What Works Career Choices
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Putting Freshmen Front and Center

Seaman seeks a 100 percent graduation rate with a school created specifically for freshmen.

When the ninth grade began to outgrow its home at the middle school, Seaman School District turned an irritation into an opportunity.

Instead of simply putting in some new buildings at the high school, administrators chose to build the adjacent Seaman Freshman Center, focused specifically on easing the transition from middle school to high school. The center assigns students to one of three teams of teachers, which helps students get to know their teachers and to create a supportive, small-school kind of environment. It also mandates that all freshmen take a Success 101 course, using the Career Choices curriculum, to introduce them to the decision-making skills they will need to succeed in high school and beyond.

“It’s such a time of change for students: they’re maturing, they’re ready for some adult decisions, and they’re trying to assert independence from their parents,” says Success 101 teacher Cathie Klein. “It’s just one of those times in their lives that can be very impactful, socially and academically. We want to help them make that bridge and give them that support so they can begin their high school careers on a solid foundation.”

The district took advantage of this unique opportunity to get the new school off to an optimal start by carefully selecting the most enthusiastic applicants for staff. All of the educators and administrators at the center were committed to the importance of supporting freshmen in their transition, and to the value of Success 101.

“I think we had such an advantage because we were literally starting a new school,” Klein says. “The faculty that were coming on board had to make a decision to move to the freshman center or stay at whatever level they were at. It was my perception that they were very much on board, very excited about getting the center started and doing some new and innovative things that would help our kids finish strong. “

Seaman High School already had a fantastic graduation rate, but the administrators would settle for nothing less than perfection.

“Our graduation rate is something like 96 percent, but what about that other four percent?” Klein says.

The high school hopes that not only will the Freshman Center set a precedent for holding students to a higher standard throughout high school and aid in approaching a 100 percent graduation rate, but that students will be better prepared to live fulfilling lives.

“I tell my students that graduating from high school is a given, we take that off the table,” Klein says. “You know you have to have that diploma, so now let’s find something that you’re really passionate about.”

For Seaman, the focus goes beyond simply the graduation rate to the students’ lives and well-being after high school.

“Our graduation rate, of course, is extremely high, but the bigger picture is that we have students that are happy and healthy and productive citizens in the workforce and in our communities,” Klein says.

Though the Freshman Center’s first class has yet to graduate from high school, the Seaman staff is already observing other meaningful changes in their students. Before they are even halfway through Success 101, for example, students begin to incorporate their new realistic understanding of money and budgeting into their home lives.

Klein reports, “So many parents say, ‘I’m so happy that you’re doing this because my child is understanding the difference between wants and needs and stops to think instead of badgering me for more money.’”

Students also reflect a greater sense of responsibility with regards to their academics as they are registering for sophomore-year classes.

“They do look a little more critically at those electives instead of just filling the schedule,” Klein says. “We have a lot of students that will really sit down with the counselors and talk with them because they want to make sure that they have a clear understanding of which classes are going to be beneficial.”

Klein has strived to be a mentor to her students that is both open-minded and realistic about their viewpoints and their dreams.

“I just try to have fun with the kids, and I learn so much from them, as well,” she says. “I try to be open to their ideas and see things from their perspective but still help them to see reality and really challenge them to take off the blinders.”

Klein feels that the class is so successful in large part because of the unique focus on the individual student and the meaningful discussions it facilitates.

“The class is so different from all of their other classes in that they have an opportunity to have a voice in the classroom and that the content is themselves. The questions we’re addressing, the discussions that we’re having—it’s real life, it’s concrete. They bring so much of their own life experience to the discussion so they see the relevance of the class, it’s not abstract.”

As a result, students pay attention and make career choices that they likely would not have made had they not taken the course. The Seaman staff anxiously awaits the graduation of the Freshman Center’s first class, who are currently juniors, and expects great things from the students that have taken Success 101.

“We’re just really encouraged to see the number of students that are staying in school,” Klein says. “We’re all excited about being able to shake their hands at graduation next year, pat them on the back, and say, ‘look how far you’ve come.’”

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