We were excited to sit down for a Zoom conversation with Cindy and Liliana to talk about their experiences with the Prairie View Freshman Academy. Freshman academy is an example of an approach designed to facilitate effective 8th to 9th grade transition and includes structures and supports to help ninth graders be successful in their first year of high school. Attention is given to creating smaller learning environments, using data to determine if students are “on-track” with their courses and grades and establishing ninth grade success teams of teachers and counselors.
Liliana is a ninth grader this year and Cindy is her mom and an educator in the district. They shared with us reflections on what worked this year as Liliana transitioned to high school in the midst of a pandemic. Our Center for High School Success partners with Prairie View High School in 27J School District and we are proud to highlight PVHS’s Freshman Academy from a variety of perspectives. Spoiler alert, Liliana is thriving this year and both she and her mom attribute a great deal of that success to the Freshman Academy.
See what Cindy and Liliana had to say in our interview below.
First, we will share what Cindy (Liliana’s mom) has to say about this year and what has worked well from her perspective.
What was on your mind as Liliana transitioned to high school?
As the time got closer, I was in total disbelief that my baby girl was going to high school. Liliana struggled in school for several years and started feeling more confident in learning in her 8th grade year receiving straight A’s. I wanted this to continue so I was nervous about change and what the launch into high school would mean for her. I was confident however knowing that Liliana was heading to Prairie View High School where I had been a part of the conversations of what a freshman academy might look like. I was excited about this opportunity for her.
Liliana has been thinking about the medical field for quite some time and knew that going to high school meant launching into this learning for her future career. Then COVID hit and threw a wrench into the “normalcy” of what entering high school was like. Liliana went from excited to nervous of the unknown. As a parent my mind went to safety first and then what does this do to her getting the courses she wants, needs, and has a passion for, as well as worried about her not being in school every day. Thankfully, through all the layers of protection put in place it has been a good transition.
How is the year going?
Just as it has been for everyone, this year has been unusual with the uncertainty that surrounds us and it has not been a typical year of high school. There have been some missed experiences. However, even through the craziness of COVID, Liliana’s year has been amazing. This year has been one of Liliana’s best years. She has been challenged and had wonderful successes. She’s had some failures but through those, she learned how to handle those difficult situations.
What have you noticed since Liliana transitioned to 9th grade?
Emotionally she is relaxed, happy, and doesn’t stress if she doesn’t understand something right away in her classes. She feels comfortable to advocate for herself as she knows that her teachers are there to help her. Since transitioning to 9th grade, Liliana takes great pride in her work, will go back and revisit notes and videos for learning, and reassess as needed to demonstrate her learning. She has never taken this kind of pride or put this kind of energy into her work. Quite frankly, she has gone from never really wanting to go to school and missing school more often than I would have liked to enjoying it.
How has the Freshman Academy at Prairie View HS supported Liliana’s education this year?
9th grade is such a pivotal year for kids. The Freshman Academy at PVHS gave Liliana a sense of ease… a sense of comfort. It has always been like pulling teeth for Liliana to share with me about her day at school. I would always get the typical teenage responses of, “Good.” “Alright.” “Horrible.” This year she shares with me what she is learning in each class. She will also share if she is struggling and it is no longer a fight for her to do some school work each evening. She has confidence unlike she has ever had before.
What elements of the Freshman Academy have been the most beneficial to your daughter and your family?
The teachers within the Freshman Academy elected to be part of this and are committed to this age group of kids. Attention is given to academic and social emotional needs of students. There is increased communication among teachers, parents, and students. And I don’t mean the normal calls or emails home regarding a child failing. This communication is not only about where Liliana is in her learning but also checking in on her personally. They truly care. She changed from in-person to total virtual in January. The number of times her advisory teacher and content teachers have touched base with her via email, google classroom, etc. to let her know they are there for her has been so wonderful.
Watching and Listening to Liliana during her virtual classes, I celebrate the consistent structures that are put in place in each of her classes. The modern classroom structure in math allows more opportunities for students to work at their own pace, demonstrate their learning, give and receive feedback, and provide more time to meet with individual or small groups of students.
What is important for parents to know about how to support their eighth graders as they register and prepare for high school?
I recommend parents sit down and discuss graduation requirements as a whole and what courses your child is wanting to take to get there. Do long-range planning and short-term planning so you are not caught off guard. Realize the impact of credits and connect with teachers and counselors as questions arise. I also recommend keeping a pulse on how your child is doing in each class. Do not wait until the end of the quarter. Ensure that they are coming to class and engaging in the learning.
I celebrate everything PVHS has put into place in the Freshman Academy to support these kids. This first year of Freshman Academy had great wins during a crazy pandemic. I look forward to watching and being a part of the continued development of this work. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when we are fully back in-person.
Now Liliana (Class of 2024/9th grader) will share her reflections on her first year of high school and how Freshman Academy has supported her during this very unusual school year.
What do you like about high school and what has been the biggest adjustment going from middle school to high school?
I like being able to pick the classes I want to take and focus on things that I am passionate about. The biggest change was going into a much bigger school and not knowing the map of the school.
Tell us about the Freshman Academy at PVHS. What is your favorite part?
I like Freshman Academy because it gives all the kids a chance to work together and have a better way of learning at their own pace and getting the help they need. Teachers care about each kid's grades and give time in their day to have office hours and personal connections with kids.
What advice do you have for a student who may be having a hard time in 9th grade right now? The biggest thing is stay focused on all your work and not fall behind because it is hard to catch back up. There is a much heavier workload than middle school. Focus more on yourself and what you want in your life and what you want to do, not what your friends want to do. Give passion in your work because you want to pass all your high school classes, as each class is a huge part effecting how and when you will graduate. \
How can schools and parents help today’s 8th graders prepare for high school?
I believe that each kid going into high school should know what they want to do when they grow up because it helps kids understand what classes they need to take and how important it is.
We are grateful to Cindy and Liliana for sharing their experience over the last year and thoughts about Freshman Academy. Next, we will be sharing perspectives of PVHS staff on Freshman Academy. The Center for High School Success helps partner schools substantially increase the number of students who finish their ninth-grade year on-track, which greatly improves a student’s odds of graduation and post-secondary success.