Orientation programs help students make the grade
By Diane Schlindwein
Copley News Service
No matter whether they are entering elementary, middle or high school, students who are "moving up" within the school system might need help adjusting when the school bell rings this fall. A more complicated class schedule, different surroundings and unfamiliar classmates can add to the normal stress of a new academic year.
In the highly rated Ball-Chatham District No. 5 in Chatham, Ill., students entering Glenwood High School attend a program called "Freshman Advantage: The Freshman Connection." The program was started five years ago by retiring teacher Rita Singer. GHS freshman intervention coordinator Kristina Valentine runs the program, which lasts for six days - three hours each day - with students picking whether they attend morning or afternoon sessions.
The Freshman Advantage program covers building tours, note-taking tips, test-taking strategies, time management, an introduction to high school expectations and resources within the school to help students academically succeed. Older student mentors act as a peer connection. Starting this year, teachers will be assigned a group of students during Freshman Advantage and will then meet with that "summer group" during lunchtime once a month.
"This will serve as a way for students to have an adult connection in the school," Valentine explains. "Teachers will also meet with each other once a month to discuss any problems their students are experiencing and to help set up interventions for students in need of additional help."
Valentine says the program at Chatham is in no way unique. "This program is not exclusive to Chatham, as many high schools are establishing transition plans to help freshmen students make the transition from middle school to high school," she adds. "The latest research shows that if students do not have success freshman year they are more at risk than at any other time of their academic career to drop out of school.
"Our program has been adjusted each year to try to improve or expound to meet the needs of the students," Valentine says. "We have conducted research and try to look at other programs so we can continue to improve."
Across the country, many schools are open a few days before school starts so parents and students can check out their new room or practice opening a locker. Very young children benefit from actually meeting their new teacher as he or she sets up the classroom for the new school year.
Of course, no matter how diligent school staffs try to be, it is the parents' job to keep tabs on their child's feelings and outlook on the new school year. Keeping the lines of communication open is essential, as is paying close attention to a student's mood or general demeanor. If a student seems to have trouble adjusting, a parent should talk to the student right away - and possibly schedule a visit with the school guidance counselor. In other words, don't wait until the first parent-teacher conference if a student is floundering.
"When it comes to the adjustment process, I cannot say whether freshman year is easier for boys or for girls," Valentine says. "Each comes with their own insecurities, personalities and troubles. As for warning signs for parents, I would like to say there is a quick list, but really I cannot say that there is.
"Parents know their children best. Checking and looking at a student's grades is not the only indicator that a student is not making the transition," Valentine concludes. "Parents really need to stay in touch and talk with their students."
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