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PHS aims to give freshmen a boost
School to start an academy to aid at-risk students

Loving hugs after the 345 members of the Prescott High School Class of 2017 held their Commencement on Bill Shepherd Field Friday, May 26. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)
Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Loving hugs after the 345 members of the Prescott High School Class of 2017 held their Commencement on Bill Shepherd Field Friday, May 26. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

The cap and gown may be considered the crowning moment of high school, but without a strong transition between middle school and the freshman year such an achievement could prove elusive.

To ensure that students who might be on the academic fringe, or who simply need an extra dose of encouragement to rise to the top, Prescott High School leaders pushed to offer a new elective this fall: the freshman academy.

Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard said he is “thrilled” the high school administration “saw this as a priority.”

“I’m really excited about it,” said Howard who before becoming an assistant superintendent was the principal at Mile High Middle School. “It’s a pilot of more to come.”

In the first year, Howard and high school officials said the program will target some 25 incoming freshmen but over time this will likely be expanded so that it can benefit all students; Howard cited the district motto: “Every child, every day.”

The Governing Board endorsed the additional, yearlong elective course because they saw it as one that will give students who might otherwise be somewhat overwhelmed a chance to settle in and have strong mentors that follow them not just the first year of high school but for all four years. A similar program is offered at Bradshaw Mountain High School in the Humboldt Unified School District.

High School Assistant Principal Amy Buettner said this first-time class will be offered to students based on recommendations by teachers, counselors and administrators.

The focus of the academy will be on making a suitable transition such that students learn healthy study habits even as they get help bolstering their academic standing in core subjects such as English and math, Buettner said. The teacher assigned to instruct this course — one yet to be selected — will be a resource/role model for these students, she said.

The academy instructor’s role will be to help these students prioritize their work and learn how to cope with, and resolve, conflicts with peers and teachers. They will learn how to build a resume of scholastic achievement, extracurricular activities and community service that will benefit them as they advance through high school and offer more choices for post-secondary options, she said.

A key hope of this academy is to replace any prior bad habits with new ones that enable the student to enjoy their newfound independence and live up to their academic potential, Buettner and Howard said.

Part of reaching those goals is fostering a strong bond between the academy instructor and the students in that course, Buettner said. The students should come to see the teacher as an educational advocate, someone who not only knows their story but will “build them up and support them” not just in their first year but right up through commencement, she said.

As this is the first year, Buettner said the administration and board will keep a close eye on how students are progressing in their other courses. The students will certainly have a role in determining how the academy is working for them, and how it might be “tweaked” in future years, she said. It might be that the academy is phased into other grades, or if that seems redundant it might be that the academy is opened up for more freshman, Buettner said. It is hard now to predict the results, but the administration and board all have high hopes for its ability to help these students own their high school education, she said.

“What we don’t want to do is give these students a lot of support, and then take it away. We want to give them what they need (throughout their high school years),” Buettner concluded.

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