A Day for Freshmen

In 1998, I held discussions with teachers and other staff at Illinois Valley High School (Cave Junction, OR) about how to best help our freshmen succeed their first year.

We had learned that freshmen:
  • had the highest F rates (about 40% earned one or more Fs)
  • were often baffled by the workings of a high school
  • struggled with lockers
  • had the highest rates of suspension for discipline
  • had some of the worst attendance (second only to seniors)
  • had our highest dropout incidence
We selected one of our caring and very organized classified staff to be a Freshman Advocate, monitoring and supporting freshmen from day one, with particular attention to any falling behind in attendance, academic progress or behavior.  One of our teachers asked if we could schedule a full day just with freshmen, before the upperclassmen showed up.  I liked the idea and secured approval from district office.  The day after Labor Day,  grades 10-12 had an extra day of summer and we welcomed our new 9th graders onto a campus that was all theirs.

The day was scheduled full, with our Leadership students (and later Link Crew) as team guides.  Lockers, lunch protocols, bathroom locations, and the locations of other resources -- book room, computer labs, counselors -- were found.  Teachers spent about 15 minutes with each group, going over their expectations and "words of wisdom" for making high school fun, safe and productive.  At the end of the day, we held a pep rally, giving them practice with the school's traditions and fight song.

The day was a smashing success but it wasn't until Day 2, when our full student body came on campus, that we became aware just how successful it was. Watching the ebb and flow of students before school, between classes and during breaks and lunches, it was delightful to see our freshmen looking confident, assured and like they owned the place.  What a difference from previous years!  No more meek, anxious newbies.  Now they too were an instant part of our school life.

The following year, the other two high schools in our district adopted a Freshman Only Day.  Not long after, our middle schools began scheduling a 6th Grade Only Day, modeling their program on what we in high schools were doing.  Since then, we have watched our freshman performance improve, our graduation rates climb and our campuses become more peaceful places.  We soon lost our Freshman Advocate in yet another round of budget cuts, setting us back a bit.  But the one day we devoted just to our freshmen continued to pay off.

Today, nearly every school district in Oregon has a Freshman Only Day and many also offer a similar day for their first year of middle school.  Just perusing the ten largest districts in the state, nine of them (Portland is the exception and has the lowest graduation rate of the ten) are offering a Freshman Only Day today or their official first day.  Doing an online search, the practice is spreading -- to Wisconsin and New York and elsewhere.

So welcome to high school, Oregon freshmen!  Tomorrow we hope you'll be the BMOCs and BWOCs.  May all of your high school days make a bit of sense to you.

(Footnote: Sadly, Three Rivers SD -- I'm now retired -- has stopped offering a freshman only day.)