How to survive your freshman year |

How to survive your freshman year

Matt Terrell
Vail CO, Colorado
Preston Utley/Vail DailyJordan Harrison wears a pig hat during Battle Mountain's freshman orientation Friday in Eagle-Vail. School begins in the valley on Tuesday.

EAGLE-VAIL ” High school freshman aren’t usually the best students.

Pumped with hormones and still shaking off their middle-school mentalities, eighth-graders have a tough time transitioning to ninth-grade life, and school work can suffer. Some students handle the change with grace, and others fall through the cracks, said Jan Abbott, Battle Mountain High School counselor.

“It’s hard to recover from a bad freshman year,” Abbott said.

This is why Battle Mountain is trying a few different things this year to help freshmen adjust to high school. It’s called the Freshman Transition Program.

Freshmen will have a smaller set of teachers than they’ve had in the past, and those teachers will be dedicated to teaching just the ninth-graders. Everybody will know everybody ” and that’s a good thing for a student.

Freshman will have their own wing of the school ” a hallway dedicated to freshman classes and lockers that serves as sort of a home base on familiar terrain.

And all the freshmen have been grouped with upper classmen who will show them the ropes in a much larger world.

“We’re telling them, ‘We’re going to expect more from you, but we’re going to support you,'” Principal Brian Hester said.

What students accomplish as freshmen will really set the tone for the next three years. Students who perform well as freshmen will usually keep doing so, while those who fall behind will have to dig themselves out of a hole.

“The data shows us repeatedly that ninth grade is the most challenging,” said Assistant Principal Philip Qualman.

So what makes ninth grade so tough? Well, everything you remember about ninth grade makes it tough.

The students are entering a much larger social jungle. Where they were once the oldest, biggest students in the school, they’re now bumping into seniors twice their size. Intimidating confrontations, full of potential embarrassment, are around every corner.

They’re faced with the all-important task of defining themselves and their friends, all while keeping their grades up.

“They have to get their feet on the ground, figure out who they are and make good decisions that will affect the rest of their lives,” Abbott said.

Students also are coming in from a wide variety of middle schools, each with different attitudes, cultures and expectations, Qualman said. Put them all together, and students can have a difficult time adjusting to the new environment and to each other.

Then you have the teachers. Not only are there a lot more of them, but they each have different expectations than the teachers in middle school.

This collection of universal difficulties show themselves in classwork and on freshman test scores. That’s why you’ll see students who show academic growth in seventh and eighth grade take a dip once they reach ninth grade.

A freshmen transition program will help smooth out that speed bump, Qualman said, making sure students aren’t having to play catch-up with the rest of high school.

“The goal is to raise student achievement, because we’re not making the progress we need to make,” Hester said.

In previous years, a freshman could have 15 different teachers over the course of the year, Qualman said.

Now, there will be a set team of teachers for ninth grade “core” classes like English, math and science. In most cases, you’ll have the same English teacher first, second and third trimester, and that teacher will teach all the other freshmen in the school.

“It will help teachers get to know the students,” said science teacher Christy Beidel.

The ninth-grade teachers will share the same policies on things like late

assignments, so students know what to expect in each class. Overall, it should be easier for the freshmen teachers to collaborate and come up with different ways of reaching students, Beidel said.

The students also will begin having the same homeroom teachers for the next four years. Homeroom time is generally used for advising and class preparation. Ideally, the homeroom teacher they have as freshman, they’ll keep throughout high school. Again, it’s the idea of keeping students with those who know them best.

When the freshmen walk through the front doors of Battle Mountain High School Tuesday, they should see plenty of familiar faces.

They spent all day Friday touring the school, playing loud, goofy games and getting to know some pretty cool upper-classmen.

These are juniors and seniors who volunteered for the “Link Crew,” a mentoring team created to help the freshman feel more at home in school. Eagle Valley High School has been using the Link Crew program for several years with great success, Abbott said.

“They all wanted to do it and help make their freshman year more successful,” Abbott said.

The students in Link Crew will show the freshman around, answer questions, do some tutoring and really become those friendly people to start up a conversation and ask, “Hey, how’re you doing?” when help is needed.

“The number one thing is to make them more comfortable at school,” Beidel says.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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