Daily News Staff Writer

With the start of a new school year every fall, incoming Ketchikan High School freshmen often have plenty of questions, thoughts and concerns about beginning their high school career.

Those questions are what inspired Kayhi's Class Act program, which now has been in full swing for over a decade.

The purpose of the program is to "ease fears about entering high school, make the transition to Kayhi as smooth as possible, give students a successful start, encourage freshmen to get involved in activities and ultimately reduce high school dropouts," Kayhi guidance counselor Natasha O'Brien recently wrote to the Daily News.

The program started up in 2005, with the aim of supporting the incoming Kayhi Class of 2009, according to O'Brien.

In the weeks leading up to the start of school, Kayhi seniors participating in the program are trained on how to run their mentor groups, plan for freshmen orientation and learn activities to play with the freshmen during Class Act meetings.

The senior Class Act mentors organize and host freshmen orientation each year, and then they meet with their assigned freshmen once a month during the first semester of school.

"The meetings include discussions about school and concerns the freshmen might have," O'Brien wrote. "The mentors share information about activities students can get involved in, and they usually play a few games. Mentors are trained to help connect students with extra support as needs arise."

At the end of the first semester, the program culminates with an end-of-semester celebration for the ninth-grade class.

Kayhi senior Kaydence Dyson, now a Class Act mentor herself, remembers her experience as a freshman in the program.

She told the Daily News via email on Wednesday that her assigned mentors were Jared Valentine, Ashley Cyr and Karly McMahon, all Class of 2020 Kayhi graduates.

"They were such a help to me when making that transition from middle school to high school," Dyson wrote.

 Now, Dyson is a mentor to about 20 Kayhi freshmen.

"So the preparation of this program is actually very fun," Dyson wrote. "Days before the freshman orientation all of us mentors get together and play games and learn about our duties as Class Act mentors."

 The activities included in the program this year differ slightly from years past due to COVID-19 mitigation procedures.

 "So far into the school year we haven’t been able to do as much as we would like due to Kayhi being at High Risk (of the district Start Strong mitigation plan)," according to Dyson. "Fortunately, we were able to do freshman orientation and we’ve been able to appear in their advisory classes during the school day."

She continued, "We were able to play a few 'get to know you' games and just check in on how they were liking high school so far, we offered them some advice and kind of hung-out with them."

 Senior Chloe Gosnell is mentoring about 15 freshmen from one advisory class. The games that the mentors play with the freshmen include bingo, or "two truths and a lie," and help the students get to know each other at the start of the year, she noted.

 "I remember entering my freshman year and feeling overwhelmed by the size of the school and the variety of activities," she wrote. "I think Class Act is a valuable program because it helps address potential fears throughout the transition and works to reduce them."

 Gosnell said that while she was training to become a Class Act mentor, she made sure to familiarize herself with all the activities that Kayhi offers.

 "Being involved in activities can heavily impact a person's high school experience, so I think it is important to encourage involvement early," Gosnell wrote.