The highs and lows of Decatur’s largest freshman class yet


Photo: Rowan Wilkins

A busy SDHS hallway on the morning of Friday, Sept. 24.

Stephen Decatur High School has welcomed its biggest-ever freshman class for the 2021-2022 school year. While setting records, this also leaves the school faced with new obstacles.

“This is definitely the largest freshman class to ever come through Decatur,” Katie Thatcher said, a freshman English teacher at Decatur. “Mrs. Sharkey, the ninth grade guidance counselor, assumes there will be at least 420 graduating from this class.”

Many other English teachers are faced with the most sizable classes they have ever had. Across the English hallway the average class size is either at or around the 30 student mark, according to Mrs. Thatcher.

Other teachers this year are met with the struggle of fitting a class average of 30 students within a classroom, all while maintaining three feet of social distancing due to COVID-19 guidelines.

“I’ve got some that are sitting at the back counter in the classrooms, just to abide by the guidelines,” Mrs. Thatcher said. “Mr. Hill had to come in and check, do his measurements even, because he knew that our class sizes were huge.”

Despite these restrictions, students are still able to interact with one another through group work. Teachers just have to assure that they stay in their seats and maintain their needed distance.

Teachers who primarily have freshman in their classes are all experiencing the highs and lows of this class size. In Introduction to Theatre, drama teacher Brandon Cater, has a group of predominantly freshman, as well as lingering sophomores and juniors.

“In smaller groups, they are easier to work with, but in one big group they all just have this abundance of energy. It sometimes can be a challenge to get them to calm themselves,” Mr. Cater said.

Although, in a class such as Mr. Cater’s, they tend to thrive in large and energetic groups. Mr. Cater is no stranger to a full house. His biggest class ever was in 2016, with 42 students and he explained that there have been even larger drama classes before he taught at Decatur.

“I think it is very important that all of my students feel like active participants in class and that they are participating in meaningful ways.”

Making sure students stay involved and feel heard is a major concern voiced by both Thatcher and Cater. With so many students, giving each student their needed attention is a task in itself, yet teachers are sure they can handle.

Over the summer the freshman class held about 375 students, but as they returned to school it grew to the amount it is at now, according to Mrs. Thatcher who helped with summer school this year. Between the end of summer school and now, the amount has increased by roughly 30 students. This increase is believed to come from a few different things, mainly new students coming from outside of Worcester County. With 404 kids in the freshman class, the school is left with a total of 1,465 students, its largest student body yet.

“I had two boys that came this last Monday. One came from Solomon’s Island and the other one came from Baltimore city area,” Mrs. Thatcher said. “A girl in my fourth period came from Philly. I have a lot that are just new to the area.”

On top of new students, the group was already larger than the other grades around them. Population in the local area, according to the United States Census Bureau, has fluctuated little between 2010 and 2020, ruling that out as a clear reason behind this group size.

Berlin’s population in 2010 was 4,485 residents and by 2020 it was at 5,026, according to the United States Census Bureau’s data. Between April of 2010 and April of 2020, the population has actually dropped in Ocean City, from 7,102 residents to 6,844.

By senior year, the size is sure to increase. Many are excited to watch the class of 2025 grow and accustom to Decatur.

“Because of the size of the class, they are going to have a solid, collective, diverse identity by the time they hit senior year. They are going to really stand out,” Mr. Cater said.