Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School is preparing for a new project planned to help ninth grade students get a good start to their high school careers. The Ninth Grade Academy will be located in the G-wing of the building and the ninth grade class will be divided into three teams. Each team will have the same English, science, social studies, and math teachers; separating to go to electives with students from other grade levels. Principal Terri Estes says, “The transition to High School is difficult for many of our students. Some ninth graders are not prepared to deal with the increased expectations and responsibilities that occur when a student enters high school. The ninth grade academy is designed to provide the order and structure that students need to succeed. We also want it to be an exciting and fun place to learn.”

Last school year a committee was formed to research other districts that have used this concept. Committee members learned that many schools had successfully reduced their freshman failure rates by implementing a freshman center or academy. Several committee members traveled to Pasadena and Klein ISDs to learn about their freshmen programs and determine if this might provide a solution to some of the challenges facing freshmen and those who work with them at LCM. After much discussion with the faculty, it was decided that the school would implement a freshman academy for the 2008-2009 school year. According to Superintendent Pauline Hargrove, “We are extremely excited. This is an approach we have been looking at for several years and have wanted to do. It has been through the collaboration and cooperation of everyone at the high school that we are able to offer this opportunity to our students.”

Traditionally, the bulk of disciplinary issues and failures happen at the freshman level. School personnel began looking for innovative ways to address these problems and found that other districts have had success with the Ninth Grade Academy model. According to Michael Ridout, the assistant principal for the Academy, the approach is more focused, with student efforts being tracked to assure a greater opportunity for success. Each team of teachers has the same planning schedule so that they can coordinate their curriculum planning and discuss the progress of their students. The teaming format allows teachers to develop thematic units which will help students make the connections between subjects.

Students will have an advisory period for 45 minutes every day where they will learn study skills, vocabulary skills, TAKS skills, and will receive individualized tutorials to ensure academic success. The teachers on each team will have 45 minutes each day to meet and discuss the students in their charge and design tutorials; monitor work habits and attendance; and maintain contact with the students’ parents to ensure that each child is successful in the classroom. The Academy will run a modified block schedule, with math, social studies, keyboarding, and health classes lasting 45 minutes each day.

Michael Ridout has been assigned to monitor all freshmen discipline and will have an office in the ninth grade hall to facilitate quick intervention in disciplinary infractions. The goal is for quick intervention to refocus the student on proper behavior and prevent problems from escalating to the point that students must be removed from the classroom.

Besides making curricular changes, the staff has looked at ways to engage the students outside of the classroom. The foyer of G-Hall, which is the new ninth grade home, will be turned into a meeting area, with seating and a changeable mural painted by art instructor Betsy Kaufman and her advanced art classes. “I am looking forward to having a “gallery feel” in our new ‘Ninth Grade Academy’ area, with large canvases painted by our advanced art students hanging on the wall,” said Kaufman. “The first set of canvases will be a popular graphic design painted in the color scheme of the new teams in the academy which are Green, Gold, and White. The canvases will be periodically changed out and painted to express the curriculum that is being taught in the academy throughout the year. We are excited about incorporating famous events, people, and quotes from English, Math, Science, and History into the artwork to follow the theme of the district this year and “Make an Impact” in education.”