Archive for Thursday, September 2, 2010

BSHS gives special attention to sophomore class

September 2, 2010

In Joe Hornback’s eyes, the freshman and sophomore experience in high school should be different from the junior and senior experience in high school.

The Bonner Springs High School principal is taking that concept, adding on to the already in-place Freshman Academy and creating a Sophomore Academy for the 2010-2011 academic year.

“We have to treat them like two different experiences,” Hornback said of the under- and upperclassmen. “And we took on that challenge to figure out what we can do here.”

For freshmen and sophomores, Hornback said high school should be about building the foundational skills needed to be successful in high school’s later years and then at a higher education institute. Once those skills are in place, Hornback said the junior and senior years could be spent focusing on the knowledge the older students will need as they continue their education and enter the career force.

The Freshman Academy was started in 2007 with a partial implementation. At that time, at-risk students were identified, and a group of teachers followed them through their first year, giving them the special attention they needed.

“We decided if it was good for those kids, why wouldn’t it be good for all kids?” Hornback said.

The full implementation of the program was started in 2009 with all incoming freshmen being divided into two groups with each group having four assigned teachers, one from the English, science, math and social studies departments. This task force of administration worked together to create an environment that best fit the needs of their group of students. This allowed, Hornback said, for students to get more one-on-one attention, leading to a more successful high school career.

Hornback pointed to a spreadsheet he’s been tracking since the 2004-2005 academic year to make his point. In that year, 40 percent of the BSHS student body was failing at least one class in the first semester and 42.4 percent were failing in the second semester.

The numbers remained grim in 2005-2006, when 40 percent were failing in the first semester and 39.7 percent were failing in the second semester.

In 2007-2008, when the partial Freshmen Academy was implemented, 33.4 percent were failing in the first semester and 26.3 percent were failing in the second semester.

In 2009-2010, when the full Freshmen Academy was implemented, 25.4 percent were failing in the first semester and 20.1 percent were failing in the second semester, which Hornback described as an “all-time low.”

“We’ve seen the impact on student achievement,” Hornback said. “Getting kids a great start in high school, that’s the approach we’re taking to high school.”

The Sophomore Academy will follow along the the Freshman Academy. The teachers who taught the freshman groups last year will follow their students into their sophomore year. A new group of teachers will now be assigned to the new freshmen and then those teachers in turn will follow their group into their sophomore year.

This cycle, Hornback said, will allow students to make connections with their core teachers during the most crucial time of their high school experience.

“The more teachers work in teams with the kids, the more successful our kids are,” Hornback said.

The teachers involved in the academy will have the same schedule and the same planning period so they can meet, Hornback said, and discuss ways to improve the experiences of their individual students.

“Every kid is different,” Hornback said. “Some need more attention to be successful and some would be successful in any setting in any high school. But we have to meet the needs of our students.”

Hornback said the process of doing so isn’t an easy one, he’ll admit, and the academy programs have had their criticisms. Hornback said the school has received comments from parents that the program seems “middle schoolish.”

While the academy experience may keep younger students on a shorter leash in the beginning, Hornback said the goal was to provide the best education for everyone.

“In education, it’s good to work together. The students benefit when we do,” he said.

Hornback said no education is perfect and no special program used in the school setting would be perfect. But, he said, the teachers involved are dedicated to getting the most out of the academy as possible.

“We’re trying something different. It’s not going to be perfect,” Hornback said. “But we think it’s better than sending kids to high school and the kids that make it, make it, and the kids that don’t, don’t.”

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