Ninth grade house to give freshmen added attention

Freshmen will have their own section of campus and their own team of teachers under a plan to create a special program for 9th graders when the three small schools return to one high school next year.

It has been referred to as both a freshman “house” and a “small learning community” by school officials.

“What we are doing now is not working for 9th graders,” said Principal Daniel Hurst. “They have untapped potential.”

Hurst told the Green & Gold that freshmen traditionally have the highest number of failed classes and disciplinary referrals and need extra support.

“The benefits of the small learning community are having a team of teachers that know all the 9th grade students and they would have more consistent classroom practices,” said Hurst.

Students have mixed reactions to the proposed changes.

“I think it’s good because sometimes the older classes be messing around and freshmen look at them, and they’re showing a bad example,” said College Preparatory & Architecture Academy junior Markeith Mason.

But Mandela Academy freshman D’Shane Kirk disagrees.

“I don’t think this is a good idea because in [all freshman] classes it would be immature,” Kirk said.

The proposal was drafted by a committee made up of teachers and staff who have experience with 9th graders. They met a few times, decided a structure, then started to create details, explained Joanna Brownson, a Media Academy teacher who is on the committee.

“I don’t think we’re serving freshmen how we should,” said Brownson. “I think some things are good, but, overall, the system could be better for our freshmen.”

Under the plan, the freshman schedule in the morning would be English, math, science and humanities. The freshman class would be divided into two groups of 80 students who would share the same teachers. They would not be connected to any of the three academies at Fremont — Media, Mandela or Architecture — or to either of the two new “colleges” that are also planned for next year.

The English, math and science teachers would only teach freshmen. They would have an extra period free from teaching duties so they could plan programs and interventions for freshmen. There would also be a special case manager and vice principal for the freshmen.

All freshmen would take physical education and an elective during fifth and sixth periods. Those classes would include students from other grade levels. Electives could include subjects such as Street Law, foreign languages, music and art.

In addition to freshmen having a chance to interact with upperclassmen in their fifth and sixth periods, there would be one lunch period for all students. The committee had earlier proposed that freshmen eat at a different time.

Before freshmen start at Fremont, they would have an orientation or retreat.

Teachers learned officially about the plan during their professional development day on Jan. 27.

Not all teachers are happy.

“I’ve been teaching for eight years [at Media Academy], and I like the way things are now. That doesn’t mean they’re the best, but it’s been working,” said Computer Graphics teacher Howard Ruffner, who does not want to teach in the freshman house next year.

A selection process to place teachers in the freshman house and the two colleges has not been finalized, explained Hurst.

Another thing that is undecided is where the freshmen will be placed on campus. Brownson said the freshman task force has been discussing using the current Media Academy hallway. This could affect teachers whose classrooms are now located there.

“I really love my classroom, but if I have to move, I’ll move,” said English teacher Sonja Totten-Harris, who is undecided on whether she wants to teach freshmen next year.

On the other hand, Media Academy science teacher Paul Strain is definitely interested in working with the new small learning community for 9th graders.

“I would love to teach freshmen, especially because students from this school district come from different middle schools, backgrounds and experiences. Having teachers that work just with freshmen is a good idea for Fremont,” said Strain.

At least one student at Fremont has already experienced an all freshman school. David Roberts transferred to Media Academy after attending San Leandro’s SLC for freshmen only.

“All freshman classes [at San Leandro] were good because we didn’t have to worry about older classmen trying to bully us or intimidate us, which seemed to stop a lot of problems,” said Roberts.

Still, Roberts said he is not convinced Fremont’s plan is good.

“Here it’s very social. Being separated might make them angry,” said Roberts. “I don’t think it would work for Fremont.”