, and teachers have been engaging in creative activities such as paper plane contests and charades.
“I love seeing the inventive things that teachers are doing,” Hasebrook said. “Seeing kids and teachers step up and show their creativity and seeing the variety of how people are using their time is fascinating and inspiring to me.”