After 12+ years of teaching freshmen, being an administrator for freshmen, and consulting on the topic of freshmen, I finally am the father of a high school freshman!
My daughter, Kaitlin, started high school today. She is now officially a 9th grader – and I officially feel older than I should!
One key point that I have believed over the years is that freshmen are pretty scared/nervous when they come into the high school. I had no idea, however, just how true this is. Kaitlin is an excellent student. She is funny, personable, talented, well-liked, and pretty. She makes great grades and has plenty of friends. As a member of our school’s marching band – which has over 10% of our student body in it – she is already involved with school activities. She is coming to the high school from our system’s only middle school which means she knows virtually all of the students in her grade. Her father is the 9th grade administrator at her school and she knows many of the faculty members. She has been in the building numerous times over the years and already knows where many things are. You would think that Kaitlin would have complete confidence going into high school.
And you would think wrong! I have never seen my daughter so nervous. She couldn’t sleep the night before. She couldn’t remember simple things due to being so nervous and flustered. Her emotions were running high and out of control. It must have taken her 2 hours just to pack her backpack. She could barely think straight.
Imagine how much more terrifying or nerve-racking or overwhelming going to high school must be for a freshman who doesn’t know the school, the students, and the administrators or who doesn’t make good grades and isn’t involved with the school. There is something about going into that high school setting that is simply more than the typical 14 year old can handle.
I have preached the importance of Freshman Transition for many years. I now will preach it even harder. If your school is not actively setting out to provide supports for freshman, then it’s time to start. If you are not empowering your teachers to meet the needs of students, then it’s time to start. The 9th grade year is too important to let students slip through the cracks. It is imperative that smaller learning communities be created to nurture freshmen during this year. If Kaitlin needs this then I know for sure that the vast majority of freshmen in this country do as well.
If you or your school is just starting to consider 9th grade transition, you might check out The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up
or the series of blog posts on Creating a Freshman Transition Program that starts with this post