Little Fish in the Big PondTuesday, January 24, 2012 By Ashley Reese
While seniors at EWG are preparing for their final semester before graduation, freshmen are just beginning their navigation through high school. What concerns do they have? Where are their priorities? Was the transition from Junior High easy? “I would have liked to have my schedule in the summer… in order to learn it ahead of time because when I started school, nothing made sense,” stated freshman Jacquie Lerner. She wasn’t the only student who found EWG’s intricate schedule system confusing. Of the seventy ninth-grade students surveyed, there was a unanimous agreement that learning the schedule and consequently finding the corresponding classes every day was confusing. To some, it is still a daily challenge. That being said, EWG freshmen didn’t offer any other qualms regarding their recent transition from eighth grade. “I actually like high school a lot better, because I had more freedom,” said freshman Garrett Winter, “the teachers let you do a lot more stuff and you can choose your own classes.” But just why is freshman year so important? According to research presented by the National High School Center, “the transition into high school is a critical juncture for students – a time when they move from often smaller and more supportive middle schools to larger high schools, where the academic and social demands are higher.” The same research also indicates that “unsuccessful high school transitions contribute to high drop-out rates, low on-time graduation rates, and low achievement in American high schools.” Evidently, ninth grade performance is also indicative of a student’s future. A report released in February by the Breakthrough Collaborative network in association with the Department of Education explains that “between 70 and 80 percent of students who fail in the first year will not graduate from high school.” Because students must meet “more rigorous academic expectations,” the report explains, it is therefore the responsibility of school administrators to smooth the transition into high school. Numerous factors make the transition from eighth to ninth grade uneasy for a student. For example, an article published in the Adolescent Literacy library, entitled “Ensuing Successful Student Transitions from the Middle Grades to High School,” reports that the increased “number of students” on a high school campus generates, “fear and trepidation… feelings of being lost and not being connected… a strong sense of anxiety, resulting from the newfound anonymity.” A similar article released by the “Freshman Transition” organization notes that these “adjustment problems” are directly decreased as a result of a comprehensive transitioning program within the district, starting in eighth grade. This program should include, the report explains, a student’s self-reported career outline – comparable to the “ILP” system in place at EWG. “But getting the average 14-year old student to think about and cultivate the attitudes and ambitions needed to be a successful adult is an uphill battle,” notes Rebecca Dedmond, of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. And so how does EWG emphasize the importance of a successful freshman year? According to the guidance department, the fact that the Junior High School and the Senior High School are physically conjoined plays a huge part in the successful transitioning of students between the two. Where students in other districts will experience in undeniable change of culture and atmosphere by switching the locations in which the go to school once they transition into ninth grade, junior high students at EWG are consistently around upperclassmen, which allows for the development of gradual bonding. Freshmen may still experience anxiety from the increased demand of college preparatory classes, but the guidance department also reports that teachers from the junior high and high school simply “talk to each other.” This allows for an alignment of curriculum and expectations that may not exist in public school districts elsewhere. Many EWG freshmen report their confidence in joining the high school. While ninth grade students face their first bout of high school exams, some students – like freshman Emily Hodges – explain that not only are they confident about the beginning of their high school career, they are “excited,” to embark on the journey. So, to the current ninth grade class – good job! You’ve made it through your first semester. Keep it up! And to the incoming class of 2016 – good luck! Remember that the administration and guidance department will be here to make the transition as smooth as possible.