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‘A school within a school’

Freshman academy to help FD students make transition to high school level

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Incoming freshman Maddie Daniel, 13, at left, along with senior freshman mentor Hannah Reynoso, 17, look over one of the new classrooms that will be part of the Freshman Academy at Fort Dodge Senior High with freshman counselor Carrie Traver and Emily Whitehead, a social studies teacher and assistant with Link Crew, at right.

The new freshman academy designed to ease the transition for incoming students at Fort Dodge Senior High is almost complete.

Almost 300 students will have all of their core classes in that freshman academy space when school starts on Sept. 5.

About eight large classrooms have been completely overhauled in an effort to support freshmen.

Some of the classrooms feature a sliding wall divider.

“When teachers want to collaborate with the other class, they can do that,” Carrie Traver, freshman counselor, said. “But if they want more privacy, it allows for that too.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Incoming freshman Maddie Daniel, 13, at left, along with senior freshman mentor Hannah Reynoso, 17, spend some time chatting recently in the counselors office at the new Freshman Academy at Fort Dodge Senior High.

Three English teachers, two math teachers, two social studies teachers, two science teachers, two special education teachers, a Spanish teacher, and a counselor will be staffed specifically for the academy.

Having a majority of resources in one main area should serve as a benefit, according to Traver.

“Having all of the core freshmen classes right in the same proximity as one another and having an actual academy for when kids come up is nice,” she said. “It’s a brand new school. They have a lot of anxieties about being in high school already, so this is a way to have a tighter knit feel and sense of community within a school.”

“It’s kind of a school within a school, we are hoping,” she added.

Another resource for freshmen will be Link Crew members.

“Link Crew is an international organization to help eighth-graders transition to ninth grade,” Traver said. “It uses juniors and seniors to provide peer knowledge to help freshmen.”

Hannah Reynoso, 17, a senior, is a Link Crew member.

She first came to Fort Dodge Senior High as a sophomore, but said she still faced challenges.

“I was still confused coming here as a sophomore, so I couldn’t imagine coming here as a freshman and all this new stuff,” she said. “For me the most important thing is to show the younger kids that high school is fun, and you can do that by being positive and upbeat during freshman orientation, to show them it can be a positive experience.”

Maddie Daniel, 13, is an incoming freshman.

She admits she really doesn’t know what to expect, but said she thinks having the freshman academy will make the process easier.

“I am glad that we have the freshman academy and that our classes are together,” she said. “It will help us know where we are at.”

Emily Whitehead, a sophomore social studies teacher, is also serving as Traver’s assistant for Link Crew.

She believes the academy will help teachers meet the needs of students.

“Studies have shown that transitions for students are hard,” Whitehead said. “So hopefully with one academy space, the students will have the same common teachers and those teachers will be able to assess student needs and be able to share and talk with students about their needs.”

The Link Crew students should also be a benefit, she said.

“They will be establishing those relationships all year long,” she said. “So it’s not just, ‘We’ll see you at freshman orientation and then we’ll never see you again.’ What will be nice is they are not just getting a one and done this next week, they will hopefully be getting a friend.”

“The Link Crew kids will just be that extra layer of support,” Whitehead added.

Reynoso said she is looking forward to helping the freshmen.

“Ultimately they are going to be here for four years,” she said. “I want them to feel comfortable in high school. I don’t want them to be scared of upperclassmen, because I know I was when I first came to high school. At least for me, on my behalf, I don’t want people to be scared to talk to me.”

Traver’s office will also be more accessible.

“My office is very close,” Traver said. “I can see everyone more often. They won’t be afraid to come find me because I am right next to their regular classes.”

Freshmen will also be more secluded during lunch.

“They are all going to have lunch together,” Traver said. “I know that was one anxiety that a lot of students had before. They will be with their friends for lunch. It will be predominantly freshmen.”

Freshmen orientation is Aug. 31 at Senior High.

A representative from Jostens will make a commit to graduate presentation.

Students will be introduced to freshman academy staff.

Club rush will also be held, which will give students an opportunity to sign up for activities.

Link Crew leaders will conduct team-building exercises and take freshmen on a tour of the school.