State College Area plans to improve high school transition for ninth-graders

The State College Area School District wants increased focus on the transition of ninth-grade students to the high school as part of its goal to revamp its educational model.

The district plans to implement a ninth-grade learning community at the start of the next school year to make a smoother jump for those students and allow for increased teacher collaboration to identify student needs across the curriculum.

Ninth-grade Principal Kathy Pechtold said the idea is not to alienate ninth-graders and keep them away from opportunities from the rest of the school, it’s just to help them make the transition easier.

“We didn’t want ninth-graders transitioning to the high school and feeling left out,” she said, adding that the learning community would function as an “invisible safety net.”

Teachers within a core set of classes will have a base of 120-130 common students, allowing those teachers to collaborate on learning strategies across the board. The core subjects that were grouped by similarities are English, science, social studies and health/physical education.

Board member Scott Fozard pointed out that the subjects were not chosen based on importance, but rather because similar students take all the classes.

Math wasn’t included because there is a wide range of skill levels among the students and that could create difficulties in the teacher planning process, Pechtold said.

But elective teachers are encouraged to meet with the core-subject group teachers whenever possible.

The system will also help parents collaborate with teachers, because they will be able to communicate with several teachers at once that are all focusing on their child’s needs.

“I really think it’s going to enhance the ability for parents to be able to communicate with teachers,” Pechtold said.

If the $85 million high school project referendum passes on May 20, the district plans to better physically group classes together in the new building, which will make the collaboration aspect easier.

The educational model would also group together other learning communities, including business and communications; health and human services; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and arts and humanities.

In addition, the administration will be rolling out a revamped behavior intervention plan to the ninth grade that will outline specific behavioral expectations among all classes.

Pechtold said the state is pushing a system that creates schoolwide behavioral expectations, while generating goals for the students to meet them.

They don’t want expectations to change from classroom to classroom, she said.

After the rollout for the ninth-grade students, the district plans for a full implementation of the behavior system to the rest of the high school, she added.

Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said he hasn’t worked with the team generating the ninth-grade learning community, but that he recognizes that it’s a vital time in a student’s development.

“That ninth-grade year is critical for success in the high school, and that social component of it is key,” he said.