PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Making the move from the eighth grade to a high school environment can be a tough transition for a lot of students. So this year, Pass Christian High opened a Freshman Academy.
The school separated more than 110 9th graders from the rest of the high school crowd. It's being dubbed as a "school within a school."
Ninth graders at Pass Christian High are literally in a class of their own. They no longer take classes with the sophomores, juniors, and seniors. And you won't find them mingling with the upperclassmen in the cafeteria.
"Our Freshman Academy students have their own break. They have their own lunch, and they have their own wing in their high school. So they get to travel together," said Robyn Killebrew, Pass Christian High Assistant Principal.
The school started the Freshman Academy after data showed that 30-percent of the ninth graders were on academic watch last year.
"They were struggling in at least one class and it may have been because they were mixed in with 10th through 12th graders. It may have been they didn't feel comfortable in that class. So we felt if we kept them together, they could build that cohesiveness amongst each other and really advocate for one another," said Killebrew.
A few students were skeptical of the concept at first.
"When I first found out about it, I felt like we were getting excluded," said J.D. McMahan, a freshman at Pass Christian High School. "Now that I see how much attention they're paying to us, I feel better about it."
"I thought it was going to be pretty cool, because we're still going to get to hang out with most of the people that we were hanging out with since we were in kindergarten," said freshman Mary Helen Sherman. "You don't have to start off as scared and nervous. You can just ease into it a little bit."
Each freshman received a student planner to keep track of homework assignments. Teachers say the planners are great communication tools because they keep parents informed and help students with their organization skills.
Every Friday, teachers will dress up in lab coats and "check-up" on each ninth grader's progress. Students who meet academic, attendance, and behavior requirements will get to attend freshman field trips every nine weeks.
Students who are failing, have disciplinary referrals, or have too many unexcused absences will have to attend study hall the following week. School leaders believe these changes will lead to better grades and prepare the ninth graders for the rest of their high school life.
"We just want our freshmen to feel comfortable when they come to Pass Christian High School. We want them to feel like they have teachers that can advocate for them, and they have someone they can go to if they're struggling," said Killebrew.
"I think it could be a good idea, help us stay on track, keep us from getting nervous with the seniors and the sophomores and juniors," said McMahan.
Although they are in a separate academy, the freshmen still get to participate in school-wide functions like pep rallies and sporting events. Toward the end of the year, they'll be slowly integrated with the upperclassmen by taking breaks and eating lunch with the older students.