Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2007

LHS hopes changes boost freshmen

February 15, 2007

Separate walls and separate halls.

That's what a Lansing High School team proposes as a first step in creating a firmer foundation for freshmen during that oft-vexing transition from middle school to high school.

LHS leaders will launch what they're calling "a school within a school" for freshmen this fall, LHS principal Steve Dike told the Lansing School Board during its monthly meeting Monday, Feb. 12.

LHS social worker Katie Smith told the board she and LHS counselors, teachers and administrators hoped the new plan would remedy a disturbing, but not new, occurrence: Forty-two percent of the freshmen class scored a D or F last semester at LHS, and 35 percent of discipline referrals were for freshmen.

As a result, 10 percent of LHS freshmen already are off track to graduate, and it's time to make a change, Smith said.

Results from a teacher survey blamed a lack of motivation for 62 percent of those D's and F's and a lack of study skills for the remaining 48 percent.

"If they can get a good year underneath their belt, they're going to be more likely to succeed later on," Smith told the board.

The plan calls for freshmen to have a "home base," essentially a designated area of hallways and classrooms where freshmen attend their core classes.

Those core classes are taught by a group of faculty members who collaborate with one another regularly.

All upperclassmen, including those who have to retake first-year core classes, would enroll in sections apart from freshmen.

"They're not back in with all the freshmen. They're now in a class of their own, so it's easier to target those kids, and they're not then teaching these new freshmen how to not succeed," Smith said.

An eighth-hour program, with late busing and tutoring assistance from National Honor Society members, will be instituted for freshmen who don't complete class assignments.

And additional study skills will be added to the curriculum to help freshmen better prepare for the high school transition, Smith said.

Similar programs have proved successful in other districts, including Turner High School and Highland Park High School in Topeka, so long as they were mandatory and involved staff, students and parents, Smith told the board.

English teacher Linda Leffler said teachers had noticed positive changes since freshmen started attending school one day sooner than upperclassmen two years ago.

"We've already seen that that particular intervention has helped a lot," she said.

Smith said the plan could face challenges because of limited building space and funding.

Board members, however, showed overwhelming support for the proposal.

"I've had six freshmen at the high school, including one this year :" board member Beth Stevenson said. "I know that something like this in a transition form would really help."

With the exception of additional busing, Dike said existing teaching resources would support the plan.

"The nice thing about this is it's shifting a lot of resources, but it's not generating a need for a lot of new resources," Dike said.

Board member Brian Bode said he supported the plan, but he cautioned administrators about the fall-out of sending students to eighth hour, which could keep students from attending extracurricular events, such as athletics and work.

LHS assistant principal Mike Bogard said after-school detention is already in place to address students who don't complete their assignments.

Teachers who work with freshmen on a regular basis and who have expertise in the core classes would staff the eighth hour in the new model.

"One of the things that I like about the eighth hour - you're thinking of it as a negative consequence - I'm looking at it as an avenue of getting that kid some help," Bogard said.

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