Freshman house changes frustrate teachers

Freshmen house was created four years ago to make an 8th grader’s transition to high school a little bit easier.  Now a senior, Sarah Griffith said she still remembers her freshman experience and how Freshman House helped her.

“I really liked that we had the same teachers all year long,” she said.  “And what I remember most is the freshman house war we had between two teams.”

Creating a smooth transition socially as well as academically was a goal of the freshmen house.  Team bonding– like the team “war” Griffith experienced– allows for freshmen to get familiar with their peers and not feel intimidated entering a school with twice the number of students compared to middle school.

The academic component is vital according to Principal Kit Moran.

“Our goal for high school is for you to graduate 12th grade ready to go to Harvard,”  Moran said.

But due to a smaller freshman class and budget cuts, there are fewer freshmen house teachers this year, meaning there aren’t well defined “teams” like there have been previous years, leading to frustration among freshman house teachers.

“The changes made this year were due to a very small freshman population,” freshmen house Earth Science teacher Beau Kimmey said.  “One of the teams had to be reduced down to three teachers, and it ended up messing up the American Studies blocks.”

The first year freshmen house was implemented, there were three teams of four teachers with two math teachers shared among the three teams.  This year the block sessions like the American Studies block which includes English and social studies, have been broken apart.  Now freshmen also travel between teams for science as well as math.

For example, teachers Ryan Baese and Andrew Parker used to work together by opening up the walls between their classrooms and having a two-hour, or “blocked” class period.  Now the American Studies block session is replaced by two separate classes, one English and one American History.

This changed the whole premise of freshmen house–of belonging to a smaller community within the big high school.

“The idea of freshman house where you belong to a certain team has fallen apart this year,” Kimmey said.

And this new version of freshmen house may result in lower freshman academic success according to Moran.

He said students who are failing classes during high school fail most in freshman year.  The concept of the original freshmen house was to prepare these students better and intervene early to avoid such failures.

“A lot of kids come in and they’re not ready. They don’t do homework. They’re not organized. They don’t see the value of it,” he said.

And the house concept seemed to work, according to Kimmey.

The class of 2014 was the first class that went through the freshmen house, and they had some of the highest standardized test scores on record for Dexter.

“We know that the freshman house at least helped a little bit because the class of ‘14 had the highest MME scores in science Dexter’s ever had,” Kimmey said.  “Something that was going on caused the scores to be higher.”

So despite the changes to the house and potential to impact student learning, Moran said he and other administrators will still work to make the transition into high school a positive one.

“We are bringing you in, 9th grade, from middle school and there is a big change that needs to happen between the first day of 9th grade and the last day of 12th grade, we have to deal with that 9th grade,” he said.  “Ninth grade is the most important grade–behind senior year of course.”

Bump, set, sign

Before hitting the court, all players in the volleyball program have to sign a social media contract prohibiting them from posting hurtful comments about the team, fellow players and opponents.

The contract is a replica of the contract the University of Michigan uses for its women’s volleyball team.

“At the old school I coached, people would write untrue things about their teammates to get them kicked off,” Days said. “I just don’t want to see that again. I wanted to put guidelines in place for the team to follow.”

Day is helping her athletes prepare for the future by teaching them to respect the permanency and prominence of social media. Volleyball player August Bishop recognizes the benefits.

“I actually like the idea behind the contract,” she said. “Our whole team supported it.”

Social media contracts such as these aren’t uncommon in high school sports due to the increasing prominence of social media in high school life.

Head varsity football coach Ken Koenig gave his team distinct rules to follow throughout the season. Positive or negative, every electronic comment toward the Dexter football program had to be posted only on the Dexter Football Touchdown Club Facebook page.

If a player violates this social media restriction, he is suspended for a game.

“If you’re going to say it, it should be something that can be read by everybody,” Koenig said.

He said he wants his team to make their decisions based on the acronym C.H.I.P.: Character, Honor, Integrity, and Pride.

“CHIP is the filter that our guys should run their ideas through,” he said.

But there are some sports teams that don’t feel social media poses a significant threat.

The women’s varsity basketball team doesn’t have a social media contract in effect. According to Assistant Coach Lauren Thompson, the coaching staff doesn’t think such a contract is necessary.

“We feel like our players respect our wishes on social media,” she said. “We think that they do a pretty good job of representing us in the right way. We have a good relationship with our players, and we trust them. They understand the expectations we have for them.”

However, even with its positive attitude, the basketball team isn’t immune to social networking scandals.

“We’ve had to not start players before,” Thompson said. “We don’t have any tolerance for any kind of negative social media stuff about our team or our opponents. Part of being a part of our program is to have high standards for ourselves, and they understand that we carry ourselves a certain way.”

Despite not having a concrete social media contract in place, basketball players still face consequences for any inappropriate social networking. Thompson encourages her girls to act respectably.

“We try to keep things as positive as we can,” she said. “Obviously we can’t control what our girls tweet and facebook about, but we want them to be as positive about us and our opponents as we can. If we see something that’s negative that they’re Tweeting or Facebooking, there are definite team consequences.”

Social media didn’t used to exist. Now its role in sports is rapidly increasing, with athletes constantly having to keep emotions under control in their social lives.

Dexter High School Athletic Director, Mike Bavineau, fears that students use social media without considering the repracautions of their posts. Bavineau believes putting guidelines in place is a smart way to get athletes in the habit of thinking before posting.

“My biggest priority is to educate kids on what they need to know and how social media will impact them eventually. As for contracts, I think the coach has to lay the expectations down for each of their individual teams and how they want their programs to run, so if they decide that they want their teams to have a contract, I support that,” Bavineau said.

Declination release strong new album, Human Blood

The stage lights dim, the monitors hum and tension builds as Joe West prepares to take the stage. He tunes his guitar and checks over his setlist, as he has hundreds of times before. West has been at it for years now, playing rock/metal shows, self-recording and releasing albums under the project name “Declination.” However tonight is special. For the first time he will be playing songs of his newly released album “Human Blood.”

Following the lead of his first E.P. “Abyss” (2012), “Human Blood” contains brutal, invigorating riffs, with technical breakdowns and dark, disturbing lyrical imagery.

“He is definitely stepping his game up with this album,” senior Chris Richter said, “The overall production quality of this album is fantastic, from the song structure and transitions, right down to the album art.”

The first track of the album “Prelude” offers a ghoulish and completely unnerving monologue to set the theme for the rest of the album in its twisted and tortured nature. The lyrical content throughout the next 13 minutes that make up the rest of the album is a combination of harsh social commentary and almost maniacal fantasies.

“The album (to me at least), is a reflection of human life, nature, and habits,” West said.

As someone who is not generally a fan of thrash metal, I have been surprised by Declination time and time again. I’ve known West personally for several years and have had the privilege to watch him grow as an artist. The musicianship displayed on this album, (and in live performances), is phenomenal and inspiring. Even if you are not a fan of metal or rock in general, I would definitely give this album a listen.

The album can be streamed offline for free at here or purchased for a donation of a dollar or more.

Scheduling problems lead to angry students

Senior Margaret Bussineau wanted to take Humanities. And she wanted to take IB French as well. But because Humanities is only offered during a first and second hour block and because IB French is only offered first hour, Bussineau had to settle with a Upper Class Seminar, or UCS, an English class for juniors and seniors.

Like many students, Bussineau is the victim of a master schedule that leaves teachers, students, counselors and administrators stressed and often hampers students who want to take multiple, academically-challenging courses.

“I really don’t enjoy my (UCS) class,” Bussineau said. “It seems like a huge academic step down from AP English, but it was the only class that would fit. So basically, I am stuck having a class I don’t really want.”

So who’s at fault for what appears to be an issue year after year?

Bussineau said not to blame her counselor, Craig Rafail.

“Mr. Rafail could only do so much,” she said. “It wasn’t up to him to change the periods certain classes are offered.”

In addition, Dexter High School’s student-to-counselor ratio of more than students to one counselor is far above the state standard which is 1-to-250, a ratio suggested by the Michigan School Counseling Association. Administrators say this imbalance cannot be fixed because of budget restraints. For comparison, Ann Arbor Pioneer averaged 275 students per counselor for the 2012-2013.

“We’re understaffed,” Rafail said. “We need more time to commit to each individual student. It’s safe to say we get frustrated, but we get through it.”

In order to get more time, Rafail said, the counselors need to get the master schedule sooner. But the counselors aren’t in charge of actually making the schedule. They often don’t get their students’ schedules until after school is out, and as they are not contracted to work during the summer.

“Most schools get a master schedule in March and then have time to work with the students and their schedules,” counselor Kristie Doyle said.

So how does the scheduling process work? According to multiple interviews with multiple sources, the master schedule is headed by Assistant Principal Ken Koenig who solicits help from volunteering teachers Ryan Baese, Debora Marsh and David Teddy.

Baese specifically joined the process to meet requirements for graduate school  where he is getting his Masters in educational administration. Baese said that he would like to continue being a part of the master scheduling process in the future.

The process begins in January after students request their desired classes in PowerSchool in December. With this information, 96 percent of students’ choices are satisfied in the first draft of the master schedule Koenig said. He also said that the process for creating the schedule each year has been made easier with the use of new technology such as PowerScheduler.

However, after these numbers come out, the scheduling process is generally stalled as projections for teachers as well as the budget for the next year aren’t released until the spring. As budget numbers are released and teacher retirements are announced, this affects the numbers of classes offered. Based on this information schedule has to be modified again.

Because budget and retirement information came so late last school year, that made this year’s schedule particularly difficult to make, according to Dexter Education Association President Joe Romeo.

“Part of the problem came from the fact that Mr. Moran was told late that he would have fewer teachers, so the schedules had to be adjusted again,” Romeo said. “The class lists are supposed to be available the third Friday in May, but they were not this year.”

This meant that some classes with up to 70 students, were not identified in time for adjustments in the schedule to be made in the spring. This lead to some teachers not getting their actual schedule until the Tuesday or Wednesday before the first week of school. This created some unhappy teachers.

“If a teacher’s schedule is not the same in the fall as he thought it would be, the teacher might have wasted time preparing for a course he won’t teach, or he might not be prepared for a class he is going to teach. Neither of these options are any good,” Romeo said.

According to Koenig, a large part of the difficulty with scheduling is all of the classes that DHS offers. Koenig said offering a large number of classes creates more student choice which creates more potential for classes to conflict by being offered during the same hour.

“The more classes we can offer within our teaching flexibility, the more possibility for conflict,” he said.

“That’s what kids don’t get,” counselor Kristy Doyle said, “every class is not offered every hour.”

However, some of the conflict also comes from the students themselves according to Doyle. Doyle said students often sign up for classes based on what classes their friends are in or what teachers are “cool” or based on classes they think they should take rather than ones they are interested in.

“Kids have to make better, more informed decisions based on their capability,” she said. “Kids have to learn how to work with different people and different teachers. You won’t get to pick your professor. It’s the real world; you have to learn how to deal with that.”

As an example, Doyle said many students in January sign up for difficult classes like AP Language and AP Literature; however, when the school year comes around, they realize that they do not actually want to be in that class or maybe they didn’t complete their summer homework. She said these last-minute decisions are part of the reason that the counseling office is so busy at the start of the school year.

Regardless of a student’s reason for being in the counseling office for a messed up schedule, Koenig and the counselors agree that they’d rather have students in class.

“We don’t like having you stuck in the counseling office. It’s crappy,” Koenig said.

Though counselors, teachers and administrators said that the scheduling process has been chaotic for over seven years, new Superintendent Chris Timmis hopes to see changes in the future.

“I understand the reasons for the delays this year, and Mr. Moran and I have talked about timelines,” Timmis said. “The ability to build the schedule as well as get schedules to students is contingent on information regarding staffing, which comes from the superintendent and Board of Education, being available in February and March.”

And even though some teachers interviewed suggested that the schedule be changed so student choice not drive the schedule, Timmis said he doesn’t agree.

“I believe the high school schedule needs to be designed around student interests,” he said.

And despite the chaos and lines in the counseling office at the end of the year, Bussineau said she understand each counselor trying to schedule 400 kids is a monumental task.

“Even though I had a lot of scheduling conflicts this year, I have a lot of appreciation for what the counselors do for us,” Bussineau said. “It can’t be easy.”

You know what's awkward? The middle urinal

The middle urinal is so awkward.

Ever since childhood, it has been an unspoken law not to go in the middle urinal. Even if someone is in dire pain, most of the time he will wait, shaking in unspoken agony instead of going to the middle.

Every once in a while, while I’m in the bathroom either to the left or the right urinal, some weird freshman walks in and doesn’t know the unspoken law of the middle urinal.

When I’m finished and zipped up, I generally turn around with much anger and say, “Gosh how rude.”

It’s honestly really funny how some days I will go to the bathroom after lunch by the library and there will be a huge, backed-up line for the urinal. And when I finally get to the front, I realize this whole time no one was using two of the bathrooms because in those bathrooms there are two middle urinals instead of one.

Out of all the times I have gone to the bathroom since I have been in high school I have only witnessed three times where a kid has used the middle, and to be honest it freaked me out a little bit. I wasn’t prepared to go to the bathroom so close to another human being.

If you don’t know the unspoken law known by all men: don’t be that guy who goes in the middle.