“It was an amazing school year, but I was dead tired by June,” said Michelle Luckett, North Cobb’s ninth-grade coordinator.
North Cobb and South Cobb’s freshman academies, the first in Cobb County, feature a separate facility used solely by ninth-graders. Students attend classes in the buildings and have their own media centers and libraries.
The ninth-grade centers are intended to help students transition into high school with fewer discipline problems and higher school attendance rates, test scores and graduation rates, Luckett said.
“If a student fails their freshman year, there’s a 70 to 80 percent that that student will not make it to graduation,” she said. “If you can get them through freshman year and connected to the school, we have a better chance of getting them across that stage.”
While it’s too early to see the effect on graduation rates, attendance, discipline and academic performance improved, both Luckett and South Cobb Principal Ashley Hosey said.
North Cobb’s attendance rate was 96 percent last school year, up from 95 percent the year before, and discipline issues decreased by 58 percent, Luckett said.
On the End-of-Course Tests, which ninth-graders must pass in order to be promoted to the 10th grade, pass rates increased in Ninth Grade Literature and Composition to 95 percent, or by 6 percentage points; in Biology to 88 percent, or by 16 percentage points; and in GPS Algebra to 81 percent, or by 16 percentage points.
“We had less than 60 students retained, about 7 to 8 percent,” Luckett said. “The national failure rate for freshman is between 40 and 45 percent.”
Luckett said the teachers were committed to the program.
“The teachers in the freshman academy requested to be there,” she said. “They have a passion for dealing with these students and an awareness that teaching freshmen is different than teaching other grades.”
At South Cobb, the percentage of students that missed six or more days improved by 7 percentage points, dropping from 21 percent to 14 percent, and discipline issues improved by approximately 32 percent.
“We saw our discipline decrease by huge numbers,” Hosey said. “We had the teachers more involved with (the freshmen), and they weren’t influenced by the upper classmen.”
South Cobb’s freshman EOCT stores improved in GPS Algebra by 5 percentage points, Math I by 38 percentage points, Biology by 3 percentage points and Ninth Grade Literature and Composition by 1 percentage point.
Both academies benefited from grants for after-school programs.
Luckett said the million-dollar Cornerstones For Success grant will fund tutoring for a majority of freshman and pay for them to go to an aerospace camp at Southern Polytechnic and a culinary camp with Courdon Bleu Culinary Academy; attend the service leadership program for Metro YMCA; take PSAT readiness courses; and participate in a biotechnology and construction program over a three-year time period starting last school year.
“The more connected they are to the campus, the easier it is for them to succeed academically,” she said.
Luckett said that next year the funds will also help pay for transportation to nearly 500 students who participate in the after-school programs.
South Cobb received the 21st Community Learning Center Grant to help start The FLY Zone program for students.
“We saw early on in the first three weeks of school that we really needed to provide a support system for our students,” said Renee Basinger, South Cobb’s Freshman Transition Academy coordinator.
The Edmondson family in Austell said the freshman academy can benefit the whole family.
“They were there to help the children more and help them get acclimated more,” said DeLisa Edmondson. Her son, rising sophomore Jabril, was among the first class of ninth-graders to attend the academy.
“If I ever had any issues, they were rectified faster because it seemed like they were more concerned about the well-being of the student,” she said.
Jabril, 15, had mixed feelings about being in the academy’s first class.
“I wouldn’t say that I would have done worse if I hadn’t been in the (Freshman Transition Academy) … but it got us to realize that high school is totally different thing than middle school,” he said.
Jabril said he enjoyed the relationships students developed with their teachers.
“You always have that teacher that you can maybe speak to a little different than other teachers,” he said.
Jabril said he’s looking forward to “getting out of the paradigm of being a freshman.”
North Cobb, which will welcome around 700 freshmen this coming school year, is hosting their ninth-grade orientation between 9 and 11:15 a.m. Friday. South Cobb, which has enrolled around 625 ninth-graders, welcomed nearly half of their incoming freshman at an orientation Tuesday.