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Gainesville High program aims to ease transition for freshmen
Rising ninth-graders get taste of high school experience
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Alex Ramirez and Jazmine Colindres separate egg yolks from the whites during freshman orientation Tuesday at Gainesville High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The transition from middle school to high school can be a challenge.

This week, rising Gainesville High School ninth-graders are getting their bearings at the new GHS Ninth Grade Center.

Approximately 125 students are participating in Freshman Focus, a three-day orientation to high school.

“Some kids think, ‘School? I don’t want to go to school in the summer,’” said Misty Freeman, assistant principal at the Ninth Grade Center. “But now they’ve seen what we’re doing and have a taste of what high school is like. And they’re really having fun.”

The orientation included an introduction Monday with “freshman facts,” about grades, graduation requirements, student clubs, school calendars and more. On Tuesday, students began with a scavenger hunt across the entire high school campus, from the ninth grade center — formerly the Academy at Wood’s Mill — to the high school buildings.

“This campus is huge, and especially to an eighth-grader at the middle school who’s been in just one building,” Freeman said. “So we wanted them to see the whole campus.”

Monday and Tuesday also included three hours of “creation station,” a time for students to experience some of the fun things the high school has to offer.

Some students participated in robotics lessons, a movie-making course or a 3D printing class.

Darrell Lucas, construction teacher at the high school, helped teams of students build their own tables in the construction lab.

“This has been fantastic,” Lucas said. “These kids are honestly ready to go to high school. I think they’ve had a long summer.”

Social studies teacher Rich Elsarelli led the students in a “money maker” course, which allows the students to make their own brands and then print the brands on T-shirts, coasters, stickers and more.

“They start from scratch, brainstorming what exactly represents them,” Elsarelli said. “… We have a marketing and a business course, so this really goes with that. But this will also all be at the Ninth Grade Center. So, I teach social studies, and I can bring my class in to make propaganda posters, to make brands or learn about globalization.

“It’s endless, what you can do with this.”

Culinary arts instructor Whittney McPherson teamed up with physical science teacher Ernie Osborne for a twofold course.

“This might be the best integration of academics and career that I have seen,” Freeman said. “They got together and said, ‘What can we do with culinary arts and science to combine them?’”

Students spent the day making cheesecakes, while studying the physical properties of the ingredients.

Today, students will practice walking their class schedules, which may include walking from the ninth grade center to the high school gymnasium for physical education classes. There are seven minutes between classes, and Freeman said the school wants to ensure students can get from one class to another.

“Their content will be offered at the ninth grade center,” Freeman said. “Even for our students who are ninth-graders but taking 10th-grade math, we’ll just offer it there. It’s that whole concept of ninth-graders staying together.”

Freshman Focus was funded by a career tech education grant to purchase supplies including the filament for the 3D printer, the wood and supplies for the construction course and the T-shirts for the screen printing class, as well as paying the teachers’ supplements.

Approximately 600 freshmen will be enrolled at the center, but Freeman said she was pleased with the 125 attending Freshman Focus.

“While I would have loved to have all 600 children here, I probably would have been overwhelmed,” she said. “So starting this year with 20 percent, yes, has been great. I hope next year, after we’ve worked out a few little kinks, to do even better.”

Freeman said they want students to understand and appreciate how the new ninth-grade experience is tailored to the needs of first-time high school students.

“In every class, we’re really trying to focus so our kids can see the application of academics and careers,” she said. “That’s what we’re preparing them for in four years, and that’s our focus at the ninth grade center.”

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