School leaders at two Valley districts are wise to at least consider a program that could offer freshmen tools to help them transition to the increased academic, social and emotional rigors of high school.

Officials at Shikellamy and Warrior Run are considering the creation of a 9th Grade Academy within their respective districts. The premise is to separate freshmen away from older students and offer foundational points to help ninth-graders adjust. It has been successful in larger areas of the state, including Philadelphia and Lancaster.

It could work here.

According to a study research group Hanover Research, there are several areas where freshmen can falter in high school, which leads to some falling behind and never catching back up.

n As students transition from middle school to high school they experience more challenging academics and undergo rapid social-emotional development.

n Districts should begin Grade 9 transition preparation in middle school.

n Schools can structure support for Grade 9 students by implementing Grade 9 academies, grade-level teacher teams, and multi-grade reform strategies.

n Schools can further support Grade 9 success through intervention for students struggling in core courses and advisory periods that build habits for success.

The academy approach would allow both Valley districts considering the option to have their own dedicated space in the high school.

“This concept is something we are looking at because we believe that freshman year is the transition year that means the most,” Shikellamy High School Principal Marc Freeman said. “We are in the early stages of this and doing all the research, but I strongly believe that freshman year is what can determine how a student’s high school career can go.”

“I believe the concept of teaming teachers similar to a middle school approach for ninth-graders would help students transition into high school and support academic, emotional and social growth,” Shikellamy Superintendent Jason Bendle said.

High school offers change on a variety of levels. Students may be thrust into more difficult classes with a larger number of students and teachers may not have the time for one-on-one instruction. While independence can be welcome for some students, it can be a curse for others who are just not prepared for the added rigors of a high school curriculum, a faster-paced learning environment or the social interactions that are part of the experience.

The 9th Grade Academy could offer an additional safety net to catch students before they fall through the cracks. 

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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