- Gifford Park Elementary
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Setting Students Up for Success
It’s hard trying to navigate high school, especially as a ninth-grader. Everything seems bigger than middle school -- larger buildings, more students and higher stacks of homework. But Omaha Public Schools first-year high school students have some extra help thanks to a program called Freshman Academy.
“Freshman Academy is that baseline where you have all these options, and they give you opportunities to try them all and give you different experiences,” said Kendall Holtmeyer, a Bryan High freshman. “It really helps you pick what you want to do.”
Omaha Public Schools expanded Freshman Academy in the fall of 2021 to make the transition from middle school to high school easier for students. Students participate in a freshman seminar course, where they learn skills for success and explore career options.
“It gives them a sense of what it’s going to be like as they continue going forward in life,” said Ashlee Clements, Bryan High Freshman Academy coordinator. “It’s beneficial to these kids to learn what they’re interested in during high school rather than waiting until college.”
Each freshman is assigned to a smaller learning community or team. Students meet as a group once a day with their advisement teacher. Some days include activities or lessons focused on college and career. Others may offer time for digging into coursework. The advisement teacher who welcomes students on day one sticks with them until they graduate.
“Most of our activities are about our goals and what we need to do right now in order to be successful in the future,” said Bernadine Ambatobe, Bryan High freshman.
During their first year in high school, freshmen select their academy or pathway. Even as students begin academy or pathway classes in their sophomore year, they maintain core classes with access to advanced academics, fine arts and electives.
Freshman Ja’Shya Meeks plans to be an interior designer when she finishes school. The Freshman Academy offers her ways to meet that goal. Next year, she’ll begin her pathway in design and construction.
“When I got to high school, I knew they would have a career path for me to join,” said Meeks. “I can’t wait to start taking my pathway classes.”
Freshman Academy also provides a place for ninth graders to build a community and adjust to life as high school students. At Bryan High, Clements and her team provide students with a fun and educational experience. They plan many activities like college visits, tailgating at sporting events and breakfast with the principal.
“They genuinely look like they’re having a good time,” said Clements. “It’s nice to see them hanging out with their friends, playing games and getting to know them in a different setting.”