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.”

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