2012-09-05 / Schools

O’Neill High School Orientation

By Annie Chesnut

Junior Sarah Hard, of Garrison, worked to introduce students to the Interact Club at O’Neill High School’s orientation day last week. 
Annie Chesnut Junior Sarah Hard, of Garrison, worked to introduce students to the Interact Club at O’Neill High School’s orientation day last week. Annie Chesnut James I. O’Neill High School sits across the river from Garrison, just a stone’s throw from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Every year at this time a new crop of freshmen and transfer students turns out for a welcome program that introduces them to life at O’Neill, as well as to each other. This year’s orientation was held on August 29.

Principal Louis Trombetta, Assistant Principal Robin Haberman, and guidance counselor Patty Lofaro—who works with the school’s youngest students—are at their busiest, shepherding new students through the sizable building and making sure they participate in the various tours and programs—capped off by lunch in the cafeteria.

O’Neill draws students from three distinct locations—The Highland Falls Fort Montgomery Central School Distinct of which it is a part, West Point, and the Garrison Union Free School, which sends its eighth graders on to either Haldane High School, O’Neill, or a number of private schools.

This year’s crop of Garrison students numbers seven—Frank Batignani, Matthew Hard, Albert Monroe, Lawrence Monroe, John Rodak, Finnean Waldron, and Elizabeth Walker—and on Wednesday, they were all busy learning the ropes at O’Neill. They will join 20 Garrison-area tenth (4), eleventh (5), and twelfth-graders (11), some of them their siblings.

O’Neill is different from Haldane in several fundamental ways. While it’s still a small school, the buildings and grounds are more expansive (completely separate from other schools in the district) and the student body appears significantly more diverse— economically, culturally, and racially. Because of the proximity to West Point, there is also an obvious military presence in the form of a strong ROTC program. During the orientation day, students of all shapes, sizes and colors appeared in camouflage field gear amongst their more colorfully clad classmates.

We spoke with O’Neill junior Sarah Hard, who hails from Garrison and has spoken with enthusiasm at Garrison school board meetings about her O’Neill experience. Sarah is a self-assured young woman with long blonde hair, who participates in both soccer and cheerleading, as well as chorus, the Interact Club, and Student to Student. Sarah’s brother Matthew is an incoming ninth-grader with strong academic credentials.

“Coming to O’Neill was a really big decision…I had the mindset that everyone was going to have their set group of friends… [but] since there’s three different communities coming into the one school, you’re not the only one feeling that way.” She added that participating in athletics helped her make friends quickly.

“It’s big enough that you can meet a whole lot of people,” but still small, Sarah noted. “Growing up in Garrison I was with the same people, and I love them all dearly… but [at O'Neill] there are people from all over the world…there’s a lot of ethnic diversity and character styles…it just kind of opens your eyes.”

Sarah also praised the O’Neill chorus program for its professionalism and focus on musical theory and skills.

Why do students from Garrison decide to come across the river and attend O’Neill? Assistant Principal Haberman said that in her view, “Some of them do it to get away… meet new people and make new friends.” Sarah agreed, saying that if you wanted to make yourself over, you could do it by attending O’Neill.

Of her ninth-grade brother, Sarah said, “Not as many kids from his class came to O’Neill”—many went to private school or elsewhere. “But he’s actually involved in soccer too, and he’s meeting a lot of kids.”

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