“The question of change was initiated by a substantial projected shortfall of funds, which could require cancellation of programs or staff. So, the Board of Education asked me to develop a creative way to address financial problems without canceling programs,” Superintendent David Blackburn said. The design of the program essentially builds off the school’s new partnership with Colorado Mountain College. Implementing the Freshmen Academy aims to prepare students for the rigor that comes with college classes in high school and make sure the transition from middle school to high school is as smooth as possible.
Initially, Blackburn said, “the staff didn’t believe it was feasible to implement the ideas, but did believe the ideas were worth pursuing further,” thus beginning the journey forward to curate an attainable and effective freshmen program.
Dean of Students Cory Scheffel has been working closely with the project since its inception, being a driving force behind research and development. A study in Chicago looked into students that weren’t graduating and found that this could be predicted based on the end of their freshmen year. Programs oriented towards ninth graders show improvement not only academically, but socially as well. From this, the idea of the academy in our school was born.
Through the months of planning the District staff has made sure to do so, “thoughtfully and correctly,” Scheffel said. As a result of shock from the community and teachers the idea of a true academy, separate from the main school, has been put on hold.
A large defense of the academy is the funding opportunities that accompany the effort. The majority of education money comes from the state, but with the effects Covid had on schools ESSER funds from the Federal government are available for helping with deficits and innovative reformation of public school programs.
For the 2021-2022 school year a group of four teachers, Sarah Evans, Abigail Cooksey, Britt Searles, and Lara Fischlein, are looking at, “what components can the Salida High School do that really support freshmen without upsetting the whole apple cart.” Scheffel emphasized the importance of fostering the first year experience. These four teachers will teach core subjects, English 1, Algebra 1, Physical Science, and World Geography, as well as having a common plan period to discuss the successes and issues facing themselves and students. Intensive courses will be offered for students who need extra assistance, and advanced classes are still available outside of the academy as well.
When Abigail Cooksey heard about the potential of a Freshmen Academy she thought, “This is like my passion project; this is what I live to do in education.” She has been on the committee since the beginning and will be the ninth grade math teacher.
“I absolutely love guiding people through that transition from middle school to high school, and I love being here once I’ve taught my ninth graders and getting to watch them grow for the next four years,” said Cooksey.