Freshman pathways revisited
February 27, 2017
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As freshmen, the Class of 2017 was required to enroll in Positive Power, Pre-AP Geography and World Cultures, Freshman Seminar or AVID 9 for the first time. This meant that all students lost one of their electives during their freshman year and will ultimately graduate having taken one fewer course than they could have if they were able to choose with full autonomy.
Four years ago, former Roseville High School principal Brad Basham, with help from other administrators and a group of teachers, developed and brought his vision of a freshman transition program to fruition.
Each pathway is meant to introduce freshmen to high school, each targeting specific students and using different tactics to teach them skills meant to promote success.
Principal David Byrd said schools should provide programs or classes to assist in introducing freshmen to the high school experience.
RHS is the only school in the Roseville Joint Union High School District with Pathways. Woodcreek High School is currently exploring before- and after-school meetings for freshmen.
“It’s just kind of a universal thing. It’s a transition [into high school] and everybody wants that transition to go smoothly,” Byrd said. “What we’re doing is an actual class that’s designed to help you out with that.”
Senior Clay Bradley found the pathways helpful as a freshman, because he was unsure about high school and felt that with less choices it helped him find where he wanted to go in his high school career.
“I liked the Freshman Pathways because it introduced me to how AP classes should be and the work ethic that I needed to do good in class, so I liked it,” Bradley said.
Over the past four years, there has been a steady increase in the total number of students enrolled in AP courses, including an increase of 244 students from 2014 to 2016.
AP US History teacher Jessica Fork believes that it is hard to attribute the increased enrollment solely to Pathways.
“[The pathways weren’t] all geared toward AP so it’s not just that, it helps, but I don’t think it’s strictly one thing,” Fork said. “It is hard to say what those factors could be.”
Freshman Seminar is meant to help bridge the gap from middle school to high school and quell some of the fears and stigmas freshmen have regarding high school, similar to freshmen orientation courses on a college level.
AVID teacher Melissa Jones helped create the class with Basham and a few other teachers. Jones ultimately created the curriculum using influences from those college courses and AVID.
Freshman Seminar incorporates AVID aspects of organization and college preparation, while also focusing on simply helping freshmen make new friends by getting used to the new school with the same group of kids and the same teacher for an entire year.
Freshman Lily Barnes chose to take Freshman Seminar because she was unsure of what avenue she wanted to follow and saw AVID as a four-year commitment that might restrict her.
Despite taking Freshman Seminar, Barnes intends on taking AP classes in her future, including AP Human Geography next year.
“[The AP push] is more from the counselors and the parents. In Freshman Seminar you just work on organization and stuff,” Barnes said. “I would recommend it [to freshmen].”
As a teacher, Jones was surprised to find just how much freshmen struggled with frequent occurrences on campus, from knowing what to do at rallies to knowing how to sign in to HomeLink.
“It was interesting though to see what I thought they knew and what they didn’t,” Jones said. “Not knowing how to get on Homelink, not knowing the principal, not knowing the schedule, worrying about rallies and not knowing certain expectations. Those things that seem so normal to us.”
According to senior Caleigh Nordon, who took Freshman Seminar, the class was not really centered on the curriculum, it was mostly about forming bonds with classmates.
“I had a senior or two in my other classes, but it was nice being surrounded by all freshmen your first year,” Nordon said. “You got to meet new people that needed to meet new people.”
Jones agrees with Nordon, stating the importance of “making some connections and making some friends” at a new school with new peers.
She also sees Freshman Seminar being used for more “soft skills” that core classes don’t have time to explicitly teach, but are necessary to be successful in high school.
“Freshman Seminar ended up being a place where we could put other things in, including some concerns the district had about bullying, all those kind of soft skills that aren’t housed anywhere else,” Jones said.
Nordon did not take the Pre-AP class but still ended up taking multiple AP classes in her third and fourth years of high school. She finds that a student is bound to take certain classes regardless of the pathway they took as a freshman.
“Honestly it doesn’t matter either way because it didn’t influence me to take AP classes that I took and it doesn’t really make a big difference,” Nordon said. “I would’ve done Pre-AP just to get a feel for [AP classes].”
Pre-AP English 9 and Geography and World Cultures are designed to prepare students for the rigors of future AP classes that they are planning to take and possibly avoid the shell-shock of the possible difficulties of an AP class.
Geography and World Cultures teacher Cari Oberreuter structures the class similarly to AP Euro, the expected next step on the AP pathway. She wants to teach similar skills as Freshman Seminar, but be more content based.
“We use the content to give them the skills,” Oberreuter said. “For instance we look at PERSIA and in your social sciences classes in the future you look at things through that lens.”
AP Euro teacher Carol Crabtree noticed a significant improvement in the first year following the pathway implementation. She saw that students came in ready for the pace of the class, something past classes normally struggled with in the first few weeks
Crabtree worries that the pathways can discourage students from exiting their track to push themselves into more rigorous classes their sophomore year.
“The kids in the Pre-AP program all know each other and they come in knowing each other so I think it’s made it more difficult for a student who now wants to challenge themselves they walk into a room where their skills maybe aren’t quite as strong as the other kids,” Crabtree said. “It’s harder now to get those students integrated into the AP classroom community.”
Senior Neal Reilly took pre-AP Geography and World Cultures his freshman year and felt that it helped him be ready for his first AP class.
“It helped and encouraged me to be more comfortable in those higher level classes,” Reilly said.
Freshman Earvin Caballes recommends that future freshmen take Pre-AP Geo-World Cultures if they aren’t certain of the path they want to follow but want to be set up to follow any of the paths in the future.
“I would recommend they take it mainly because they can know what else to do in high school,” Caballes said.
Positive Power started as a class of 15 students. This number has increased to 35 students in the 2016-2017 school year. This class targets students who may not be getting encouragement in other aspects of their life and tries to promote their success.
“[We] teach organization, time management, goal setting and study skills,” Positive Power teacher Lisa Vaccaro said. “Students also have enrichment. I teach them how sleeping affects learning, A-G requirements and career exploration.”
An important aspect of the class is having tutors that work with the same people four days a week. These tutors help students with their work from other classes to target students who can’t get this help outside of the school day.
“They start each day with their home group and tutor,” Vaccaro said. “They bond pretty well with that group and tutor over the term.”
Vaccaro hopes “to help kids get off to a good start” in their first year of high school by supporting them in their other three classes. The students’ grades and organization are constantly monitored.
“For a student that cannot stay after school for help or that doesn’t have help at home, they can rely on the class for extra time and support they don’t otherwise have,” Vaccaro said.
AVID 9 is the only class of the four that existed before the creation of Freshman Pathways.
AVID teacher Scott Brink believes the pathways had very little effect on AVID enrollment due to there being an application process that was recently made more rigorous.
“For AVID there is an application process you have to go through so the students that are in AVID elect to be in that class,” Brink said. “We’ve had less attrition because the kids who start want to stay.”
AVID 12 senior Raja Gossal took Freshman Seminar but transferred into AVID after seeing some of the AVID material in the class.
“I took Freshman Seminar then switched to AVID my sophomore year,” Gossal said. “In all honestly it’s basically the same exact thing, if you like Freshman Seminar you might as well take AVID.”
His sister also highly recommended the program to him which helped influence his decision to join.
“My sister always told me about AVID and how much it helped her so I always knew I wanted to take it,” Gossal said.
Freshman Jaden Miller took AVID in hopes that it would prepare him better than Freshman Seminar.
“Academically, it prepares you for all the work that high school is in most [AVID] classes they hold you to a higher expectation than most classes,” Miller said.
He also felt that AVID’s greatest benefits come the longer you stay in the program.
“You have it throughout your four years and helps you fill out college apps once you get there,” Miller said. “And when you are younger it helps with note taking and small things, it is definitely worth taking all four years.”
Across all levels of AVID last school year 95 percent of students enrolled were on track to meet A-G requirements. All seniors in AVID last year took the SAT and graduated. 80.8 percent of those seniors were accepted into a four year college/university.
“Our data has gotten better, we have to fill out reports about AP exams, SATs and college,” Jones said. “Our rates are really high because our staff and students work really hard.”