COVID-19: How did it affect new nines?


Elke Teichmann

The freshman class stands on the Circle during the Tie Ceremony on Opening Day.

New year? New nines. Every year, Castilleja admits about ten new students into the ninth grade class, and these “new nines” scramble to find friends in a grade of students that have known each other for years.

At the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, extracurricular activities, like sports and Gatorbotics, were exclusively held online, causing even more struggle for the new students. On top of these regular hardships, the onset of the pandemic did not help. Staying six feet apart at all times hindered conversation, and the constant fear of catching COVID-19 limited hangouts.

The sudden crowd of people asking your name, the jolt of excitement when someone invites you to lunch—these welcoming moments were experiences that many class of 2024 new nines missed out on last year. The normality of pre-COVID had gone extinct.

Many adults were concerned about the wellbeing of these new students, too. “I know I worried about [their experience], I know parents reached out to me worried about it, and I know teachers were also thinking about it and that continued this year,” the ninth grade dean, Christy Story, recounted.

Many new nines struggled to make friends or even acquaintances in the beginning of the first semester of the 2020-21 school year. “It felt like there wasn’t anything to help us connect with the rest of the class,” Riley Sterling ’24, a now-sophomore, described.

Ninth grade is usually a time to meet new people and make new friends, but COVID-19 completely changed what the class of 2024 experienced. “Being a new nine is already hard, so Zoom classes added another layer of difficulty and disconnect,” Aria Kapoor ’24 noted.

“At times I caught myself comparing how I was doing to other new nines to see if I needed to change anything about me,” commented Yasmine Haque ’24. Diving head first into a grade where 50 people already know each other is not an easy feat. Analisa Delgado ’24 explains that “it felt like everybody wanted to reconnect with their old friends and forgot that they had classmates who didn’t know anybody.”

However, the new nines of the 2021-22 school year had a different experience. Winnie Hui ’25, described her new nine experience as extremely inclusive: “Everyone pulls you right in.” Although being a new nine has its difficulties, stories like Hui’s exemplify the extraordinary empathy and understanding that Castilleja students show.

The onset of the pandemic brought many challenges to the class of 2024 new nines. Yet, they pushed through awkward silences and frightening breakout rooms and found themselves a year later entering the school and making their mark in the Castilleja community. Despite the stark differences between the experiences of a shelter-at-home new nine and a post-pandemic new nine, Castilleja is finally starting to feel like home.