WolfDen to shelter, aid freshmen

ST. JOHNSVILLE-The Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School District will push forward with a new education pattern for incoming freshmen for the district.

According to Robert Smith, OESJ High School principal, officials are developing a freshman academy for students entering the high school.

All 42 incoming ninth-grade students would be placed in the WolfDen Academy. According to Smith, the academy is designed to allow incoming students to adapt to the high school experience.

“Basically, what we want is a school within a school,” Smith said.

Smith and members of the building’s administration have met over the past two months to set up this plan.

Smith said while the details behind the program are still being worked on, the program will be ready by September for the 2014-15 school year.

“What we are looking to do with the academy is a much broader approach similar to what [P-Tech Schools] are doing: The thematic approach to learning with project-based learning,” Smith said.

Smith explained the new academy would be different from traditional education, following a hands-on approach similar to the P-Tech programs, along with career and college preparedness classes. However, no regular classes would be affected or canceled, he said.

Smith explained ninth-grade is pivotal in a student’s progression, when they find themselves struggling to navigate large, impersonal and competitive environments. Smith said this causes ninth-grade to be a “holding tank” due to kids not passing the grade or dropping out later.

“I unfortunately signed our 12th dropout letter [April 1],” Smith said.

Smith said students drop out of high school predominately because those students do not have enough ties with the teachers or school to encourage them to succeed.

The academy would provide incoming students with additional resources and personalized support to overcome transitional obstacles, he said.

According to Smith, some of the additional resources would include one-on-one tutoring and time with a social worker or psychologist working for the district.

“We are going to be proactive, if you will,” Smith said.

Smith said the goals of the program are increasing the passing rate from ninth to 10th-grade by 5 percent, lowering the percentage of students losing credit or failing one or more courses in the freshman year, an increase of the average grade point average for freshman and promoting extracurricular activities.