By Kim Howard, CAE
Freshman year in high school is both exciting and scary for students. The school is much larger encompassing more scholastic, athletic and club options. Your 14-year-old self is now on a campus with other students, some of whom can legally drive, vote or join the military. How can schools help ease the transition from middle school to high school? Enter Manassas City Public Schools’ Osbourn High School’s Freshman Academy and Eagles SOAR programs.
The Eagles SOAR Program (originally called Rising Stars) and Freshman Academy was the brainchild of then ninth grade OHS Assistant Principal Mike Dufrene. He started it in 2011 after he and the School Improvement Team noticed a need. “We started Freshman Academy due to the fact that almost 20 percent of the freshmen were failing to earn enough credits to advance to sophomore status. In two years, we reduced that failure rate to 5.5 percent,” said Mike Dufrene, principal of John Handley High School.
Developing a well-rounded student is the goal of both programs, according to OHS Principal Cathy Benner. “The programs began through the exploration of transitioning eighth student’s needs. Collaboration with METZ Middle School is critical to our success. I hope the legacy of the freshmen transition programs will be in the development of students who are motivated by post-secondary goals, learning at their highest potential, and in the development of students that are respectful and accountable for their words and deeds,” she said.
Helping the Eaglets Learn to Fly
OHS hosts Eagles SOAR (Safety, Optimism, Accountability, and Respect), a three-day program held in mid-August that engrains in rising freshmen the expectation of graduation. About 150 students participate in College Day, Career Day and Fresh Experience. The theme is transition. During College Day representatives from local colleges (GMU) discuss graduation requirements to enter college and what the students can do to prepare to be successful. Additionally, students learn about vocational programs that are offered at Osbourn and how they can graduate work ready and licensed in various fields if they so choose.
Day two is career day. The Manassas City Police Department (MCPD) and Manassas City Volunteer Fire Department (MCVFD) assist the program by offering a camp where students can participate in the role of a firefighter or police officer. MCPD and MCVFD also assist OHS with day two of Eagles SOAR. During Career Day students work with fire and rescue as well as the police by participating in demonstrations and getting hands on experience with gear and equipment. This also builds a relationship of respect between students and law enforcement, firefighters and rescue personnel.
On the last day, freshman students focus on the program’s motto: “We will SOAR.” Freshmen learn about the OHS PBIS program SOAR. Tenth graders and upper classman student leaders offer pointers about how to be successful in their freshmen year and make the most out of the high school experience. Students meet with their counselors, the administrator and participate in team building activities. The final day of SOAR is celebrated with a pizza party in the cafeteria where every student receives a class of 2020 t-shirt.
“Students report that they feel less anxiety about entering high school and that they feel prepared. Students’ parents share with us that their children feel excitement and begin to think about ways they can get involved in their school and education early on,” said Freshmen Academy Assistant Principal Ashley Faaborg.
Freshman Academy Promotes Skills Beyond Academic Success
Freshmen Academy is a full year program that all freshmen will participate in throughout the school year. The freshman year of high school is a year of transition and many changes for rising ninth grade students. This transition program is developed to offer a whole child approach to evolving eight grade students into successful high school students. The purpose of the Freshman Academy is to establish a learning environment that enables rising ninth grade students to learn at their highest ability, plan for their post-secondary goals, and promote personal-social growth and development.
This coming school year, Osbourn’s class of 2020 will take their core freshmen academic classes in quad teams. Teachers will share clusters of students and participate in Quad CLT’s to collaborate on their success. In addition to the support of their quad squads, Freshmen will receive a formal character education. Freshmen will participate in a book study of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” Students will read the book during eagle block Fridays and participate in a reflective activity. The goal of the book study is to equip students with an understanding of how to be successful in high school. Students will also participate in an anti-bullying curriculum. The program seeks to provide students with all the tools to not only be successful in high school but in life, according to Faaborg.
Details about both programs can be found at osbournhs. mcpsva.org/pages/Osbourn_High_School/Front_Page_Folder/ RisingFreshmen.
Kim Howard, CAE (email@example.com) is the editor in chief of Prince William Living and the parent of an OHS alumni, who is now a college freshman, and an OHS high school junior, both of whom participated in these programs.