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Freshmen get their own space at Gainesville High
Ninth Grade Academy designed to help get students start high school right
Jason Chester, left, of Carroll Daniel Construction, helps Rogelio Chavez take a measurement while constructing a new building front at the new Ninth Grade Center at Gainesville High School. The center will be housed in the old Wood’s Mill Academy building.

Freshmen often feel lost or overwhelmed in high school, but Gainesville High School wants to make the first year a little easier.

This August, the school will open a Ninth Grade Center for the first time, and Superintendent Wanda Creel said it will give ninth-graders more support.

"The purpose is to help us have a very focused approach to providing support to our ninth-grade student," Creel said. "It will allow us to create flexible schedules and the relationships that are needed in order to support those students."

The center will be housed in what was previously Wood’s Mill Academy, just behind the high school building.

"Facility-wise, there’s a total face-lift to the school," said Adrian Niles, director of maintenance and operations. "There weren’t real changes to the classrooms, but we’ve got in and got them all up to standards."

Niles said the center will provide students a chance to adjust to life in high school, without the upperclassmen around.

"They will go down to the main building and have some classes there," Niles said. "But the core of their instruction will be there in the Ninth Grade Center together."

Creel said the school system aims to make the entire area feel like one campus.

To prepare rising ninth-graders for the new experience, the system is hosting "Freshman Focus," a three-day program paid for by a grant, according to Misty Freeman, GHS Ninth Grade Center assistant principal.

Freshman Focus will take place Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and will allow incoming freshmen to dip their toes into how high school feels.

"We have 107 students signed up to come," Freeman said. "Of course I want all 535 of them to come, but I will take 107. We are going to immerse them in what it’s like to be a Gainesville High School Red Elephant and do some exciting, unique things."

Students will get their lockers, tours of the center and Gainesville High School, and they can practice walking their class schedules. They will also participate in combined math, science and career tech practice lessons to give them a taste of the academic expectations of the next year.

"It lets them know the standards they’re going to experience when they get in the classroom and gets their tastebuds a little bit wet," Freeman said. "It’s an introduction of what high school is about."

The true purpose of the Ninth Grade Center, Creel said, is to improve student success all four years of high school.

"That is really our whole premise — that if we can get our students to successfully complete ninth grade in the time frame allotted, and they are ready to go into 10th grade, then we feel we will have charted the course for them to successfully graduate on time — or no longer than four years and a summer," she said.

"We want to really make sure we provide the classes they need, the support they need and the relationships with teachers and close administration — and that we get them through their high school career."

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