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Freshmen Ryan Dutt, left, 14, of group Elephants, and Savannah Garcia, right, 14, of group Hippos, both from Brentwood, race to win a chance to answer a trivia question to earn points for their teams during their freshmen orientation event during the second day of classes at Liberty High School in Brentwood, Calif., on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Liberty High School is going all out to make sure that its 650 incoming freshmen not only feel welcome but learn what they need to succeed over the next four years. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

BRENTWOOD -- The rah-rah spirit could be well before reaching Liberty High School's gymnasium.

Inside, the enthusiasm reached ear-piercing levels as hundreds of students roared, clapped and stomped their feet in the bleachers.

"H-I-P-P-O, H-I-P-P-O!" yelled one section of T-shirts in yellow and burgundy school colors, chanting its team name.

Welcome to "Freshman Safari," part turbo-charged pep rally, part Campus Life 101, and all of it designed to ease the transition to high school for the 645 ninth-graders who attended the Brentwood campus' annual freshman orientation last week.

The event isn't new or unique -- all three high schools in the district hold orientations for incoming classes -- but several years ago Liberty's became more intensive.

The school now holds the event after classes start to ensure that all freshmen attend, it lasts two days instead of one, and students receive more practical information along with the social activities.

A well-rehearsed cadre of upperclassmen rolled out the welcome mat last week with boisterous games that required the new students to mingle with their classmates. The team competitions were interspersed with more sedate classroom sessions, during which smaller groups of freshmen got the 4-1-1 on how to succeed over the next four years.

During the 90-minute presentations, juniors and seniors who have trained to be "Lion Leaders" -- the designation in keeping with the orientation's African theme and Liberty High's mascot -- went over the basics.


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Freshmen learned about the array of extracurricular activities available, penciled the dates of social events and final exams into their day planners, and reviewed some of the rules: No tube tops or using cell phones in class without the teacher's permission, do wear your identification lanyard and don't be late for class or show up without a textbook.

The introduction also included briefings on the names and roles of key school personnel, the type of help they can find at the career center and library, and how to check grades online as well as whether they're up-to-date on classroom assignments.

"It's just worth it," said Assistant Principal Wendy Thigpen, who ran the orientations until this year. "Kids quickly know the school's expectations of them and (that) helps the teachers."

The orientation also debunks common beliefs that freshmen have about high school such as the notion that older students go around stuffing them into garbage cans on the first Friday of the school year as a prank or that they're now on their own when it comes to keeping up with classwork.

"A lot of freshmen come in hearing that in high school teachers don't care if you're late, if you're sick -- that teachers won't help you," Thigpen said.

Although it's true that students are expected to take more responsibility for their academic success, "there's help all over campus, peer tutors every week," said 17-year-old senior Lawson Bell, who helped oversee the orientation.

As a campus leader, he tries to shape attitudes that can directly affect a student's performance and how much he or she enjoys school.

"I want ... all the things that used to be seen as nerdy to be seen as cool," said Bell, who remembers his own fears of looking foolish when he was a freshman.

Embracing that shift in thinking means not being afraid to cover oneself in the school colors at sporting events or speak up in class, behaviors he says are much more acceptable than they once were.

"Now having good grades is cool," added Bell, who has his sights set on attending Cal Berkeley next fall.

He advises freshmen to stake out a front-row seat in class because they can hear the teacher better, have fewer distractions, and are more likely to get called upon when they raise their hand.

For youngsters who might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of students on campus or a little intimidated by the size of some seniors, orientation can be a confidence-booster.

"It just makes them feel more relaxed," Thigpen said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.