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Living With The Shadows: Behind the Quintessential CB Experience

Shadows are a common sight on the Christian Brothers campus. I bet you can picture it — parochial school sweaters, collared shirts, white nametags, folding chairs. Mostly quiet, occasionally the center of attention, these eighth graders’ shadow day experience is supposedly an essential part of the CB application process. However, stories of bad shadow experiences […]

Shadows are a common sight on the Christian Brothers campus. I bet you can picture it — parochial school sweaters, collared shirts, white nametags, folding chairs. Mostly quiet, occasionally the center of attention, these eighth graders’ shadow day experience is supposedly an essential part of the CB application process. However, stories of bad shadow experiences are abound — sitting through a test just to go right into another test, mean shadow hosts, and getting ditched are just a few.

Having never personally shadowed as I am a transfer student, I have my doubts about this entire process; it always seemed kind of strange that one could base an impactful decision like one’s high school on just a couple of hours. But many of my friends and peers have discussed their shadow days as defining experiences. What’s the magic behind shadowing? Is it really all that it’s cracked up to be? Or is it just too easy for a bad couple of hours to taint a shadow’s view of the entire school?

Sam Strachan (’23) and Nick Goldberg (’23) exemplify how shadowing is supposed to work. They both toured the school as eighth graders, and the two involved juniors have now taken shadows of their own. But their experiences as shadows differed.

“Yeah, it was great,” offers Sam when I ask them about their own shadow days. “I got an insight into the classes at CB, and it was nice because my shadow was in some of the programs that I was going into.” His shadow was friendly, talked to him, and generally helped him have a great experience.

But Nick’s shadow day didn’t go quite as well.

“My experience was pretty bad if I’m honest,” he says. “I shadowed this one kid, and he didn’t really talk to me that much. He just wasn’t super social.”

Although poor social skills in a shadow host can be forgiven, the insight that he was supposed to be delivering to eighth-grade Nick was also subpar. Despite Nick’s expressed interest in baseball, his host “didn’t really tell me about the baseball program or what it was about. He just took me along to his classes, and he didn’t tell me what was going on.”

Nick provides a perfect example of a shadow experience gone wrong. After hearing all that, I was kind of surprised that he was sitting in front of me as a student. Why, after that “terrible” shadow day, did he still end up at Christian Brothers?

“What stood out to me about CB during my shadow day was the nice and inclusive people,” he explains. His shadow experience immersed him in the community of our school above anything else; he spent time talking to other juniors who were nothing but kind to him, giving him a good taste of the overall attitude of CB students.

In regards to their own shadows, these junior hosts are doing everything in their power to give them the best impression of Christian Brothers.

“I didn’t stop talking to my shadow — I think I annoyed him a little bit,” says Nick with a grin. Nick had learned from his bad experience and was trying to avoid the same mistakes with his own shadows. “He was interested in engineering — we went to engineering and talked to Mr. Delgado. He’s interested in baseball, so we went out and saw the baseball field. We try to involve them in as much CB as possible and get them to know the school.”

Not only do the vigor of their hosts matter, but the day of the week that shadows come to CB can also make a profound difference.

“Having my second shadow on a Wednesday with seven classes was definitely a better experience for him,” explains Sam. “He got a better general idea of what the school was like rather than just two classes [like a block day].”

As an aside, I asked them which teacher is the best to bring a shadow too — not like hosts have any choice.

“It’d be [Mr. Brendan Hogan ’95],” says Sam, “even though I haven’t had a shadow with him.”

He glanced across the interview table at his fellow junior.

“I would completely agree,” Nick says.

“[Mr. Michael Hood] was good, too, though,” Sam concedes. “And [Mr. Rolf Schumann] did what he could, which wasn’t much.”

Director of Admissions & Communications Mrs. Kristen McCarthy “strongly encourage[s]” prospective Christian Brothers families to engage their eighth graders with their high school decision.

“What we hear from kids who do shadow days is that it’s a really important part of the decision-making process,” she tells me.

“We encourage students to really explore their options and find where they feel is the best fit for them,” she says. “Spending time on campus, watching the teacher-student interaction, watching how students treat one another — it gives you a good feel on whether you might fit on that campus.” Basically, shadow days allow incoming students to see the school for more than just numbers, but as a diverse and vibrant community.

Although it’s best for shadow hosts to act natural around their wards, Mrs. McCarthy warns that shadow hosts do have to be careful how they behave around impressionable shadows. “I do get feedback [from families] sometimes if our students exhibit questionable behavior,” she says.

One recent issue with a shadow guest was a rivalry that nearly all CB students accept as part of the school’s identity. “I heard just last week that it made some students uncomfortable when our students were talking negatively about St. Francis and Jesuit,” she confides. Mrs. McCarthy tells me that it’s important to keep in mind that shadows are still making their high school decision, and as such, we must be respectful.

“We don’t have room for everyone,” she laughs. “Those are great schools with wonderful academic programs and communities. Don’t put them down!”

Despite some minor hiccups, like Nick’s bad shadowing experience or the previously mentioned slander, Mrs. McCarthy thinks that “we get it right most of the time.” Shadowing is a unique phenomenon that lets students get at the heart of the school.

The one thing that Mrs. McCarthy kept coming back to during our interview was the “feel” of the school. “It gives them a feel for the community,” she opines. “If you couple that with Open House or a sports event or an art event, it really gives you a good feel.”

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