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North High events ease freshman jitters

August 01, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

In hopes of making the transition between middle and high school less nerve-wracking for students, North Hagerstown High School held a picnic Thursday for its freshmen, the first in a string of activities the school has planned to pull the Class of 2007 closer together.

The picnic, which was held on the blacktop behind the school's gym, was scattered with about 75 students clad in out-of-school outfits. A few of them strolled with friends in comfortable clusters, while others grasped tightly onto their Coke cans, looking nervously for a conversation.

Confident and self-conscious alike, North High's ninth-graders will be members of a freshmen academy beginning this year. The pilot program will funnel about 40 freshmen into classes aimed at bringing up their testing performance and will require all 375 members of the class to carry folders that will track their grades, said Sheila Leatherbury, an assistant principal and the ninth-grade administrator at the school.

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The program, which is funded by a $6,500 smaller learning communities grant, is focused not only on smoothing the social transition for students, but also making the academic transition easier. Teachers will mark students' folders biweekly with updated grades and parents will be invited to seminars that address their children's development.

One activity per month will be geared toward the freshman class.

"There's a transition from middle school to high school and our job is to make that transition smooth," she said.

Some students took a step closer to easing that transition Thursday.

Jessica Coffin, 13, said she came to the picnic hoping to make some friends, but felt shy because she didn't know many people there.

She went to Western Heights Middle School, students from which Leatherbury said make up about 20 percent of the freshman class.

"It's nerve-wracking because I want to go (to high school), but I don't want to go," she said.

Coffin, who was sitting in a cherry-decorated lawn chair, said even though she wasn't mingling much, just seeing some people from her class made her feel a little more at ease.

Former Northern Middle School student Matt Amalfitano, 13, said he's a little nervous about entering the school.

"It's like you're back to being nobody and you have to work your way back up again," he said.

A group of five boys, one wearing a Native American headdress, lined up in front of the event DJ, who was playing the Village People's "YMCA." The boys stood with their hands in their pockets until the chorus. They then raised their hands limply in the air.

Ann Stickler, a social studies teacher at the school who helped develop the academy's curriculum, said it's important for freshmen to feel like they have some ownership of the school.

"The more the ninth-graders feel part of the community, the better they will succeed," she said.

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