SHS finding success with Freshmen House

By Lauri Voter- Staff Writer
Stafford - posted Thu., Dec. 13, 2012
SHS science teacher Nichole Martorelli thinks the freshmen transition program is helping reduce the student drop-out rate. Photos by Lauri Voter.
SHS science teacher Nichole Martorelli thinks the freshmen transition program is helping reduce the student drop-out rate. Photos by Lauri Voter.

Stafford High School personnel who are affiliated with the school's new Freshmen House transition program – now in its second year –say they are pleased with the program's progress. Following a national trend, SHS implemented the program to alleviate struggles of students as they transition from eighth to ninth grade.

After approximately four years in the planning stage, a Freshmen House suitable for SHS was implemented in 2011, said Assistant Principal Robert Campbell.

SHS Principal Marco Pellicia said that the current program is built upon the results previously determined by a preliminary transition team of middle school and high school staff members. That team originally met to look at areas in which students struggle as they enter high school. One of the recommendations that came from that team was further investigation into a high school program, eventually leading to the implementation of the current freshmen transition model.

“It’s a relatively new phenomenon,” said Pellicia. “For us, we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the statistical nature of the success of our students.”

For instance, SHS 2011 Freshmen House data states: ninth-grade students' failures have been reduced by 66 percent; students failing three or more courses during freshman year, typically viewed as “at-risk” for drop-out, have been reduced by 70 percent; and the total number of ninth-grade suspensions has been reduced by 85 percent.

“This was a shot in the dark for us. I think it paid off very well,” said Campbell.

The transition program, explained Pellicia, offers a solution for freshman students by bridging the gap for students transferring from middle school to high school. One of the rigors that freshmen face, he said, is adjusting to high school academics, but the program also addresses social and behavioral issues. When combined, these problem areas are linked to an increase in the number of students failing classes in ninth grade, resulting in holding back the students.

The program, in which all freshmen participate, helps students to develop organizational skills and personal responsibility. The program is not selective, nor is it an option. “Every freshman is involved in it,” said Pellicia. Each student participates in a skills lab, which provides basic information – how to do research and information about plagiarism. The lab also has some social and behavioral components.

“Part of what I think has benefited me in my job here as school social worker is I've had really a true opportunity to see and try to get to know each student as they're entering the high school,” said Jolene Piscetello about the Freshman House. Students are split into two teams and monitored by that team's respective group of teachers, who are separated into sub-teams. Weekly, each sub-team of teachers meets both separately and together to review data, identify students who are struggling and collaborate on implementing strategies to support students' success.

Campbell said that each sub-team addresses general or specific freshman student issues. “If there is anything unusual or anything that we feel should be brought up about a certain student... or groups of students, we have a commonality. We try to solve those issues or problems that may arise.”

Through collaboration, SHS teachers say they are able to create a program that provides a common experience for each student. “It gives a sense of cohesion to the entire curriculum as they move forward through it,” said English teacher Erik Serrell-Dube.

“The theory is no one gets lost in the shuffle,” said Pellicia. “There’s someone looking out for the success of each student in the program. You cannot be a student that’s struggling without having intervention put in place, is what it comes down to. That’s probably the most important thing.” Intervention at SHS is based on Scientific Research-Based Intervention (SRBI).

Team member and science teacher Nichole Martorelli said that she thinks the transition program has helped decrease the student dropout rate.

“We’re very proud of the program, but I know Mr. Campbell and I are very proud of each and everyone’s efforts in this group,” said Pellicia.

In Stafford, SHS conducts visits to middle school students to familiarize incoming freshmen with the program. In Union, guidance counselors visit that school to make those students aware of the transition program. Freshmen are welcomed to the program through an open house and an orientation.

For more information, contact SHS at 860-684-4233.

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