Rising 9th-graders get a taste of high school

Mar. 15, 2014 @ 03:09 PM

In about six months, hundreds of Durham Public Schools eighth-graders will be taking a big step by moving on to high school.
On Saturday, several hundred of those rising ninth-graders and their parents got a taste of what that transition will be like during the school district’s “High School 101” program held at Riverside High School.
The program is designed to teach rising ninth-graders and their parents the “nuts and bolts” of high school and covered such topics as how to register for classes, graduation requirements and general strategies for success.
Jim Key, the school district’s area superintendent for high schools, also reminded students that the ninth-grade is when their academic achievements are permanently stamped on their records.
“Once you get to ninth-grade, your transcript starts to become real, students and parents,” Key said. “Every grade becomes a part of your permanent record.”
The program was timely for students, many of whom are preparing to select courses for their first year of high school. 
Key, a former high school teacher, wrestling coach and principal, said it’s a big mistake for students to not take their freshman classes seriously.  
“I used to coach wrestling at Northern and at Riverside and I always had a couple of wrestlers who didn’t understand that the classes they were taking in the ninth-grade mattered,” Key said. “They did real well 10th, 11th and 12th grade, but they didn’t study as hard in the ninth grade and those classes counted just as much. So, as soon as you start taking your high school classes, these grades become permanent and they become part of your transcript.”
Students and parents attended four different break-out sessions where school officials discussed child nutrition and transportation, fine arts education and athletic eligibility, advanced academic and career and technical education and the basics of attending high school in a session titled “Welcome to High School.”
Officials said all PowerPoint presentations from those sessions will be available on the DPS website sometime next week.
In the “Welcome to High School” session moderated by Northern High School Principal Matt Hunt and Northern High Assistant Principal Alicia Stevenson, several Northern upperclassmen shared what they considered the biggest challenges they face as freshmen.
“One of my biggest fears was getting lost in such a big school building,” said Taylor Walker, a Northern sophomore. “Northern is such a big campus.”
Dillon Leovic, a junior at Northern, said he worried whether there would be students who share his interest.
“My main thing was wondering whether there would be people like me, will there be people who share the same hobbies and like the things that I like,” Leovic said.
Hunt and Stevenson also shared a list of recommendations intended to help parents and students make the transition to high school smoother.
The list included such suggestions as joining the PTA, staying in touch with school leaders and teachers by email, getting students involved in extracurricular activities, visiting the district’s website frequently and monitoring student’s use of social media.
Hunt said national studies show that parent’s main concerns about transitioning to high school center around bullying, whether their children will make friends and whether they will be successful academically.  
He said asking students to tell you three things they have learned each day, to teach you a difficult math problem are also good strategies to ensure academic success, among others.
“Please don’t ask your student if they have homework,” Hunt said. “Ask them to show you their homework because they will have homework.”
In the session for advanced academic and career and technical education, Rick Sheldah, director of DPS’s CTE program, said students must start now mapping out a plan to reach whatever goal it is they want to achieve.
“Our job is to make you marketable,” Sheldah said.
He said students must also become critical thinkers because that’s employers value that even more than a 6.0 GPA.
“They couldn’t care less if you took AP history,” Sheldah said. “They want to know if you can think.”