At an afternoon session during the second week of Freshman Connection, dozens of students were on hand at the Bowen campus in South Chicago to enjoy hot dogs before a movie screening. In the noisy cafeteria, friendships were clearly forming—one of the main benefits of Freshman Connection, say counselors.
At Bowen Environmental Studies Team (BEST), more than 50 students registered for Freshman Connection, but just 15 have been attending. Attendance is somewhat higher at two of the other three small schools at the Bowen campus: 17 of 21 students who registered at New Millennium School of Health, and about half of the 62 students who registered at Chicago Discovery.
The numbers of students who registered also falls far short of the number of freshmen projected to attend the schools—about 130 to 140 students per school, according to the district’s projections.
Still, students are not only making friends but also familiarizing themselves with teachers and the school’s complicated building structure, says Tracey Williams, the freshman counselor at BEST. Pointing around the cafeteria, Williams says, “There are 75 kids here today who now know the layout of the school.”
Students spent today’s morning session developing a picture of what a successful high school student looks like, Williams says. They were surprised by statistics that explain how falling behind as freshmen greatly increases the odds of dropping out.
Despite the low attendance, Willaims thinks Freshman Connection is worth the effort. “I would hate for the district to look at our numbers and say, ‘You only have 15 students? We spent this much money?’ Give us some time to build on it.”
Camilla Covington, who takes over as principal for BEST this fall, notes an added benefit: She and her staff get a chance to know parents—“their concerns, their values”—early on, and parents get to see the school and its culture up close, establishing “a level of comfort” all around.
Kathy Farr, principal at Chicago Discovery, says the district’s efforts to help schools identify as many future freshmen as possible will pay dividends this fall. And Marcey Sorensen, principal at New Millennium School of Health, says knowing in advance who the incoming freshmen will be is a major positive step, since schools simply didn’t have this information in previous years.
“It is intentional, which is a big deal,” Sorensen says. “The district is taking a huge step.”
New Millennium and BEST are also beginning to generate freshman class schedules.
“The piece that’s out of our control,” Sorensen says, “is what the parents do to make sure their kids show up on the first day.”