Students receive greater assistance

Grace Vance

As a part of a new program geared at benefiting freshmen who need help transitioning into high school, Freshman Seminar is making strides toward aiding pupils needing additional support with emotional health, academics and behavior.
Dr. Lisa Nieuwenhuizen, assistant principal and co-director of Freshman Seminar, said the class works with students to improve executive functioning skills, problem solving and emotional control.
“It’s an idea about supporting students who aren’t successful in traditional classes, in large classes, especially. There were two other assistant principals in the district and myself who, two and a half years ago, started doing research about how to support kids that aren’t being successful when they transition from middle school to high school,” Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said. “That’s really where this came from. We spent a whole year researching, visiting schools [and] reading articles … and then we came up with a plan of how we were going to support kids as they come to RBHS or to Hickman or to Battle.”
Dr. Nieuwenhuizen and the assistant principals worked closely with CPS middle schools to identify students based off attendance, success in core classes, discipline referrals, executive functioning skills and socio-emotional needs from data lists provided by the middle school.
“[We looked] at data historically over time so we really tried to look at students who had failed math over and over again, failed English over and over again or science,” Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said. “Those kids had never experienced success in core classes.”
The class at RBHS meets every day during first hour where they discuss personal matters while also improving student literacy with reading interventionist Daryl Moss. They also get specialized help in math with Algebra teacher Marla Clowe. Others who mentor the class include Melissa Coil, the students’ counselor. Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said the combination of developing personal relationships with teachers, incorporating fun activities into class like Monday breakfasts and individualized help has guided students in Freshman Seminar to see school as a supporting environment rather than a frustrating one.
Moss works as a teacher and an encouraging force to the 14 students of the class as a one-on-one tutor and emotional support. She helps students not only with academics, but also how to get into an efficient mindset for studying and hone important skills like organization, goal setting and time management.
“We cover issues like easing into the school day. Some of us, because of different life experiences, need time to transition into school a little bit longer. We make sure we have breakfast and time to get our head into the game before tackling some of the more in-depth and overwhelming issues that teenagers are exposed to throughout the day,” Moss said. “[We are] heavy on academics, we help the students get organized. I have notebooks and we work on some of the executive functioning skills like organization, time planning [and] goal setting. We reinforce those skills daily instead of every other day because without repetition, there’s regression, so we’re able to make sure that there’s not that much regression.”
While Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said students in Freshman Seminar who get specialized help in various areas are roughly only five percent of the student population, she said those students should not be ignored. Though he is not in the class, freshman Grant Hajicek agrees, saying that from what he has observed in his classes, there are many students with different academic histories that are generally all being taught the same way — a reason he believes a class like Freshman Seminar is needed for students who require the extra support.
“I think it is beneficial because I know in classes like advisory, there is a mix of kids with different grades and they are all pushed the same,” Hajicek said. “Some kids need a little extra so if there is a class like this, I think students will be able to get more specific motivation so they can do better.”
Moss said the Boone County Mental Health Coalition also has a doctoral student that does mini lessons with the students on socio-emotional topics, something she said is “very relevant for teenagers.”
“There’s just different things we do to get them ready to be learners, so [when] we’re doing [talking about personal issues] we’re using things like restorative circles, working on executive functioning skills, working on self-care or how to self-regulate, recognizing your triggers and when you’re getting upset, how [to] de-escalate yourself,” Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said. “[Those are things that] they can use throughout their life as adults.”