Published Jan. 19, 2020
By SOPHIA BONE
During the 2020-21 school year, Carmel High School has welcomed students from all around the world, even from the North Pole. To clarify, no, junior Caleb Roehrig did not move to Carmel from a place ruled by a jolly old man in a red suit, but rather from a town called North Pole in Alaska, and he now enjoys the warmer temperatures here in Carmel.
From Aptos to Arkansas and from Alaska to England, 53 CHS students arriving from other districts have had to start their first year in CHS online. Leaving old friends and familiar homes, these students have been thrust into the task of making friends from a 6-foot distance.
After Roehrig’s dad was transferred to work at the Presidio in Monterey to serve as a chaplain, Caleb had the opportunity to pick which school he wanted to attend. He chose CHS because of the drama program.
“I am going to be on Broadway when I am an adult,” Roehrig says, “so I chose this school to get better at theater.”
Like Roehrig, many students moved into the district because their parents took a new job, but some, like Ciera Puente, simply joined the CHS community in search of a different learning experience.
“From what I can tell so far, Carmel is very different from where I used to live in a better way because the students here try harder in school,” says sophomore Ciera Puente, who came from Aptos. “There, it seemed like half the class passed and the other half failed.”
Junior Alexa Julian is also a new student at CHS, although she has always lived in the Carmel area. Previously, Julian was homeschooled to pursue a dream of dancing professionally, but decided to change her plans when COVID-19 hit.
“I was planning on moving to Chicago this year to join a professional dance academy,” Julian explains, “but due to COVID-19 I decided to deny my acceptance. I think I am happier now than I would have been living in Chicago because I am with my family and friends, and I am experiencing something really, really new attending a public school.”
With limited time to socialize, in-person after-school cohorts at CHS during the first semester became a popular way for new students in the area to create real-life connections with their peers.
“It was really nice to just see people and to meet everybody in real life instead of on the screen,” Puente says.
Sophomore Sophia Caravallo agrees that the exposure the cohorts gave her to new people was really helpful.
“I have probably met everyone I know through a girl I met at the cohorts,” says Caravallo, who moved here from Boulder, Colorado, when her dad accepted a job at Montage Health Foundation. “She put me on her Snapchat story, and a ton of people friended me.”
Through direct messaging on Instagram and sending photos on Snapchat, these students have been able to get to know their fellow classmates in a casual and COVID-19-safe way. Conversations online have allowed some students to meet up with friends, while following social distancing protocols and wearing masks.
“Every once in a while I will go and hangout with one person at the park socially distanced, and during October I saw some friends that I met online,” says Izzy Buzolich, a senior who moved from Virginia Beach so that her mom could attend the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
Students say that talking through social media is more comfortable than talking to peers on Zoom. While Zoom classes have helped some students by getting their classmates’ social media handles, new students note that because some students keep their cameras off during classes, there is limited connection available there.
“The whole first semester it was only me and one other student who had their camera on,” says junior Chris Miller, who moved from Arkansas so his dad could attend the Naval Postgraduate School.
Miller explains that for someone new to the area, missing out on a normal “new kid experience” has been frustrating.
“Usually when you go somewhere new, you get to meet all these new faces and new names,” Miller says. “It’s like that now, but I don’t get to experience any of the ‘meeting the new.’ It’s all out of reach because of COVID-19 and online school. I just don’t know the places to go.”
Aside from social media, sophomore Ava Camargo mentions that emails from counselors and teachers made her feel welcomed going into the new school year.
Like Julian, Camargo is not new to Monterey Bay, rather, she chose to take a step back into public school after also being homeschooled the last few years to pursue dance. A mix of craving a more normal high school experience and deciding that doing Zoom classes with familiar faces was better than homeschooling alone led to her decision to attend CHS.
One way CHS has helped new students was through the Link Crew orientation. Normally, Link Crew leads its new student orientations at CHS with help from teachers Leigh Cambra and Holly Lederle, but this year it was all virtual. The orientation was a 20-minute Zoom meeting where new students were in Breakout Rooms with other students in their grade level. During the meeting, they talked about what the school was like and what to expect.
“It was overall very welcoming and nice to get to know a couple of people going into the school year,” Puente recalls, “but it was a little awkward since it was online.”
Beginning the second semester, these transfer students say that while they thought they would be back to school by now, they are going into the new year with an optimistic attitude and a readiness to continue exploring the new place they now call home.