By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
SHANNON – Freshmen at Shannon High School now have an easier time getting acclimated to high school.
The school started a new ninth-grade academy this year to give its newest students a better sense of identity. Those 136 freshmen have been given their own corner of the campus and a unique bell schedule that ensures they are not in the hallways or cafeteria at the same time as upperclassmen.
Their schedules were also carefully selected to help them get better enrichment opportunities according to their needs.
“Our thought was to not just separate them from our high school but to put them in a position where we could address their needs academically and better prepare them for high school,” said Shannon High School Principal Robert Smith.
One semester since instituting the new academy, school leaders said they have seen improved academic performance and fewer discipline referrals.
Before school began, Shannon High School lead teacher Betsy Grubbs carefully crafted each student’s schedule based upon grades, state test results and teacher recommendations. She worked to put students in classes where they would get extra help in the areas where they were struggling or would be pushed more in those where they were strongest.
Students who had done poorly in English, for instance, were placed in English 1 during the first semester so that they would have a second opportunity to pass the class during the spring if they failed it the first time. They were also placed in a half-period class that provided extra help in English.
Those efforts have made an impact, school leaders said.
“The most important thing is we believe in these kids, and we want to do everything we can to make sure they are successful,” Grubbs said.
None of the school’s freshmen failed English 1 during the fall and nine failed intermediate algebra, a class designed to prepare students for algebra 1. Last year, 19 students failed English 1 during the first semester and 45 flunked intermediate algebra.
Tests given to all of the school’s freshmen in August revealed that half of them needed extra interventions in reading. Midway through the year, 60 percent of those students showed improvement on a follow-up test.
Meanwhile, discipline referrals have declined nearly 75 percent, from almost 400 during the first semester last year to 104 this year.
Assistant principal Dusty Kelly, who oversees the school’s freshmen, attributes that decline to having all of the ninth graders clustered in specific wings of the campus rather than scattered around as they were in the past.
That allows staff to keep a better eye on those students.
“I think it is because of the monitoring I do and our teachers do,” Kelly said. “We have them on one part of the campus so I can patrol that side of the campus.
“Every time they change classes, every time they go to lunch, every time they are in the hallway, they see me.”
The freshmen also have their own bell schedule, different from that of the upperclassmen. They do not have lunch at the same time as the older students and are not in the hallway at the same time as them.
Shannon High School is the first place where students from Shannon Middle School and Plantersville Middle School merge together, and freshman year can be stressful for students forming new social groups.
That tension had often led to fights over territories in past years, Kelly said, noting that there has only been one fight involving freshmen this year. He credits that to giving the freshmen their own identity, separated from the rest of the student body, and to the increased ability to monitor students.
Last year, SHS had only one assistant principal. This year Kelly is one of two assistant principals.
English 1 teacher Kathy Pippin agrees that the academy has helped students with their adjustment to high school.
“Separating these kids helps them focus more on the transition from middle school to high school,” she said. “The two schools get to blend together before they blend with the 10th, 11th and 12th grade.”
Freshman math teacher Amy Hagood has also noticed an improvement in discipline.
“I think it gives the ninth graders a chance to mature a little more,” she said. “I feel like the ninth graders feel a little more comfortable just being with ninth graders and not mixing with upper classmen.”