By Kaili Jiang, Clarion Chief Editor
The nerves and anxiety that freshmen experience on their first day of high school is a feeling most students can relate to. The huge campus, hundreds of fellow students, and challenging new courses intimidate many students going through the middle school-to-high school transition. Luckily, John F. Kennedy has taken part in a new Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) Freshman Welcome Program, guiding the Class of 2027 through their first year of high school.
At the start of every school year, every student has some worries about their schedule and being able to get back into the flow of classes, no matter their age. On top of this universal anxiety, freshmen have no idea what to expect in this brand-new environment, where they’d have to face the struggles that every new student experiences.
“Some worries I had were finding my classes and getting to class on time,” said Brayden Lau, a freshman at Kennedy.
Just like the first-year students, the district-wide program is also new to Kennedy and intends to provide freshmen a smooth start to their high school experience.
“The idea is that ninth graders coming in need a lot more support because it’s a tough transition from a relatively small middle school to a really big high school,” said Dr. Siobhan Reilley, the program coordinator at Kennedy. “And so the idea of academies would be a way to have a smaller group of students with a smaller group of teachers seeing each other more often throughout the day.”
A take on mixing middle and high school routines, the program allowed students to get more attention and focus from their teachers, while still maintaining the overall experience of high school.
“Basically, all the kids that have one English teacher would pretty much have the same one or two social studies teachers,” Reilley said. “So you’re seeing the same students throughout the day as a student, and the teachers are getting to know them a little bit better and build in a little more of a community.”
In the past, freshman teachers had to put in a lot of time and effort to make sure that their students had a successful first year.
“I’ve been here in my little classroom and every year I’ve taught, I’ve had at least two sections of freshman periods, sometimes three, sometimes four,” said KC McCarthy, English teacher. “But I know a lot of them as human beings and I do my damndest to try to make sure everybody catches on, gets what they need, and gets started on high school on the good foot.”
Now with the implementation of the Freshman Program, the jobs of teachers like McCarthy are a little easier.
“I think the idea of teachers sharing a small group of students has worked really well, like a couple of groups of English and history teachers or English and social studies teachers working together has been really successful,” Reilley said. “I think they’ve been able to collaborate a lot and respond to students. I feel like they know their students really well.”
As a whole, this recognition of their students through the program benefits both the students and the entire school.
“It’s a cool way for freshmen to feel like a part of something bigger because high school is so big,” said Seanne Musca, Kennedy science teacher and ASB director. "Having a cohort where they all have the same teachers, there’s some commonality there, so students can get support with their schoolwork and can ask their peers from other classes. They all have the same teachers for the most part, so I think it definitely helps create a sense of belonging and community.”
The program also proves to be effective for those who may not necessarily want what it has to offer.
“Not every kid wants to hear or get help, so this kind of program is cool because it’s a way to create a team of people where the expectation is that we all kind of do that together,” McCarthy said. “In working together, we can do more than we can just individually; kind of helping this kid and that kid, in our little islands.”
Even though some kids may not support or enjoy the program, many parents of new high schoolers find that any resources or programs for new students are helpful.
“The program helps the students to get familiar with the school so at least they know where to go on their first day of school,” said Cecilia Lau, parent of Brayden Lau. “Presentations from orientation and some other events before school started gave us a lot of information.”
However, this was the first year that the district proposed and set up the program, meaning there were bound to be some road bumps and obstacles in the way.
“Because it’s a lot of different moving parts, there are a lot of different people you have to get all on the same page,” McCarthy said. “And all those people are used to being on their own, so that’s gonna be the hardest part, just chronic creating connections between the teachers who are working on it and the administrators. It’s going well -- it’s just taking time.”
There’s also some remaining confusion.
“The school/district websites help a lot as well. I can look up graduation requirements.” Lau said. “But sometimes, if I have a question, I don’t know who to go to and ask.”
Fortunately, Dr. Reilley is there, and already cooking up some solutions and areas of focus.
“Another thing we do is talk to students to get their input and get their thoughts because a lot of what we want to try to do, we want to make sure it’s what the students need and it’s what they want,” Reilley said. “So a lot of what I’m doing is like interviewing students, conducting surveys, and getting their information.”
For the most part, the students have shown their spirit and gained knowledge of the high school process.
“It was nice to have a day of orientation just for freshmen. The principal’s presentation and booths by different groups were helpful,” Brayden Lau said. “The freshmen program helped by having me understand how the school was laid out so I knew how to get to classes.”
It’s a visible change too, as teachers recognized more involvement from the freshman class.
“I noticed that the freshmen are more involved,” Musca said. “They’re joining clubs, they’re attending events like going to dances, football games, and there’s a desire to be involved.”
Not only do the students and teachers themselves claim to see differences, but the Homecoming Spirit Week proved the freshmen are worthy opponents, as they put up 614 points in the “Cloud 9” spirit week, beating both the sophomores and juniors, who had 529 and 577 points respectively.
Showing a positive outcome from the program, the spirit points tally proved that this year’s freshmen class participated and showed their school spirit, unlike this year’s sophomore class, who were freshmen themselves last year.
“Well, I honestly didn’t participate that much,” said sophomores Katrine Li and Audrey Wu when asked how they felt about losing to the freshmen by over 100 points during spirit week.
While there is still lots of room for improvement and the freshmen class may not love the program, it has still done a favorable job for the students.
“I think they probably kind of roll their eyes a bit and just think, ‘Okay whatever,’” McCarthy said. “But hopefully, they’ll eventually see that this was a good thing for them.”