Freshman academy running well at North Augusta

Halfway through the school year, North Augusta High School's freshman academy is running smoothly.

The 2016 class is the first to take part in the academy, which helps eighth-graders in their transition from middle school to high school.

"It's been going really well, some of the concerns I think that the community had have proven to be positives," said assistant principal Paige Day, who also operates as the academy's director. "There were some concerns that students would feel isolated because they change on their own bell schedule, and because they don't have classes with upperclassmen. One of the ways we tackled that is that most freshmen have their academic classes in the morning, and after lunch they have their electives and change with the rest of the school. So from just the freshmen students themselves we've heard that they love it, because they feel more included."

According to Day, most of the students come from North Augusta and Paul Knox middle schools. The idea of the academy is to help students make the jump to high school, while also being able to have the sense of comfort that comes with being around familiar faces for most of the day.

"They've really enjoyed meeting all of these new people from the other middle schools," Day said. "And at the same time the feedback has been positive, they've really enjoyed being a part of academy and they like the other people in the academy. And they enjoy having the same teachers throughout the day."

The separation has helped make movement throughout the halls much easier. A first bell goes off to allow sophomores, juniors and seniors to transition from one class to the next. Following that, a second bell goes off, marking that any upperclassmen after that point will be tardy and that the freshman are free to move on to their next period. It is a change that has been viewed as a positive by the students.

"I like it, because it's your first year here and you don't know how hectic the bells are," said Allyssa Lee, a member of the freshman class. "The second hall is congested all the time and it's much easier to get around."

North Augusta High School wasn't built to house the 1,600 students that currently attend, so the staggered bell schedule was something that was put into place to help alleviate that.

"The hallways are much easier to get through, and with the schedule it's roughly a third as many people trying to get through," said Miles Lloyd, who serves as one of the freshmen ambassadors. "It's much easier to get to and from class."

The one downside, Lloyd said, is that all freshmen have to eat third lunch.

"There's more good than bad," he said. "I do have some friends that are upperclassmen, but I do get to see them in the second half of the day. I actually take Spanish with upperclassmen."

The teachers also notice a difference.

"It's much better in terms of tardies," Telina Miller, one of the biology teachers in the academy said. "In the hall with things being so packed the kids may get agitated, and then bring that to class. Now, it seems like they come to class much happier and they're not fighting over getting to their lockers or hustling through the halls to try and get from one end to the other."

The changes have also impacted the teachers who serve the academy. Day noted that there is a separate group of teachers for the academy. During the fifth and sixth periods these teachers are able to hold study hall sessions, which gives students a chance to catch up or work on remediation.

"If they need something from one teacher we're all much closer here on the first two halls and we can collaborate," Miller said. "Everything is right here instead of them having to go across the school and back."

Though the final numbers won't be available until the end of the school year, Day is encouraged by what she's seen so far and there have been programs put into place for students who may be struggling. She is also encouraged by the involvement of the freshman class in school activities.

"We immediately put kids who have failed into one of our virtual programs here on campus," she said. "So they can bring up that grade to a 70 and not get held back. We've seen a lot more activity with the freshmen in sports and organizations. At the same time, we've also seen better grades overall. But of course, the final numbers won't come out until June."

With this being the first year there are obvious improvements that the school is looking to make. Looking ahead, Day sees some tweaks that she hopes to make before the class of 2017 arrives.

"For next year we'll probably do some logistical changes just to get more of our freshman academy teachers on the first two halls," she said. "The majority of our teachers are on those two halls so that it feels like its own academy in its own designated area. There were some classrooms where we just weren't able to make that change, and we'll be working on that to a certain extent. We are also working with the middle schools for better placements, so that when students come to us they're placed on the correct level. We're moving from solely a recommendation approach to one that is much more data driven and we use their test scores and their grade in the class and ability levels so that we can place them appropriately."