Waite High School principal Todd Deem greets senior Jason Kendall, who is dressed as the school’s Indian mascot, while young Kendall helps out with the freshman orientation Tuesday.
In the Waite High School lunchroom, a cafeteria employee bellowed out instructions and expectations to freshmen, moments after glitter-clad upperclassmen in the show choir serenaded the new Indians while they ate their first high school meal.
On the second floor, another crew of freshmen finished the leg of a schoolwide scavenger hunt in Waite’s auxiliary gymnasium, with a teacher on hand to explain the gym’s history and to take photos of students.
PHOTO GALLERY: The first day of school
While most Toledo Public Schools high school students will start their school year today, freshmen showed up a day early this year. It’s the first in a series of changes the district is making to the freshman class experience, in an attempt to reduce the rate of students who fall behind in what can be a difficult transition year.
The step from elementary school to high school can be a big one, especially with a building as big as Waite.
“I was worried I was going to get lost,” freshman Anselmo Padilla said.
Freshmen often don’t just get lost in buildings, but in their academics as well. A structured building environment gives way to the controlled chaos of busy hallways, teenage drama, and more independence. Students who eked their way through elementary school can suddenly find themselves failing courses and forced to repeat freshman year.
These are the students who often drop out, TPS officials have noticed.
At all district high schools, freshmen will now be “clustered,” with a group of teachers dedicated almost solely to the new students. An hour a day is dedicated as an advisory period, with teachers taking a group of students under their wing for the year.
The freshman teachers will also have built-in time to meet and plan as a group, an idea used at TPS elementary schools to help share ideas, identify data trends, and coordinate responses. That way, teacher Audrey Fox said, teachers can better identify why a student may be failing multiple courses and get to root causes.
Romules Durant, superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, chats with junior Brittany Hacker, left, and senior Toshieyana Robinson, who are at Waite High School helping freshmen on their first day of classes Tuesday.
Superintendent Romules Durant said the district had found transition years are often key points when students start to get lost. When TPS eliminated middle schools and went to K-8 buildings, they saw discipline decrease, parent participation grow, and test scores improve at those middle school grades.
Freshmen, the biggest transition year, is the district’s focus.
The freshman cluster is a structural change in TPS, but every school goes through its own unique evolution every year. Last year ended an era at Waite with the retirement of Dave Yenrick, a Waite graduate who led the school for two decades.
It seemed nearly a prerequisite that Mr. Yenrick be replaced by another Waite grad. Principal Todd Deem, who led Riverside Elementary for six years, graduated in 1988 from the East Toledo high school.
“It’s been the tradition keeping someone from Waite High School in Waite High School,” he said.
Mr. Yenrick, along with his wife, Carolyn Yenrick — herself a longtime Waite administrator — are resources Mr. Deem can lean on for support, he said.
The early start for freshmen gave high school staff a chance to acclimate them to the building without the added distraction of meeting hundreds of older students on the same day, Mr. Deem said.