Fish Camps Provide More Than Just Tips on Managing High School

Tools obtained, connections forged at freshman orientations can help set the tone for life post-graduation

August 30, 2012

When Fernando Castillo walked through the doors of HISD's Madison High School on Aug. 27, he had more than just an idea of where his classes were, how to find the boys' gym, and which side of the campus the cafeteria is on.

Incoming ninth-graders at the Houston Academy for International Studies demonstrate their mastery of the Chinese yo-yo at the end of fish camp, or freshman orientation.

He also had established relationships with some of his fellow ninth-graders and a new laptop computer, courtesy of fish camp—the orientation session he attended for incoming freshmen.

Staff at Madison welcomed about 100 new Marlins earlier this month. After touring the campus, the new ninth-graders met with school leaders, participated in team-building exercises, and received information about expectations, graduation requirements, and the new STAAR exams. Those who attended all four days were entered into a drawing for the new computer.

"Learning the importance of credits and how they affect students' graduation plans (is more critical than ever)," said Madison Principal Sonja Williams, particularly in light of the new STAAR end-of-course exam requirements. "But the bridge program also offers teambuilding activities, so students can come to appreciate the power of teamwork and collaboration. Our school motto is ‘Hand in Hand, We Can!' and we want students, parents, staff, and community members to understand the meaning and spirit of those words."

This year's fish camp at the Houston Academy for International Studies (HAIS) was held in conjunction with Rice University's three-week-long StarTalk Chinese Student Enrichment Program. In addition to learning about HAIS's culture of high expectations, incoming freshmen also studied Chinese language and culture for four hours each day. The program culminated in a family day in which parents watched students singing songs in Mandarin Chinese and showing off new skills with a Chinese yo-yo.

"Fish camp is extremely important," said HAIS Principal Melissa Jacobs-Thibaut, "not only to introduce students to their new school and colleagues, but also in building an academic culture of success for our school. This year's camp was unique in that we also introduced students to a new culture, language, and way of thinking, (but all of it is designed to) get students started off on the right foot of their journey to becoming college students and global citizens."