Transitions are never easy. For students one of the most difficult challenges they face is the transition from middle school to high school. This is a critical juncture, and our young people are at their highest risk of dropping out of school at that time. Performance in the ninth grade also often sets either the path of success or that of struggle for students with higher-education aspirations.
Many factors create stress during this transition. Students often move from a smaller school environment to a much larger school, there are no longer teams of teachers who work together to ensure students succeed, and the social pressures associated with the high school years are tremendous.
As a parent of a rising ninth-grader, I share the same concerns many parents do as their child prepares for high school, especially the feeling that she will be lost in a school with 1,500 students. During an orientation session, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wake Forest-Rolesville High School has developed a Ninth Grade Academy to address many of these issues. The vision of the Academy: “The Ninth Grade Academy, in cooperation with family and community, will create an interdisciplinary and supportive environment in which students develop skills and confidence necessary for scholarship, character, and citizenship.”
The academy has set high goals focused on promotion, absenteeism, and school involvement. During a parent information session the Academy Director Andrew Markoch said, “Our philosophy is that all children can succeed and it is our responsibility as educators to create strategies that work for every child.” There is a clear correlation between that belief and the goals set. As stated on the WFRHS website, the three main goals for the academy are “95% promotion rate for ninth graders, 85% of students will be absent less than ten days per semester and 75% of students will be involved in athletics, music, or other clubs and extracurricular activities at school”.
The strategies used to meet these goals are not new or “flavor of the month” programs. Instead, they are common-sense tactics coupled with a commitment by the staff to ensure student success starting with continuous communication between teachers and parents. While many schools I have visited or worked with preach “parent involvement”, Wake Forest Rolesville High is actually recognizing that a child’s most important education begins at home. They are making parents partners in their children’s success. This communication begins before children enter high school, as all parents work with the counselors to create four-year graduation plans for their children. Regular communication via conferences, phone calls, and email keep parents in the loop and can head off any signs of trouble. The teachers and counselors are also very timely in their responses. As I was working with my daughter to create her five-year plan, we had several email interactions with teachers who were glad to help answer our questions.
The Ninth Grade Academy also employs several techniques that help acclimate students to the high school environment. The Ninth Grade Center, which is only open to ninth-graders, allows students one location to go to get answers to their questions, discuss problems, or meet other ninth-graders. Understanding the benefits of a team of teachers working together to ensure student success, WFRMS has created a ninth-grade team led by an administrator, counselor and center director. The team looks to personalize the education plan for each student and helps head off trouble by identifying problems early.
There are numerous opportunities for students to get extra help, starting with Soar After School program. Teachers with expertise in various subjects are there to assist students with questions and will also provide one-on-one tutoring. WFRHS also provides transportation home for students who participate in SOAR, which ensures all young people can take advantage of the services. Saturday school provides students another venue to avoid potential problems. Students can make up missed work or tests as well as make up an absence if they have missed more than the allowed 10 days per semester.
The bottom line is that Wake Forest Rolesville High School is making its students’ success a top priority and the results are impressive.
Last year 92 percent of ninth-graders were promoted, 78 percent missed less than 10 days for the entire school year, and 67 percent were involved in a school activity.
Paige Holland Hamp is a contributing editor of Carolina Journal.