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State College School Board Reviews New 9th Grade Support Program

by on April 21, 2014 8:18 PM

A new ninth grade support program was up for inspection at Monday night's meeting of the State College Area School Board.

The program is designed to help students make the transition from middle school to high school.

Ninth Grade Learning Communities, which will be implemented in the fall, is intended to teach freshmen necessary life skills, such as healthy behaviors and relationships while creating an environment that allows teachers and counselors to identify students' strengths.

Kathy Pechtold and Scott DeShong, principals at State College Area High School, reviewed the program with the school board. The program does not separate freshman from other high school students physically or change students' schedules, but instead designates a core group of instructors to monitor students' performance, skills and needs.

"This is more or less an invisible safety net," says Pechtold.

Teachers in ninth grade english, science, social students and health/physical education will work together. They'll hold at least three planning periods a week to meet the needs of the roughly 120 students assigned to each instructor. Essentially, four teachers will be assigned to one student.

The instructors will talk with each other about the students' performance in each of the courses and identify strengths as well as areas that could be improved. Additionally, if parents have a concern they can have a meeting with all four teachers at one time.

By communicating with fellow instructors, school counselors and parents, the program is intended to prepare students for their high school years and beyond.

The teachers will address appropriate behaviors for socializing, class and lunch, and talk about expectations in the four core classes that nearly all freshman attend.

"It heightens the students' knowledge of what those expectations are," says Pechtold.

The program was well received by board members and Superintendent Robert O'Donnell.

"Ninth grade is critical for success in high school," says O'Donnell. "This has been a discussion here for many years. ... I'm just glad it's coming together under the leadership of these folks."

Board member Jim Leous has a son who will be entering ninth grade in the fall. Leous says there was initially uncertainty about a new program targeting freshman, but after review he says it appears the program will be popular.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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