SAN LORENZO -- Starting high school can be intimidating, but it's easier if you know your way around campus and have met some of your fellow students.
A four-day summer camp this week at Arroyo High School helped 70 incoming freshmen get off on the right foot, mixing learning with games to introduce them to campus routines.
"I was nervous, but this has made me more comfortable about high school," said Robin Silva. The 14-year-old said she liked getting to know her teachers and other people during the camp, aptly called Strong Start.
Students took part in exercises that require working together to come up with solutions. In one, Blind Hog Call, each student was given a word, blindfolded and placed randomly around a field. Students then called to each other to find the correct words to create silly sentences. Freshman Sabrina Abushi had the word "to" -- her group's sentence was "The happy, fat, green dinosaur went to the store."
The games are designed to build teamwork and help students learn patience, skills they will need in school, said senior Cynthia Villegas. The 16-year-old supervised the camp's 40 student counselors, who were themselves freshmen last year. The students and six teachers volunteered their time, along with Stanford University graduate students.
"I wanted to help out. I think it's cool we get to teach freshmen," said 16-year-old Sidney Cook, one of the counselors.
Counselor Cynthia Cuellar recalled that before she started at Arroyo, she worried about finding her classes. "I was afraid of getting lost and worried the classes would be hard," she said. Attending last year's camp helped allay those fears.
"We teach the freshmen that high school's not as hard as they think," the 15-year-old said.
Another counselor, Jaida Rocha, had two older sisters in high school but said she was still afraid of how high school would work. Strong Start helped, she said.
"One of my concerns was meeting new people. I met a lot of new people at Strong Start; I met people I'm still friends with," she said.
The students are part of the Academy of Health and Medicine, one of four small learning communities at Arroyo. Eighth-graders choose which community they want to join.
"We have about 1,900 kids at our school. It's easy for kids to fall between the cracks in a big school," said science teacher Jim Clark, co-director of the Strong Start camp. "We put them into smaller learning environments where they're grouped with the same teachers throughout high school. It's easier for them to have a sense of belonging to a community."
The school's other small learning communities are Future Leaders for Social Change, Tech-Links Academy and TREND (Transportation, Engineering and Design).
Students learned their way around campus as they also worked on math, English, computer and study skills.
"We know that kids forget things over the summer," Clark said.
Teachers introduced the students to the idea of having a growth mindset, he said. The approach is based on research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, whose research showed that people's mindsets were linked to their success.
"People have either a fixed or growth mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, you think people are either born smart or not. With a growth mindset, you can change your outcome," Clark said.
The students are taught that if they don't succeed at a task at first, that's OK, he said. "With hard work, you can get better," he said.
This is the camp's second year. Freshmen who attended last year's Strong Start had a 5 percent better attendance rate than those who did not, and their grade-point averages were almost a full point higher.
Villegas said she wished there had been an orientation camp when she began high school.
"When I came into the school the first day, I was so scared," the senior said. "This is a much easier transition for them; it's much better. And they're actually making a lot of friends."
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.