This week, we’ve been looking at how to develop a successful program for ninth-graders. While the focus has been on the freshmen, if you don’t work in a high school don’t feel like you’re left out of this conversation: the same efforts can support your work at any grade band.
Yesterday, we looked at the importance of designing your school for success. Some schools are built for student engagement and success while others don’t quite get there.
The second pillar of success for a ninth-grade program is Supporting Students In Their Journey to Success.
So, let’s say you design and roll out the best of programs for the ninth grade, a Freshman Academy. You do it the right way with interdisciplinary teams of teachers, exclusively dedicated to working with groups of ninth grade students. Let’s say that you find a space in your school.. a wing, a building, a portion of the campus to house your students and teachers. You have the framework, the design, of what your ninth-graders need to be successful.
If, even with those resources, you don’t fully support students according to their needs, your outcomes will fall short of what you had intended. To really transform what you do to serve your ninth-grade students, you need to have a place, have a team of teachers, and then build ongoing systems of support to help the students reach their goals.
What does that support look like? Here is a list of ten things to focus on to effectively support students in their journey to success.
- Understanding the needs of individual students: This is the foundation of all of the work. We need to know our students, know what they need, and get it for them. If you try to package a one-size-fits-all approach to your ninth-grade students, you will find that one-size often fits none! Support begins with a needs assessment, and this is only reached through relationships.
- Academic Enhancement (Extended Learning Time) Nearly every school has some form or “Extended Learning Time.” You can call it what you’d like: Tiger Time, ELT, Academic Enhancement. If you want to make a difference in the academic lives of your students, you’ll need to make their progress a priority by setting aside time during the day for academic assistance. If time is constant, learning will be variable; if we instead make time variable, we can meet the standards of learning we seek.
- Advisory (Strategic Planning for Graduation) A thriving advisory program that addresses topics from freshman transition to how credits work is essential. Longer topic for another time, but if you don’t have a noteworthy advisory program for your ninth grade students, you have some work to do.
- Counseling Support Freshmen need a counselor who understands them, wants to support them, and is proactive in their development.
- CAB (Caring Adult in the Building) Every ninth-grade student (and all of the other grades too!) needs at least one caring adult in the building. They all need someone they can trust, rely on, and who will support them in their progress. If everything else is great but students don’t think their teachers care about them, all of this work is really not going anywhere. It REALLY does come down to teachers and their relationships with their students.
- Roots and Wings Our work with ninth-graders is important in helping them establish themselves as a part of the school. We want to build a special place for them, but we also always want it to be a transitional part into a great overall experience.
- Love for Learning While there are SO many things that are important in developing a successful transition for our students as they enter high school, none is more important than what happens on a daily basis in the classroom. In short, if teachers love learning, and their love for learning is contagious, then our freshmen will engage into work in a meaningful way. If we can have our students finish the ninth-grade with a pocketful of credits and a love for learning, we will have created a wining foundation for school.
- Balance: A Just-Right Approach for Freshmen Students Freshmen are different than Seniors. I’m guessing you already know that, but they are actually very different. We need to treat them differently. Too often, we’d like to have “ready-made” students join us in the ninth grade. That doesn’t always happen. We need to focus on balance and spend time with our students to strike the right balance.
- The Administrator’s Role A big part of supporting your freshman students is having an administrator who is dedicated to working with them as her/his primary job. Having an administrator who is “embedded” with the Freshmen is critical in having a successful program.
- Professional Development of the Teachers As mentioned earlier, teaching freshmen is different than teaching seniors. Your teachers need professional learning as you begin a Freshman Academy, but it also needs to be ongoing.