The transition from middle school to high school is never easy, but for some kids a little extra boost is needed for a successful freshman year.
This is where Northview High School's Freshman Academy steps in.
Every spring North Clay Middle School recommends approximately 50 students for the program, and only the first 20 to apply are accepted.
Program coordinator Michelle Burk said students who are struggling in the classroom and on ISTEP+ testing but do not qualify for special services are the targeted group.
The Freshman Academy uses smaller class sizes and open communication with parents as major tools for helping at-risk students adjust to high school.
Burk said the teaching team also has a "no tolerance" policy on homework. All work must be completed, with the first time being a "free" pass, then percentage points being taken off the assignment and even a homework detention.
Parents are alerted to any homework detention, and are part of the process of keeping their students on task.
"Every class in high school counts," Burk said. "Any student in my other classes, if an assignment isn't turned in, I write a zero in the grade book."
The Academy is made up of Burk, language arts teacher Jeff Gambill, algebra teacher Shannon Sampson and biology teacher Jamie Elwell.
Students have four classes a day within the academy, with Burk teaching classes in interpersonal relationships and orientation, life and careers, plus two electives.
The teaching team has a common prep hour, which is unusual, where once a week they get together to discuss the progress of the students and address any issues.
Many times, after such a meeting, Burk will call parents to talk to them about their child's recent work and behavior. Sometimes a conference call with all four teachers is set up.
Burk said she spends a lot of time talking with parents and keeping them up-to-date on what the class is doing.
Parents receive a report card every three weeks, in spreadsheet form, to see how their kids have done on every assignment. They also receive a preview of the upcoming three weeks so they know what to expect.
The Freshman Academy is not all structure and punishment, though. Students are rewarded throughout the semester with "Academy Bucks" for good performance.
At the end of each semester, students can use their bucks in an auction of items purchased with some school funds or donated by community businesses.
"Usually we have a nice variety of items the students can bid on," Burk said. "The community is very generous."
Also, the Academy tries to reward students with a field trip every semester.
"Many of these kids have not been successful in school before, and if a kid made F's in middle school, and is now making even C's in high school, their self esteem goes up," Burk said about the internal rewards of the program.
The offering of the two classes Burk teaches also goes a long way to help students develop their confidence.
Many at-risk students do not feel like they will be able to attend college or find a career, and drop out of high school. The orientation, life and career class gives students the chance to find their best skills and a career where they can be successful.
"It shows them there is a job out there for everyone," Burk said.
Interpersonal relationships help kids who may be socially awkward mature into a confident teenager.
"We work on things like getting along with each other, and learning how to deal with life in general," Burk explained.
This is the fifth year the Freshman Academy has been used at Northview, and Burk said the results have been very positive.
An immediate effect has been seen with students and parents.
"I've even had some parents, after their students go through the program, ask if there is a Sophomore Academy," Burk said.
Last year's seniors were the first class of Freshman Academy students to graduate, and were compared to recommended students who were not in program.
More students from the Academy graduated and performed well on ISTEP+ testing than those who did not participate.
Burk hopes participants become a contributing member of society after receiving their degrees.
"The program is a real plus for the school and the community," Burk said.