The freshman transition
April Peterson, Brooks Lommen, Alex Quiring and about 400 other Moorhead High School ninth-graders have a place to call their own. The school's freshman wing - which opened a year ago as part of a $12 million renovation and expansion project - is...
April Peterson, Brooks Lommen, Alex Quiring and about 400 other Moorhead High School ninth-graders have a place to call their own.
The school's freshman wing - which opened a year ago as part of a $12 million renovation and expansion project - is getting high marks from administrators, teachers and students.
They say the wing provides camaraderie and personalized attention that ninth-graders sometimes lacked when they were thrown in with 10th- through 12-graders.
"We really like the wing. We feel it's a positive for students and teachers," said Russ Henegar, assistant principal.
The wing consists of three virtually identical floors stacked on top of each other.
Each floor is home to a group of ninth-graders who take their four core classes - math, science, English and social studies - on that floor.
The students go elsewhere in the high school to take elective courses.
The four core teachers on each floor often develop joint projects, said Dan Perry, a ninth-grade history teacher.
The teachers also keep tab on their collective tests and homework.
"If one teacher has a test coming up, the rest of us know it and can plan accordingly with the homework we assign," he said.
New this year in the ninth-grade wing are the "Explore" classes, a combination study hall and current events/high school options class.
"As teachers, we want to get to know the kids really well, and the Explore classes help us do that," Perry said.
Educators say ninth grade is particularly important for struggling students. Unless these ninth-graders establish close ties to teachers and other students, they might not return as 10th-graders when they're 16 and free to drop out of school.
It's too soon to say for certain whether that's happening in Moorhead, Henegar said.
And because the state doesn't give standardized state tests to freshmen, it's also too early to say for certain whether scores on state tests will rise because of the wing, said Lynn Kovash, assistant superintendent.
But the ninth-grade wing clearly is working, she said.
"It's helping us identify earlier students who are struggling," she said.
The concept of separating ninth-graders also appeals to the West Fargo School District, which plans to create a ninth-grade academy.
The 130,000-square-foot school will be built at 40th Avenue South and Ninth Street East It's expected to open in the fall of 2007.
The new school is intended, in part, to help ward off overcrowding at West Fargo High School, where enrollment is growing, Superintendent Chuck Cheney said.
But the district also is creating the ninth-grade academy because officials believe it will be good for West Fargo freshmen, Cheney said.
West Fargo eventually could convert the ninth-grade academy to a second high school, he said.
If so, Cheney said, the school would establish a ninth-grade wing in the second high school similar to Moorhead's wing.
The Moorhead freshman wing isn't perfect, Peterson said.
"I wish we could spend more time with our friends" in grades 10 through 12, she said.
But she and fellow freshmen Lommen and Quiring said that, on balance, they like the freshman wing.
"We really get to know each other and the teachers," Quiring said.
Henegar said that will help make students more successful over time.
"We really believe it's helping already," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530