Subbie Retreat helps students get ready for Uni High

Subbie Retreat helps students get ready for Uni High

URBANA – On Wednesday afternoon, several University Laboratory High School students got egged, splashed with water balloons and tied to each other and made to walk quickly in a straight line.

And had a blast, judging from the shrieks and giggles surrounding each cluster of preteens.

The students were almost all Uni subfreshman, called subbies, and were taking part in the school's annual Subbie Retreat, this year at Crystal Lake Park. The afternoon of recreation is designed to get the students talking with each other by way of a series of field day-type games, including carrying an egg, catching water balloons and three-legged races.

"This transition into high school is new for all of them," said Sarah Dewhurst, guidance counselor for the subfreshmen. She said her goal for the students is "getting them to integrate into the school as best as possible."

At the retreat, though, Dewhurst would like students to let go of academics for a while, to "take a break and focus on their social skills."

Uni subfreshmen come from schools around the area to attend the five-year high school. Some were in seventh grade last year, others in sixth (they'll skip a year of school on their way to graduation). Some already know a few subbies from their old schools; others are on their own.

"The work's different, the people are different, the teachers are different," said subbie Adam Joseph. "It's just new."

He said he was attracted to Uni because of the school's rigorous curriculum. "I feel like because of everyone's, I guess, academic integrity, the discussions are different, and it's more of a challenge," he said.

Smarts are one thing that unifies the students. To get into Uni, each passed a rigorous testing and interview process.

"I had a psychological thing that I wasn't good enough," said subbie Eleni Yannelis. "It's intimidating. People at Uni have won Nobel prizes."

Subbie Sol Robinson said he's been pleased by the school in the week he's been there. "The homework is a lot less than you'd think," he said. Of being surrounded by academics-minded kids, he said, "it hasn't come into effect yet, but you're no longer the smartest kid in the class.

"Fine by me," he added.

Adjusting to the new people and environment has gotten mostly positive reactions from the students.

"The other kids are nice," said subbie Sheela Gogula, "so it doesn't feel so competitive."

In talking with subfreshmen, Dewhurst found mixed emotions, from relief at being around other "smart geeks and nerds," as students have told Dewhurst, to worry about increased responsibility.

To help keep subbies enthusiastic, each has a high school mentor called a Subbie Buddy to show them the ropes. "We just make them feel comfortable about their classes," said Lor Sligar, a sophomore.

"Hardly anybody knows each other and everybody's trying to make friends," said freshman buddy Maritza Mestre.

Yannelis said she already has some friends from her old school, and is having a good time in classes, especially her German language class, despite a test on the second day of class.

She's also loving the freedom she's found in the school, located on the University of Illinois campus. "At Uni, they just trust you so much more," Yannelis said. "And it's nice to go out to lunch."

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