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The Student News Site of Concord-Carlisle Regional High School

The Voice

Concord-Carlisle High School's Student Newspaper
The Student News Site of Concord-Carlisle Regional High School

The Voice

Concord-Carlisle High School's Student Newspaper

Pros and Cons of the 9th-Grade Academy

Pros+and+Cons+of+the+9th-Grade+Academy

Overview: What exactly is the 9th-Grade Academy?

One of the initiatives that stemmed from the “2018-2023 Strategic Plan” was to focus more on team-teaching approaches to learning in Concord and Carlisle public schools. This goal led to the creation of the 9th-grade academy, allowing students to be on one of four teams (Elm, Maple, Oak, and Willow). Within each of the teams, students have all the same core teachers (English, Math, Social Studies, and Science) and are able to go from class to class with other students who also share similar classes and teachers. Thanks to this grouping, the workload from these classes is similar for all of the students in the cohort. Additionally, in an attempt to ease the transition to a new school and new expectations, the 9th-grade academy also decided to have all of the classes in the first quarter be graded on a pass-fail method. Grades earned in the first quarter will only count toward their end-of-year grade if they are beneficial to it.

Some Students’ Thoughts – A Range of Grades and Experiences:

To get a better understanding of how students feel about the 9th-grade academy, I interviewed several students, including one junior (the first grade to experience the 9th-grade academy) and a senior (the grade that just missed participating in the academy), along with doing a write-up of my own as a current ninth grader now that I have experienced the 9th-grade academy in full swing.

When interviewing CCHS senior Alex Steffens, I asked her if she would have liked to experience the 9th-grade academy. Her response was, “I think there are both pros and cons to it.” Alex went on to say that she is “not sure 9th-grade academy was necessarily the best solution.” That said, when asked if she was overly stressed during her first year of school and whether or not she believed the 9th-grade academy could have helped, she responded, “I was definitely stressed out… So I think it’s great that you don’t have to worry about grades in that first portion because that’s a nice break. But I did really like having a mixed group of new people, so I think that’s the downside of the 9th-grade academy.”

I also interviewed CCHS junior Sarah Annunziata to see what it was like for her during the first year of the 9th grade academy. I asked Sarah if she noticed a significant change between entering her freshman year versus entering her sophomore year, and she explained that she observed a “clear difference,” noting that she “was a lot more worried about [her] sophomore year” with the lack of cohorted teachers and classes.

From my perspective, some aspects of the 9th-grade academy were definitely beneficial. I believe it was helpful to have grades be pass/fail during the first quarter. Without feeling overly stressed, it felt easier for me to shift into this new school and set of expectations thanks to this part of the academy. Furthermore, having the year start out as pass/fail also helped me to figure out how to balance my time in a way that allowed for more exploring of what worked best for me and what didn’t. By removing the pressures of grades, I was able to consider how to best manage my time between sports, socializing, and now the addition of homework – which was much more abundant than it had ever been compared to what had been assigned in middle school. It required a lot of effort on my part to figure out how to balance my time and my schoolwork, all while still trying to get a good night’s sleep, but I felt like the academy helped me figure it out.

That said, some aspects of the academy did not feel very helpful. While the separation of teams worked out for many, it didn’t work out completely for me. Although I did have a lot of friends in my cohort, and of course had the benefit of getting to have lunch with a wider variety of people, it also closed me off from some of my friendships with others. I realize how this was helpful in some ways by creating stronger bonds within my own team, but I think it would have been nice to have classes with a wider group of people. I also believe this could have been very upsetting to some people if they were separated from their entire group of friends and had to start creating those types of relationships all over again. On top of that, my schedule is very packed during the school year with sports, work, and homework, so I end up, for the most part, only interacting with those who are in my classes. Since I only have a specific group of people on my team, I have ended up drifting away from relationships with other friends without realizing it.

Some Thoughts from Some Teachers:

I also decided to see how some of the teachers feel about the Academy. I decided to pick two teachers, one who is new to the school and one who has been here for a while. My hope was not only to get a better understanding of the difference academically but also to hear some adults’ perspectives on the matter.

I interviewed my math teacher, Mr. Saulnier, who is in his first year here at CCHS. I asked Mr. Saulnier if he thought the Pass/Fail quarter helped to bring down stress levels in his class. He answered that “I find that the Pass/Fail quarter supports students in multiple ways. Good habits lead to good outcomes” and that “it certainly helps to alleviate stress for students who have a tendency to focus on their grades over their process.” As he continued to discuss the academy with me, he also noted, “The only downside I see is if students waste the opportunity and don’t take the process seriously.” I also asked him if he had seen this kind of initiative at other schools, as well as if he thought the 9th-grade academy was more beneficial than similar initiatives at other schools. To this, he responded, “In the age of COVID, I have seen and heard about many creative and innovative ways to support students.” He went on to say, “I am a big believer in the 9th Grade Academy model. It was one of the reasons I wanted to work at CCHS… the Academy model helps create a ‘smaller school within a school’ environment to allow cohorts of students to build strong social bonds in class outside their traditional friend group.”

I also interviewed my English teacher, Mr. Kemeza, who has been at CCHS for nine years. I asked him if he saw any COVID effects in making the 9th-grade academy. He reported: “I would suggest COVID really impacted the way we were doing school for two whole years, so the changes in grades and how we were thinking about success and evaluating school work makes it very hard to disentangle the effects of the 9th-grade academy.” Moving out of the pandemic model, I asked him if he thought the academy was still helpful now, even after COVID. He responded, “Folks are entering this large school from many middle schools – it [the 9th-grade academy] helps students and teachers get to know each other quickly. It remains helpful even while leaving COVID.” Finally, I asked Mr. Kemeza if he noticed students seeming more comfortable with each other in class during the 9th-grade Academy, and he responded, “Yes, I have noticed this. I think it is because it makes a large community into several smaller communities and lets people get to know each other quicker.”

The ninth-grade academy originated out of some challenging times in education due to the pandemic, and it seems as though there have been several positive changes in our school, from teachers being able to talk with other teachers about students, to shared workload in classes, to the ability to manage time in a trial-and-error format with the addition of a pass/fail quarter, just to name a few. That said, with these pros, there are also cons, be it the constant clustering of students or even the loss of some friendships, amongst other issues. As these cohorts continue to plant roots within our school, we must continue to weigh the pros and cons.

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