Freshman fundamentals

New mentoring program helps students with testing skills, counseling

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School's not just about academics anymore.

Districts are taking a more holistic approach to education, integrating social, emotional and behavioral topics into the curriculum with the expectation that developing those skills will enhance academic performance.

At the high school level, students are introduced early to the concept -- something that's expected to benefit them for the rest of their lives.

For the first time this year, freshmen are required to spend 35 minutes a day in an advisory class geared toward making their high school experience as productive as it can be.

While other students are enjoying longer lunches and innovative electives, freshmen are learning to calculate their grade point averages, studying for the Colorado Student Assessment Program test and making sure they're caught up with their homework.

But that's not all administrators have included in the new program. Students also learn social skills by participating in games, activities and discussions. They learn how to communicate more effectively, manage anger, handle harassment and deal with depression.

"We saw there was a need for a little more guidance to get freshmen started on the right foot socially and academically so they knew what was expected from them in high school," high school Counselor Paula Duzik said.

Administrators developed the plan based on successful programs from other schools and research on best practices.

"Research proves that with more guidance, students achieve more," Duzik said.

Teachers who act as freshman mentors do so on a voluntary basis, which Duzik thinks will contribute to the program's success.

Rose Siminoe is a veteran Moffat County High School teacher who took advantage of the opportunity to mentor new students.

"I believe in the program," she said. "I think it's an excellent program to help our freshmen be more successful, to stay on track and to give them additional guidance."

Siminoe said the program already has had positive effects.

Comprehensive data has not been collected, but Duzik and Siminoe think there are fewer students on the D/F grade list, and the number of referrals for social issues has declined.

Freshman mentors track the grades and progress of each of their students, often having conversations with their teachers, ensuring that homework is completed and providing time for additional study if needed.

"I believe they're seeing us every day as mentors," Siminoe said. "If there's a problem, we communicate."

Duzik said the mentoring program gives each freshman a teacher to feel close to and talk to throughout his or her high school career.

"Sometimes freshmen feel they get lost in the mix," Duzik said.

The program is used to enhance communication with parents. Teachers send reports to parents every two weeks.

"I'm 100 percent behind this," Siminoe said. "It's very vital to help the kids be successful, and we have fun. They're seeing that it's an enjoyable and fun learning experience."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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