The summer of 1995 has become an historical marker for North Central. It was the first year of PantherQuest. Incoming freshmen from the Class of 1999 were given a new opportunity to engage with North Central before classes ever started. More than orientation, incoming students got a tour that went beyond simply navigating of the halls. They got an entertaining tour of how to navigate high school. From making friends, to understanding the rules, to finding your niche, PantherQuest became the model for high school orientation.
Author Note: As a co-lead facilitator of PantherQuest, I had the chance to present the PantherQuest program to a national audience of secondary education leaders in 1999. We had no idea of the demand for the program. The number of [Mascot]Quest programs that exist in central Indiana and beyond now is a testament to the strength of that original idea.
Now entering its third decade, PantherQuest continues to be THE pathway to high school for new Panthers. This past summer, 535 incoming students took advantage of the program. The day starts with a rowdy greeting of silly, screaming soon-to-be peers. It ends with the incoming freshmen showing off their new spirit and school knowledge. In between, they grow from middle school graduates to high school students.
“The impact on freshmen can be seen through new relationships and friendships, confidence in the transition, and improved knowledge of successful study habits,” said Chris Vermillion, a teacher at North Central who oversees PantherQuest with his co-sponsor, Traci Rodgers. “We have kept data for over a decade that shows that students who go to PQ earn more credits and have a higher GPA as compared to their counterparts.”
This is intentional. While students remember the fun and the friends, the three core learning components to the program are what provide the ultimate benefit to incoming students:
- Getting involved immediately with extracurricular activities
- How to have academic success (study habits, time management, utilizing NCHS support systems)
- Navigation of the rules and where to go for help
The tours may be helpful, but the inherent lessons are lasting. And that’s not just for the incoming freshmen. PantherQuest is staffed by 40 current North Central students and over a dozen faculty/staff. Each year, there are far more applicants than spots available, sometimes by more than triple.
“As far as upperclassmen, we view improved leadership as the most important skill gained,” added Vermillion, who has been involved with PantherQuest for 15 years. “PQ also focuses a lot on creativity and teaching at the sites so many of our upperclassmen come out of PQ with the confidence to lead their peers.
“We think the biggest change we’ve seen is in the upperclassmen themselves. The PQ family of upperclassmen is so diverse, and it accepts everyone. Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors, jocks, theatre, clubs, white, black, hispanic, former refugee. Everyone is part of the family. The students have responsibilities for almost eight hours a day, but this doesn’t stop them from hanging out with each other almost every night of the 10 days.”
Students, faculty and staff from the beginning will tell you about how the culture changed thanks to PantherQuest. It has shrunk a gigantic school into a more unified group of students. Of course, evolution of the program has been essential to its survival. Vermillion championed for the program to become a part of the freshman education fees, providing easier, universal access to the program. Attendance nearly doubled as a result. The day has also been shortened to maximize the energy of the facilitators and participants. Finally, ParentQuest was born, providing the parents of incoming students a chance to learn about the experience their child was about to start. The 90-minute program was attended by 135 parents this past summer.
Some 20 years later, PantherQuest has become a program synonymous with North Central, as engrained into the fabric of the school as the colors or fight song. It’s not going anywhere, and will only get better.
“New traditions seem to be added every year and the student’s regularly tell us that PQ was the highlight of their summer.”
The Advancement Center is proud to underwrite $10,000 of PantherQuest expenses annually. It’s success leads to successful students, who become successful alumni. As we watch it thrive, please consider a gift to the Annual Fund to help assure this support continues.