AUDIO: Ridgeland High School assistant principal Matt Maynor talks with school board members about the new freshman culture. (1:14)
PRESENTATION: Maynor's PowerPoint presentation on the academy to the Walker County school board.
Ridgeland High Schools Ninth Grade Academy, launched a year ago, was set up to help smooth eight-graders transition into high school. But the academy could also be relieving a longtime problem.
For the first time in the history of Ridgeland, we had (Chattanooga Valley and Rossville) middle schools coming together as one group, assistant principal Matt Maynor said.
Tales of tension among Ridgeland High students coming from different parts of the county have rippled through the community since the school was founded in 1990. Ridgeland High consolidated Rossville and Chattanooga Valley high schools into one facility.
Maynor said the academy has generated an opportunity for them to know each other quickly and generated a culture that was positive for them in the sense that they were able to rely on each other.
Basically, it was a school within a school that provided an opportunity for them to get to know each other, he said.
By the numbers: Nine Grade Academy is making a difference
* Discipline referrals: Nearly 3,000 referrals in 2005; less than 2,600 last year.
* Physical altercations: 20 fewer last year than in 2005.
* Staying in school: 15 first-year freshmen dropped out in 2005; four dropped out last year.
* Student performance: In 2005, 140 ninth-graders had to repeat the grade; last year, only 86 students had to repeat.
The academy keeps first-year freshmen together on one hall sharing a bell schedule that is offset from upperclassmen to reduce friction and to help create a cohesive unit, Maynor said.
Maynor has been at Ridgeland for five years, which he said gives him a right to say its a better system for rising freshmen.
Administrators had four goals in mind when they established the academy improving the graduation rate, decreasing the number of discipline referrals, improving attendance and improving test scores, Maynor said. The success of some long-term goals cant be predicted yet, but appearances indicate students are on the right path.
The academy has produced a ninth-grade culture that has benefited new Ridgeland students, Maynor said.
Before implementing the academy, new students were dumped into a building of 1,300 students sharing classes all over the school building, he said. Now, first-year freshmen are together on one hall.
They really didnt know who else was in their class, Maynor said. It might take them a whole year to realize, This is my class. Were together. The academy really sped that up. You got the feeling that the kids were behind each other.
Maynor surveyed students and teachers at the end of the year and they had mostly good comments about the academy.
One student said, The greatest strength of the academy was getting to know all the freshmen. It helped you transition from the eighth-grade to the ninth.
A teacher said, It created a safe and secure first environment for our ninth-graders.
Another teacher pointed out the program would be more effective if the academy had its own building on campus to better separate freshmen from upperclassmen.
Last year students were involved in 20 fewer physical altercations than the previous year, Maynor said. He attributes part of that reduction to keeping the freshmen separated from older students.
Hurdles organizers still have to clear include better synchronization of bell schedules and easing freshmen students into an environment with upperclassmen, Maynor said.
We feel like there are times when upperclassmen demonstrate the proper behavior and that was something we missed out on, he said.
For example, freshmen having lunch didnt realize the cafeteria has three food lines and all piled up in one line that backed out of the cafeteria to the gym, he said.
Four goals of the Ninth Grade Academy at Ridgeland High School
* Improve graduation rate
* Decrease discipline problems
* Improve attendance
* Improve test scores
The Sixth Grade Academy, which opened in LaFayette last August, helps ease students into the new environment. Like the Ninth Grade Academy, it gives the group of students a sense of being a class together.
The academy acts as a buffer between elementary and middle school students, principal Linda Barker said. Students attend classes in the old LaFayette High School building.
The sixth-grade student is not as mature as the eighth-grade student, Barker said. They still need a little structure, a little transitioning, before they get to the main campus. Theres quite a difference in the maturity levels.
With four feeder schools Gilbert, Naomi, North LaFayette and Rock Spring elementary schools new sixth-graders are introduced to a lot of new faces and experiences.
Its the first time these kids come together as a unit, she said.
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