New Kid Syndrome

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By Shanna Sweitzer

They’re all looking at me.

They’re whispering.

They have never seen me before.

They want to know my story.

Imagine being a new student. They deal with all of these thoughts as they enter a new school: a new environment, new people, new feelings, new experiences, a new life. Entering a school surrounded by nothing but the unknown can be extremely nerve wracking.

“I was the new guy.”                                                                                                                                                                       

Born and raised in Hershey, PA, Michael Miller was always accustomed to a tight-knit community. Attending Hershey Christian School (HC), Miller had nearly 25 classmates. Everyone knew one another. Everyone grew up together.

Hershey Christian School (HC) educates students kindergarten to 12th grade. Miller started attending Hershey Christian school, when he was five years old. He adapted to the small number of  his peers and made friends fast. “I liked it,” Miller said.

Michael Miller and his seventh grade teammates prepare for a meet. (Photograph Courtesy of Michael Miller)

After kindergarten at Hershey Christian, Miller transferred to Saint Joan where his sister had gone to school. “I got used to it,” Miller said. The environment at Saint Joan was slightly different than at Hershey Christian. He adjusted to the Catholic school life.

Once he finished first grade, he returned to Hershey Christian School. “My parents were experimenting,” Miller said.

Referring to the school’s disciplinary system Miller said, “Some aspects Hershey Christian were relaxed and some were strict.”

When Miller reached 8th grade, he knew he would not continue at Hershey Christian. “They overplanned for an addition and did not have enough money. It was good I went there when I did”, Miller said.

It was ultimately up to Miller where he would attend high school. He knew all the opportunities he would have going to Hershey High School. His mind was made up.

Miller participated in HHS cross country, which began before school was in session. He met many people there and made a lot of friends. This made him familiar with some classmates before school even began. “It made it easier,” he said.

Freshman year started and despite the fact that he made friends through cross country, Miller was nervous. “I was ‘the new guy,’” he said. Many thoughts were running through his head as he entered the school. He admitted to getting lost a few times. Everyone gathered around him in PE class asking him questions about who he was and where he came from. Miller enjoyed the environment of the school, but found it crazy that he had so many classmates.

He quickly adjusted to the public school lifestyle. Even though he keeps in touch with his old friends, he still misses them.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but it worked out well,” Miller said.

“When you go to such a small school, you have to deal with the same people so that’s a con,” Miller said. He feels more social and branched out now. When Miller sees a student struggling to find their way around HHS, he helps them out. He knows exactly what it is like to be in their position.

For any student transferring to Hershey from a local school, Miller said, “Don’t base your decisions off of what other people think of you. Be outgoing, get involved, have fun, but don’t forget why you’re here.”

“I was born in Bakersfield. I didn’t know any different.”

On August 14, 1999, the Norman-Kehes brought home a little girl named Natalie to their home in the town of Bakersfield. Bakersfield lies in southern California just a few hours from Los Angeles. The town is largely populated, but it didn’t seem this way to Norman-Kehe.

“I didn’t realize how big it was because it was all I knew,” Norman-Kehe said.

Norman-Kehe’s father, Andy Kehe,  worked as a sports journalist for Bakersfield’s newspaper, while her mother ran a preschool. “She loves kids,” Norman-Kehe said. At the age of four Norman-Kehe attended her mother’s classes to prepare for what it would be like to go to school.

When Norman-Kehe turned five years old, she attended Quailwood Elementary, just down the block from her house. This school was accustomed to the heat of California. The school was mostly outdoors. Students would go from classroom to classroom through the dry air and have lunch in the sun of the courtyard. Norman-Kehe liked the school’s design.

(Photograph Courtesy of Natalie Norman-Kehe) On a sunny day in Bakersfield, California, Natalie Norman-Kehe gets ready for her first day of kindergarten.

On a sunny day in Bakersfield, California, Natalie Norman-Kehe gets ready for her first day of kindergarten. (Photograph Courtesy of Natalie Norman-Kehe)

“I prefer outdoor schools but only because the weather was so inviting,” she said.

Norman-Kehe was very comfortable when she began school outside of her home. Her mother, Lara Norman-Kehe, knew two or three of Norman-Kehe’s teachers personally. This made it extremely easy for her to be less nervous to leave home everyday.

After school, one of her parents would pick her up and she would begin homework. Norman-Kehe’s grandmother was always around to help her with her assignments.

“School was fun,” Norman-Kehe said. She made a lot of friends in her classes, many of whom lived right down the street.

It wasn’t until Norman-Kehe was seven years old when she  was faced with the possibility of leaving her beloved Bakersfield.

Mr. Kehe’s  newspaper began to plummet. Many of his co-workers were laid off. After checking with Mrs. Norman-Kehe, who was still running her preschool, they both agreed they felt bored. With the possibility of losing his job, Mr. Kehe felt as though he needed a backup plan.

One day, Mrs. Norman-Kehe was flipping through classified ads when a specific one caught her eye: an ad for a job as house parents at Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA.

“She looked it up and was intrigued,” Norman-Kehe said.

“I was born in Bakersfield. I didn’t know any different,” she said. Norman-Kehe was more mad than sad at the thought of moving.

After hugs and kisses goodbye, Norman-Kehe’s parents’ were off for an interview in Hershey. It felt weird for her to see her parents go because they had never left her before. When they returned from Hershey they brought back gifts. Her parents gave her a Hershey kiss necklace that she absolutely adored. “I thought it was so cute,” she said. Then, a couple months later, her parents told Norman-Kehe they had gotten the job. She couldn’t have been more upset.

“My mom kept telling me to ‘look at the glass half full and not half empty. Look at the positives of the situation rather than the negatives.,” Norman-Kehe said.

Leaving her friends was one of the hardest things Norman-Kehe had to do. She had known them for as long as she could remember. At only eight years old, Norman-Kehe said, “It was scary.”

Packing two cars completely full, they began their week long trip across the country to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Norman-Kehe didn’t enjoy the ride very much, “It was really, really long.” When they finally arrived, they settled into one of the student homes.

Norman-Kehe’s first day of school at Hershey Elementary came before she knew it. And the outcome was positive; she liked it. Although she was nervous, everyone was inviting. They had a lot questions about where she came from and what California was like. She made friends very quickly.

To Norman-Kehe, Hershey seemed very small. “It was different, but I liked it,”  Norman-Kehe said.

Norman-Kehe is now a junior at Hershey High School. She couldn’t feel more at home. She is a member of six clubs, including yearbook, young democrats, and culture club. She has many friends here, but still keeps in touch with a few of her friends in California.

For any student moving to Hershey from another state, Norman-Kehe said, “Try to be outgoing. Don’t be afraid to make friends.”

“Hey, America.”

Wagner was born and raised in Munich, Germany: a suburban town where you need a coin to get a shopping cart.

Pulling into the shopping center, Anika Wagner and her father were on their weekly grocery trip. Like always, she had a shiny coin in her left hand, and her father’s hand in the other. They walked to the row of carts by the entrance of the store. Sliding the coin in the slot, a cart was unlocked for them to use to collect their things. When they were done shopping, they locked the cart back in and a coin popped out. Wagner grabbed it and held it close. She kept it for next time.

The Wagner family lived in an old home on the countryside until she was three years old.After moving to Berlin for a year and a half, they finally settled in Frankfurt, Germany.

“Germany’s small, but not everyone knows each other,” Wagner said.

When she turned five years old, Wagner began kindergarten. In Germany, students are expected to know basic reading, writing, and math before they begin school. Wagner’s father taught her everything she needed to know, so she was more than ready.

When Wagner reached third grade, she was enrolled in a bike safety class. Before they could ride their bikes to school, students would have to pass a test. They had to successfully ride through a course on their own bike. Wagner passed. A police officer signed a card that functioned as her “license.” She also got a sticker for her bike. After school, Wagner would ride her stickered bike to the ice cream parlor with friends.

(Photograph Courtesy of Anika Wager) At age five, Anika Wagner smiles wide with her cup of apple juice. She attends a party with her kindergarten class in Frankfurt, Germany

(Photograph Courtesy of Anika Wager)
At age five, Anika Wagner smiles wide with her cup of apple juice. She attends a party with her kindergarten class in Frankfurt, Germany

At the time, Wagner’s father was the CEO of Human Resources at Bombardier, a company that makes trains. Management decided to transfer him to their base in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The news was broken to Wagner about two months before they were scheduled to move their lives to America.

She had just began fourth grade in Germany, and when they moved to the U.S. she’d have to repeat it. “I hated it,” Wagner said. She was mad about this more than anything else.

A month before the move, Wagner and her parents visited America. They explored Pittsburgh and looked for a new home in Upper Saint Clair. While they were there, she enjoyed the environment, but was bitter about starting a new life.

“It was so different,” Wagner said. “People’s attitudes were different, the food was different, the climate was different.” Everything was foreign, especially the language.. Wagner didn’t speak the slightest bit of English. That was something Wagner would have to get used to.

Although Wagner did admire how Americans acted towards her though, “People are nicer here in the States. Germans are brutally honest.” said Wagner.

When Wagner returned to her home in Frankfurt, she had accepted the fact that she couldn’t avoid moving. After getting all packed up, the Wagners were ready for the trip. Before she left, her class put together a book with pictures and notes.

Wagner didn’t cry, but she said, “I felt like I wasn’t going to have any friends.”

When they arrived in Pittsburgh, she was somewhat comfortable since she had been there before. But it was different because it wasn’t Germany.

Before she began school, she was introduced to three different teachers. She then decided which one she wanted as her own teacher. Mrs. Loomis got the job. “She was super nice,” Wagner said.

Wagner began third grade in the middle of Spring at a nearby elementary school. She was extremely anxious.

The first thing she thought when she entered her school was that, “These people are weird,” she said. Everything felt foreign to her. She didn’t know what people were asking her or telling her to do. Everyone was trying to ask her simple questions, but she stood still and had no idea how to respond.

Ms. Lach became her ESL (English as a second language) teacher. Wagner learned quickly. In just four months, she had tested out of the class. Then she began to understand what everyone was saying to her. “Wow,” she said when she comprehended.

As for her other classes, they consisted of math and art. She didn’t exactly have to know the English language to draw or add. Wagner felt as though she was smarter than the other students in her classes. The tough learning style in Germany prepared her for America’s learning standards.

Wagner made a few friends at her school, but since she was the new girl, everyone wanted to be her friend. “In America, people aren’t as honest,” she said. “They’d rather sugarcoat.”

Wagner didn’t like the fact that she wasn’t as independent in America. “In Germany, you ride the train by yourself and ride your bike everywhere,” she said. That wasn’t considered acceptable in America..

After five years of living in America, Wagner felt at home. That’s when her father got a call. When he was transferred to the U.S., he began working for a different company. Now he was being transferred to a base in Germany.

Wagner was somewhat joyed to return to Germany. She would be going back to where she was born in Munich. But when she first returned, it felt different. It wasn’t the same from when she was a kid. And it was definitely different from America. She was let down. That little town that she took her first steps in, the town she had grown up in, was different. “I guess it was because of my age,” Wagner said. When she was three years old, she looked at Munich as a child. Now she was almost a teenager.

Moving into a home connected to others on both sides, Wagner explored the town that slipped away from her. She met up with a childhood friend who had changed more than ever. She visited old shops and felt a sense of nostalgia coming over her.

Wagner attended the school she would have gone to if she stayed in Munich. The one building educated students from fifth to twelfth grade. She made many friends who asked her everything about America and what it was like. “They think America’s the best,” she said, even though she couldn’t understand why they thought so. She didn’t enjoy the difficult classes, though. Before she knew it, she was missing the easy learning that America had given her.

Then her father was transferred back to America, and Wagner was excited to return. There was a slight possibility that they would move back to Pittsburgh, which she would’ve liked, but instead they moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania. “I thought it was cool living in the ‘chocolate town,’” she said, despite her dislike towards Hershey’s chocolate because “it’s too sweet.”

“Hey, America,” Wagner said.

Despite disliking all the cornfields, Wagner adjusted quickly. She began at Hershey High School in Fall 2014. Without knowing anyone, she took the bus. “It was really scary,” she said. Megan Fickes, sat with her on the bus and they soon became friends.

In contrast to elementary school in Pittsburgh, Wagner felt unnoticed. When she did talk to people, they were amazed at the fact that she was born and raised in Germany because spoke perfect English. She made a lot more friends here in Hershey than any of her other schools. “I’m so used to meeting new people,” she said.

Wagner is happy now. She loves her classes, she loves her home, and she loves her friends.

For any students transferring to Hershey from another country, Wagner said, “Keep your head up and make the best of the situation you’re in. Anyone can adjust. Anyone can make friends. You just have to be willing to try.”