Freshmen See Success At Ninth Grade Academy

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Grades and attendance both up for students at the Annex

The ninth grade academy’s been in full swing at the Nassau Community College Annex for roughly four months, but district administrators are saying the small group environment is already having big payoffs for students.

At a presentation on Thursday, Dec. 14, high school principal David Zimbler and Dr. Paul Pelech, an assistant principal who works specifically at the ninth grade academy, touted the benefits of the freshmen-focused environment, which included improvements in test scores and attendance.

Students work on Chromebooks

“The first quarter data [for last year] shows the average first quarter grade was a 76 by ninth graders. This year, the average grade was an 80. That’s a significant increase,” said Zimbler. “Last year, we had 91 percent attendance, this year it’s 93 percent.”

Last year, in quarter one, 13 percent of students achieved the honor roll status; this year, that number has gone up to 16 percent. Similarly, last year, the first quarter saw 6 percent of ninth graders on the principal’s list; this year, it’s gone up to 8 percent.

Students at the Annex benefit from increased access to technology thanks to a 1:1 Chromebook initiative, in addition to enrollment in STEAM courses and college and career exposure with quarterly college visits.

“The goal is giving exposure to every child, showing them what they need to be successful now so they can be successful then,” said Pelech.

While academic achievements are a milestone in itself, providing the close-knit environment for freshmen has also allowed them the ability to bond with their peers, without sacrificing on extracurriculars. While some activities are offered at the Annex itself, students who are involved with clubs and sports are bussed to the high school for after-school programs and events.

At the meeting, three freshmen students explained their thoughts on the academy.

Being in the small group environment has allowed the students more opportunities to bond.

“I really love it, I feel like we can focus a lot there,” said one student, while another noted that she was more challenged in the academy, saying, “I started feeling like a college student, it’s making me a more independent person.”

Though class sizes, at 20 to 25 students, depending on the course, are relatively the same as they would be at the high school building, the off-site environment has allowed students more opportunities to connect with their teachers and is less crowded than the middle school.

Staff have also seen the benefits; daily professional learning community meetings give teachers the opportunity to talk about students they have in common and how to best support them.

“It’s a group of teachers, across curricula, who talk about student success and how to best support them,” said Pelech. “And from those meetings we have crucial data to inform instruction and provide the best instruction we can for our students.”

And while the ninth grade academy seems to have found a suitable home so far at the Annex, the district only has a one-year lease on the space. When asked at the meeting what the district’s plan was to not only accommodate the freshmen, but the rest of the students who were in overcrowded buildings, board president Dr. Pless Dickerson said the board was in the planning stages.

“The state commissioner is looking for us to provide this success, as well as a plan for how to eventually bring the ninth grade academy back to the high school,” Dickerson said. “We’ll have to have focus groups to discuss the things we’re in discussion about. We need to hear from the community on how we’re going to bring the ninth grade academy to the high school and make it as much of a success here as it is at the annex.”

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