HALO Students, Faculty, and Student Leaders

Decorated lunch bags made by HALO Students
August 14, 2020

HALO is a unique orientation opportunity for incoming freshmen that stands for Hilltopper Alternative Learning Opportunity.


HALO is a longstanding program held on the SJA campus. This year provided unique challenges and opportunities which were met with enthusiasm and optimism by students and faculty alike. Fifty incoming freshmen came together to start to get to know the campus, meet some of the faculty and student leaders, enjoy getting to know each other and start forming friendships, practice health and safety protocols, work with tools that will be utilized for hybrid learning, and learn the importance of having a growth mindset. It’s a week of community building, improving confidence and giving back.


A highlight of the week was the free community lunch the students provided. They served up take-out meals of chili, cornbread, and a crisp dessert outside the Hilltopper Restaurant. The students made a delicious meal that was free to the public. It was provided to the community safely. Visitors appreciated the decorated to go bags and being able to see the students and faculty in person.



HALO students prepping and serving a community meal



Students also had the opportunity to do the campus ropes course and climbing wall and/or biking on the biking path or hiking local trails.



HALO students participating in outdoor activities



While safety protocols like wearing masks, keeping socially distanced and frequent hand washing seemed awkward at first, it quickly became the norm. The students’ willingness to embrace these protocols provided both faculty and the students with great optimism going into the start of the school year.


Faculty members shared the following about the week:



  • “HALO students will be the models for freshmen orientation. They listened to the expectations for being safe on campus, followed our requests and requirements of wearing masks, washing hands, keeping a safe distance at all times whether inside or outside buildings. While it does feel different for obvious reasons, it was great to have students on campus with classrooms filled with inquiring minds and being able to use our outdoor space in new ways. We left the week with that phenomenal feeling of finally being able to engage with students on campus in a meaningful way. We were able to reach out and support a large group of students, helping them to feel more at ease for starting their freshmen year, even in the year of COVID.


This week has proven to me that students are very excited to be on campus for school in the fall, that in person time with students is so much more rewarding and valuable, that the amount of time, effort, and thoughtfulness that has gone into articulating plans for the reopening is amazing. We see a clear path on how to deliver our new model and new expectations and we are ready!”


—Jade Huntington, Special Services Faculty



  • “I am now very confident that we can do this, safely and with Academy quality. There will be blips, but if we maintain a patient and thoughtful mindset, we can adjust and make it better.”


—Chef David Hale, Culinary Faculty



  • “This year, especially, it was amazing to witness growing relationships among many of our students, and by the end of the week, each student had at least one new friend to help them navigate the first weeks of high school. The beginning of the week always brings timid, shy, and nervous students to our campus. However, by the last day of HALO week, we say farewell to a group of freshmen who stand a little taller and hold their heads a little higher with confidence and assurance, looking forward to their first day back to school.”


—Annie Rolfe Angell ’97, English Faculty



  • “We did asynchronous learning with Liz Laverty (Director of Technology Integration/Computer Science Department Chair) teaching them Canvas from another room on Zoom, while she was teaching one class in person. We were able to help her iron out some kinks in the process. This week helped us all figure out how to make this work and get excited about the possibilities.”


—Kelly Urie, Health and Wellness Faculty



  • “Each of the students expressed and appeared to have had a great time. There was growth noted each day. This was demonstrated by the conversations, storytelling, encouraging words, and interactions with adults which all of us witnessed. One of the HALO participants asked why HALO wasn’t longer.”


—De-Ann Welch, Assistant School Nurse



  • “Our HALO students had a much longer time away from school than all who have come before them, and yet, refused to let fear of the unknown stand in their way. We believe that students will rise to the level of expectation placed in front of them  regardless of the task. Our 2020 HALO students have left us, as educators, inspired about the work that lies ahead. We have never been more confident in our strong band, especially during these uncertain times, that we will rally as one – be it in person, or online, or a blend of both – to serve the students and families in this community and throughout the world. We are SJA!”


—Beth Choiniere, Assistant Headmaster for Campus Life



We thank the faculty members who worked hard to provide a meaningful week for the students, including those listed above, as well as, Sarah Garey ’92 (Director of Health Services), Dale Urie ’86 (Health and Wellness Department Chair), and Jesse Holden (Health and Wellness Faculty). We also thank the staff behind the scenes who ensured we had the technology, materials,  and facility enhancements needed for a successful and safe week:  Jim Mazzonna (Chief Information Technology Officer), Kurt Zchau (Director of Facilities) and his team,  Buffy Fortin Hegarty ’90 (Campus Life Assistant), and Betsy Gilding Legendre ’00 (Executive Assistant to the Headmaster).  


We thank the student leaders, Colby Garey-Wright ’22, Sierra Shippee ’21, and Sam Begin ’22,  for being role models and helping to make it a great week.


We especially thank the HALO students for embracing the week and opportunity to take part in this orientation program, and, for showing us that we can be together safely, due to our strong community and the willingness and enthusiasm of our students. It was a delight to have you on campus and we look forward to welcoming you back!



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