Accepting the Change: Freshmen Academy in Full Swing 

Kelsey Rodrigues 15’
Staff Reporter 
March 7, 2014 

 

As we enter the second half of the school year, it is essential that we reflect on the achievements and failures of first semester. Perhaps the most significant change in the Durfee community was the creation of Freshmen Academy. A program to help ease the transition of middle school students into high school, it has been both openly welcomed and criticized by students and faculty. 
 
While many people are unfamiliar with the concept, similar Freshmen Academies have been active for more than a decade and have had extraordinary results. According to the National High School Center, schools with transition programs had a dropout rate three times less than those without such a program. Similarly impressive statistics exist in regards to suspensions, academics and behavior outside of school. 
 
In just the last semester, Freshmen Vice Principal Ross Thibault has noticed amazing progress among his students. “Referrals have decreased significantly,” he shared, along with tardiness to class and negative interactions between students and teachers.
 
“Teachers get to know you better, they know what makes you tick, how to motivate you, and can share that with their colleagues,” Thibault explained. As a result of the increased communication and strengthened relationship, students have gained a greater respect for their mentors, rarely questioning their teacher’s authority in the classroom.
 
Thibault also feels that the academy allows a more personalized high school experience. Students have academic classes in the morning and electives in the afternoon. He noted that from his own experience as a teacher and surveys given to other teachers, it was apparent that the students were considerably more focused in the morning and lost this attentiveness throughout the day. 
 
“I think 8th graders are not socially or behaviorally ready to be thrown into the high school environment and the Academy is a good bridge so they’re not shocked or unprepared for the change,” shared Andrea Motta, a freshmen special education teacher. 
 
Alternatively, math teacher, Christopher Prudente, expressed concern that students were not having enough exposure to the other grade levels. “By only eating lunch and taking classes with their class, they miss out on the larger social interaction piece that comes with being in high school,” he commented. While freshmen students are in no way discouraged or rejected from clubs and activities outside the Freshmen Academy, Prudente is one of many, including students, who feels the isolation may be limiting their notice of new opportunities. 
 
“Being cut off from the rest of the building for most of the day can feel oppressive sometimes,” said ninth grader John-Paul McDonald, an opinion apparently shared by some of his classmates. In contrast, other students are content with their experience, feeling that it has given them the opportunity to become closer with their peers and gain a better understanding of their own academic strengths and weaknesses. 
 
While the Academy may have its flaws, it is still in its early stages and shows tremendous potential in effectiveness. “We’re always looking to improve,” emphasized Thibault. He anticipates that the program will continue well into Durfee’s future, and is confident that it will produce well educated and independent students prepared for whatever their futures may hold.