Freshman Edge looks to give incoming high schoolers a leg up
More than seven years ago, Trent Bennig started a summer program called Freshman Edge to try and help incoming eighth-graders make the adjustment to the high school and help them avoid failing any of their freshman classes.
Back then, almost 43 percent of students in the freshman class were failing at least one class.
“It was about seven or eight years ago when we had a large percent of freshman failing one or more classes,” said Trent Bennig, a computer science teacher at the high school. “We decided to try and start up a summer school program where the high school picked eight students to participate in the program. Since it is summer school it is not required so only four showed up.”
Of those four students who did show up, only two ended up graduating. The summer school program at the time tried to help the students learn test taking skills, good study habits and help them with subjects such as science and math. During the first year of the program, Bennig worked by himself, but it wasn’t long before he was able to recruit several other teachers at the high school to help his cause, including social studies teacher Michelle Knutson, science teacher Deborah Swanson and special services teacher Brandi George.
The summer program includes many projects and covers many subjects to try and give the students as much help as possible heading into their freshman year of high school where things change drastically from what they are used to in middle school.
“Throughout the years, we have changed based off of different things we have tried to do,” Bennig said. “Based off of the things we found that did or didn’t work each year, we would sit down and make changes. We are constantly trying to find better note taking methods to try and find their niche and what is going to help them the most. We have found that even though PowerPoint is the hardest to put together it is one of the more effective methods for students because there is so much media you can add.”
Every year, Bennig and the other Freshman Edge teachers look for recommendations from the middle school to see who would be good candidates for the summer school program.
“What we do is get recommendations from the middle school and we also send them criteria to get those recommendations,” Bennig said. “Some of those criteria include poor organizational skills, the student is not doing well in their classes, they miss a lot of school or have attendance problems. Then in March we will go down and recruit; and we will recruit everyone.”
One of the reasons Freshman Edge now attempts to recruit every student in eighth-grade rather than just those who are recommended to them is because Bennig and the other teachers have found that when they recruit everyone they have a higher success rate.
“When we recruit everybody, the kids see some other students in there, they see the success and they see the work ethic,” Bennig said. “It is a pretty good family atmosphere in the group as well. Last year was a really good fit, but this year we are going to have to go back to the drawing board and find some different ways to help the kids. Things vary year to year.”
Five years ago, the group decided to add an afterschool program to allow students to stay after school one night a week to get help from Bennig, tutors and other teachers. A few years later, the after school program was changed from meeting once a week to meeting three times a week in order to give the students more opportunities to seek help and have some quiet study time.
“The after-school program seems to be helping out a lot of the kids the most,” Bennig said. “Just having that time set aside to study really makes a difference for them. Going home there isn’t always that time and there are also a lot of distractions that can hamper their studying. The reward program also helps to get the students to at least make it to the study session.”
The summer school program has also been altered to allow for more classes to be offered in reading comprehension and higher order thinking since that is where the Common Core is leading. Bennig said the group is trying to make the program as flexible as possible to give students the best shot at doing well in high school.
In the seven years since the program got its start, Bennig and his fellow Freshman Edge teachers have seen a huge leap in the number of kids who are taking part in the program as well as those who are graduating four years after getting help from Freshman Edge.
“It is slow going to see the results of this group, but graduation rates have improved quite a bit since we started,” Bennig said. “In the beginning, we had 50 percent, two out of the four who took the summer program, who made it to graduation. And last year, we lost just two out of 27 kids who started in the program four years ago, so we are improving dramatically.”
One of the biggest advantages students have seen from taking the Freshman Edge summer program, according to Bennig, is that they are no longer scared of what is awaiting them when they step into the high school in the fall for the start of their freshman year.
“The thing I hear the most often is that they are very comfortable when they come to the high school,” Bennig said. “One of the big things is that incoming freshman are very nervous because the high school is a strange place and they are making a big leap when they come here. But the kids say that things are fine and that they are not scared at all. Also, being involved at the high school really helps increase the success rate of the students as well.”