The changes African American male students’ face, while joining high school can be quite overwhelming because they have to make some tough decisions that form the foundation of their future as well as having a goal and a vision of how they will graduate (Bloom and Unterum, 2012). African American male students joining high school undergo many changes and among these are physical changes in a new environment filled with new lecturers and new students with a whole range of expectations. New expectations from the teachers and administrators of the school can lead to a resultant perception of the students of the new environment being impersonal or competitive or too big for them to handle. Academically able African American students can lag behind in their studies because of these perceptions hence they may end up failing in the freshman year (Habeeb, 2013).
Joining high school means facing new standards, if the African American male students do so with any study deficiencies, then they will find it difficult to keep up with the demands of a rigorous curriculum. They also have to cope with fellow students from various communities and socioeconomic backgrounds. These changes are overwhelming and can hinder the success of students and many might end up not graduating at all (Bloom and Unterum, 2012). The most crucial transition of the African American male student is that of the move from the 8th grade to the 9th grade (Quint, 2008). This move is the one that set the trend for them in their freshman studies. The school should offer a strong academic foundation and a solid emotional ground so that the first year African American male students can gear up for the graduation process at the end of high school.
Freshman Academies have programs whose specific purpose are the transition and enhancement of students in the 9th grade. Students determine in the first few weeks of joining a school, whether to go on or not with their studies, depending on the experiences they encounter (Friedlaender and Darling, 2007). It is this kind of attitude from students that is encouraging schools to set up Freshman Academies in the curriculum. The Academies administrators and teachers set goals in the program before the students join in, that are meant to solve any issues that might be present in the school. Freshman Academies work on improving the behavior of the African American male student while lowering any incidents that might be disruptive. Another main goal of Freshman Academies is to try and improve the total GPA for the students in the 9th grade and also encourage the African American male students to engage in extracurricular activities and be more socially involved so that they can have the motivation to attend school every day (Achieve Inc, 2008).
The academy's main goal is to always be ready to handle any disciplinary problems. Freshmen in a way create quite a number of disciplinary issues which the administrators have to deal with annually. Freshmen are usually plagued with various adjustment problems socially, once they join high school and that is why schools that have set the freshman program are keen on improving the behavior of the students as the first goal (Rumberger, 2009). The Freshman Academies set up specific disciplinary policies and practices to address behavior problems. The attendance of peer mediation by the African American male students in the program is one method that helps in conflict resolution.
In Albermarle, Virginia, for example, the Western Albermarle High School has a TOPS program that gives room for the students to hold group sessions with their peers in order for them to resolve any issues they might have (Hernandez, 2008). The academy teachers can also come together to discuss and find reasons behind the misbehavior of students. The teachers can then bring the students together so that they can engage in activities that can create better alternatives that will deal with these issues. If this strategy fails, the school involves the parents of the students so that they can talk about the issues their children are going through. This is a system that is being utilized in Virginia, County through the LINK program at the James Wood High School in Frederick (Hernandez, 2008). Using these strategies to improve the behavior of students has sharply lowered any disciplinary referrals.
The aim of Freshman Academies is to bring out excellent grades from the students at the end of their course (Elias, 2011). The grade area needs help due to the transition period that the African American students have to go through. The typical African American male freshman student is busy getting adjusted to the administration and teacher rules, the new faces of other students and the size of the school and this makes it hard to keep up with studies. The average rate of failure among students in freshman year in high school is 20%, and for these students there’s only a 5% chance of them graduating from high school (Howell, 2008).
Schools with the freshman program are always on their toes in finding any system that can help them improve the student performance (Amundsen, 2008). One popular system is known as the Ninth Grade House. In this system, the African American male freshmen students are given a separate set of teachers and if possible at a different part of the school (Colvin, 2008). Here they get to know the teachers more closely as they participate in the classes at the same time. The Freshman Transition Team system is another popular system that brings together a guidance counselor, a separate administrator and the high and middle school teachers so that they can work together to improve the academic performance of the freshman class.
The freshman students tend to have attendance issues and this is mainly due to the many adjustment problems they go through in the school. Schools that establish Freshmen Academies find that the attendance rates improve by the day. For example, in Tennessee’s Sevierville, Sevier County High School since implementing FRAC a freshman academy program has witnessed a 95% freshman attendance rate, a statistic that ranked the highest in the city among all the high schools (Skalsky, 2009). These rates encourage schools to open their eyes to the benefits of having a Freshman Academy.
Another main aspect of the benefits of Freshman Academies is that the students can engage in extracurricular activities. The 9th grade students tend not to participate in any club or sport activities because they do not really know much about their peers. According to Rennier Center for Education Research and Policy (2009) the African American male freshmen students need to engage more in these activities to reduce the rate of high school dropout. The schools would love to see an increased participation in extracurricular activities by the freshmen students as it offers a sense of belonging. In Worthington, Ohio, for example, the Worthington Kilbourne High School uses an approach whereby the middle school 8th graders are each assigned to a junior at the high school. The 8th graders are given a tour of the school and oriented on all of the club and sport activities by the juniors. After the tour a lunch is prepared for them and it is this experience that makes the 8th graders feel confident and gain a sense of belonging (Colvin, 2008). These activities play a big role in bringing about the much needed social interaction that freshmen need in the first year of high school.
The government of America has seen the benefits of developing smaller learning communities due to the increasing number of graduation rates and African American male student success in general; hence they encourage more and more schools to venture into the program. Nield et al., (2008) state that the Freshman Academy is the best way a school can develop a learning environment that is personalized and more welcoming to African American male 9th graders. Communities are areas where the students feel they belong and they feel valued. The feeling of belonging and comfort helps the African American male students achieve success in their studies (Habeeb, 2013). These programs of transition also involve informal sessions with the student’s parents to discuss systems and high school expectations. The parents should be keen in assisting their children in the whole process.
African American male students find it hard to shift from a supportive and nurturing middle school environment to one that needs higher academic expectations and more self-discipline. Poor support during the transition period, leads to high dropout rates, low scores in classes and larger absent and referral numbers of the students. It is very important that the program is implemented in time before this transition period. Freshman Academies that support African American male students, if properly implemented offer a firm foundation that focuses on the attention of the students, creates a close relationship between teachers and students and opens doors for these students to grow up to be well standing citizens in society.
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