Dr. Ben Petty, principal of Orangefield High School, said it’s always a big transition for students going from the 8th Grade to high school. “There’s more discipline problems and higher failure rates for students entering in as freshmen. Kids get behind their freshman year. Our goal is to get students on track to graduate,” he said.

To make a smoother transition, OHS created the Orangefield High School Freshman Academy so students can stay on track for graduation.
“It provides more support for freshmen transitioning to high school. We group teachers together and focus on the individual needs of the students,” Petty said. It took three years to create the academy since Petty had been school principal.

“We’ve talked about it the first year, last year was about planning and we’ve implemented it the third year and reconfigured the campus,” he said. The academy has been an success thus far, but it’s still too early to tell what all the benefits will be , Petty cautioned. “We do have a good grasp what it will be. Already, we have a big decrease in tardies,” he said.
Petty said he and his staff visited Klein Oak and Humble ISD that already had freshman academies as a working model, albeit OHS is a scaled down model compared to those larger school districts.

Petty added there’s not much data on freshman academies implemented at smaller school districts. “We have a hybrid version. We’ll change from year to year,” he said.
Petty and staff, furthermore, are documenting how their academy is working and meet once a month for discussions on what’s positive or what needs to be tweaked a little bit. He feels more small districts will try something similar to OHS freshman academy.

The next big step in the academy process is developing professional learning communities with cross curriculum. Petty has also been receiving positive feedback from 9th Grade teachers.
“There was some apprehension at first. The high school is set up by subject area and some teachers are not near their teammates or they have to move out of the their classrooms they’ve been in for 20 years,” he said.

Freshmen Estrella Quiroga and Alexis Copeland said the academy was “cool.” “We have the freedom here and more organization. It’s easier to get to class on time,” Quiroga said.
Both girls said though they may see upper classmates as often in the other building, they still see their older friends in the morning, and at lunch, or special classes like band or agriculture. “We’re really lucky not having to go building to building. It’s easier since it’s our first year,” Quiroga said. “Freshman year is really awesome because we’re the big kids to the elementary kids on the bus.”

Pictured: Students Alexis Copeland and Estrella Quiroga are freshmen at Orangefield High School and the first 9th Grade class to be part of the Orangefield High School Freshman Academy. The academy is designed to make a smoother transition for 8th Graders entering high school.