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Freshman Academy Provides Structure and Support for New ECHS Students

The staff at East Central High School is working hard to ease the transition from middle school to high school for their freshmen students. 2019-2020 marks the second school year for their fresh take on the Freshman Academy. The academy has been around at ECHS for quite a while, but Principal Mike Crase wanted to revamp the whole program to turn it into a school-within-a-school. So, last year, they did just that. He tasked Assistant Principal Gina Wilson to lead the charge.

“The Freshman Academy was created because the research shows us that the transition to high school is difficult coming from the middle school mindset. The research also showed that your freshman year is one of your most important years of high school. It really is a huge factor on whether you graduate or not and the habits you create that freshman year,” said Gina.

In middle school, students are taken from class to class by their teachers, so the freedom of high school has proven too tempting in the past.

“We noticed that there was a time management issue. There was a maturity issue. There was a lot of roughhousing and playing. Not to mention those that had the mindset of skipping. It’s much easier in high school to leave out the front door or leave out the back door or go to the 5th floor and hang out in the bathroom instead being in math class,” she explained.

Now, the freshman class has their own wing in the building and a specially selected group of thirteen teachers that will help them excel.

“Strategically, we placed teachers that had the temperament for younger students and that understood that you are going to have some students that are going to come in and they are going to be very immature. You are not going to have the students that are ready and already maybe focused on college yet, but how do we get them there?” she said.

The Freshman Academy team works together to create an individualized plan of support for each student to help them academically, behaviorally, and socially. The goal is to target specific areas where they need extra help so they can develop good habits early on. The team meets every Friday to discuss how everything is going and bring up any concerns that may have arisen during the week.

“These Freshman Academy teachers have a heart for reaching these students. I could have not asked for a better team,” said Gina.

Students in the Freshman Academy have the opportunity to go on field trips if they meet the attendance and behavior goals for each quarter. Last year, ninth graders had the best attendance (95%!) and the least referrals in the whole building, which was a complete 180 from previous years.

“One key thing I did that I think was eye-opening for them was the day of the field trip everybody in the Freshman Academy came to the auditorium – every single student – and then I separated out the students that were getting on the bus and the ones that were staying in school. To see your friends getting ready to go to the Gathering Place, getting ready to go to Main Event, getting ready to go to Skyzone, and you’re like, ‘I really gotta sit here today?’” said Gina.

That fear of missing out helped students reevaluate and try to do better during the next quarter.

“I felt really strongly about students being able to start over. If you messed up the first nine weeks of school, I started everything over like it was fresh for you the second nine weeks,” said Gina. “What I didn’t want to happen was you messed up, there was immaturity there, there was some lack of understanding there, and then you don’t get to be celebrated the entire year.”

Sophomore Andrew Brock was a student in that first year of the new Freshman Academy. He struggled to stay out of trouble during the first quarter and regretted missing the field trip. He told Assistant Principal Wilson that he would never miss another one, and he didn’t.

“Since that time, I have seen so much maturity in him. I think it started because of the field trips, but it somehow morphed because this is the young man he was always meant to be,” she said.

Brock said the Freshman Academy taught him to be more respectful to his teachers and said the teachers he had during freshman year were very supportive. Now, instead of acting out, he is focused on doing his homework, making good grades, and preparing for his future. He said he wants to be a firefighter after he graduates.

That is exactly what the ECHS staff hoped to accomplish with the Freshman Academy.

“We, as a team, created an experience and an atmosphere for those ninth graders that hopefully they will never forget. I just wanted to create a great high school experience for them, and I also wanted to make sure I start to instill some things. The biggest thing was setting the stage and making the atmosphere where they were able to understand what they needed to do in high school to succeed,” said Gina. “I am excited to see last year’s class walk across that stage. I’m excited to see if the impact of the Freshman Academy affects our graduation rate for that cohort. That will be, in my opinion, the tell-all of did this work?”

For more information about the Freshman Academy, click here.