Incoming kindergartners and high school freshmen had something in common Tuesday in Hamilton - both were treated with kid gloves on the first day of school.

While kindergartners were learning the basics of how to behave in a group educational setting, the Hamilton High School freshmen were put through a freshmen-only orientation day.

Hamilton High School Principal Kevin Conwell said the main point of his school's first freshmen-only day was to give his 125 new students a solid grasp of expectations with respect to behavior and academic performance.

"We just know how important those transitions are and the ninth-grade year is really a make-or-break year for these kids," Conwell said. "And we think if we can get them off to a good start, we have a better chance at holding onto more of them through graduation. That's what's really important to us."

The freshmen-only day involved team-building exercises and some discussions with older student mentors. It also offered new students a chance to tour everything from the library and computer labs to the athletic facilities to the lunchroom and common areas.

Conwell said the school's expectations for its newest citizens follow this behavioral credo: Be safe. Be responsible. Be respectful.

The motto and first-day activities dovetail into the statewide Montana Behavioral Initiative, which aims to increase graduates' "social and academic competence."

Instilling team concepts and awareness of positive behaviors are cornerstones of the MBI program, said Shawna Kientz, principal at Washington School, where kindergarten teachers spent Tuesday going through basic concepts like raising your hand to ask a question.

"We try to give them a sense of school-wide expectations and teach them what to do, rather than what not to do," Kientz said.

In the 15 years since the state Office of Public Instruction launched MBI, the program has grown from nine to 230 participating schools, according the MBI website.

Of the school districts in Ravalli County, special commendation was awarded last year to Stevensville Elementary, Hamilton High School and Daly Elementary in Hamilton.

Duby Santee, superintendent of the Hamilton School District, pointed to the reduced incidence of many bad behaviors in his schools as proof that MBI has been helpful.

Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or


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