SUBHEAD: Hopewell’s Freshman Academy emphasizes support

HUNTERSVILLE – Hopewell High School’s Freshman Academy is not only orienting the class of 2017 to ninth grade, but it’s also giving students vision for beyond.

The school held three, four-hour orientation sessions. Rising ninth-graders could choose which day – Aug. 12, 13 or 14 – to attend. Though not mandatory, school officials said slightly at least half of the more than 400-member class participated.

Principal Mike Jones offered three points of advice for succeeding in high school: Start with the end in mind, get connected and stay connected, and make the best of every opportunity.

“I reminded them that they are responsible for their destiny and they control that,” Jones said. “We’re here to support them.”

Throughout the morning, students were told that success is graduation, and that failure is not an option.

After the introduction, students were divided into smaller groups and participated in ice-breaker activities.

Dean of Students Aaron George and ninth-grade counselor Anne Conner told them about school rules, policies and what it will take to graduate in four years.

Students also toured the building and went on a scavenger hunt to get familiar on where to find certain services.

In years prior, orientation consisted of a tour and introductory address. The Freshman Academy is designed to give students “a sense that we are committed to helping them with their future,” George said.

George explained that the academy will help students lay the foundation for success for their first year of high school, which is often the toughest. Looking at last year’s discipline and failure statistics, the highest rates were among the ninth-grade class, he said.

“That’s a very difficult transition year for them,” he continued. “Even statistically, not just at Hopewell but throughout the district and United States, that ninth-grade year is a critical period. If they’re successful, then that success continues. If they fail, that failure tends to continue, as well.”

The class of 2017 will meet with faculty mentors in small groups once a month throughout the school year. There, they will set short-term, mid-term and long-term goals as well as think about options after graduation, George said.

Hopewell is also restructuring its guidance office so counselors stay with classes over four years rather than have case loads assigned by students’ last names.

The change will help build relationships with the students early rather than waiting until their senior year to make sure they’re on schedule to graduate on time, Jones said.

Instead of counseling students with the last names beginning with M-R, Connor will serve the class of 2017 until they graduate. In the past, it was the senior students that received most of her time, then the juniors, and the underclassmen got “what was left over,” she said.

“It’s going to be a learning curve for me, but I think it’s really going to benefit the kids to be able to make sure that they’re getting their fair share of my time every year,” Conner said. “It’s going to be exciting.”

Conner believes the incoming class will have the highest graduation rate because of this year’s changes.

Jones agreed.

“It’s going to be hard for them to fail because we give them so many opportunities,” he said. “We have so many supports in place.”