By: Rosa Gutierrez, DU Public Achievement Coach
George Washington High School (GWHS) and the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) partnered to facilitate ninth grade academy, a week designed to help incoming ninth grade students form new connections and build a strong foundation for successfully navigating high school. By partnering with CCESL, incoming students to GWHS participate in a creative take on orientation that fosters connectedness to their new classmates as well as familiarizes them with opportunities available in high school. As a Public Achievement coach with CCESL, I signed up to be one of ten college facilitators helping incoming ninth grade students navigate activities as part of ninth grade academy.
During the academy, incoming ninth grade students were grouped with roughly 15 other new students and paired with a teacher and a veteran student from GWHS. These small groups circled around DU’s campus participating in various activities. These individuals, who initially didn’t know each other, ended up forming lasting relationships with each other, and with teachers at the school. By the end of the day, new students were singing school chants, competing against other groups, and group pride was noticeably increasing.
College facilitators from DU and schools around Colorado helped to lead the activities. Each college facilitator led a unique station with a different competitive game that allowed for the students to dip a toe into various high school offerings. Stations centered around topics such as: art, speech and debate, leadership, drama, athletics, career, and band. These games not only served to show students all of the possible activities they could partake in during their high school experience, but also allowed them to get to know teachers and other incoming students better. Most importantly, new students felt support from their community, since many of the college student facilitators were either from Denver or GWHS alumna themselves.
I personally facilitated the athletics station and was able to observe students releasing their strong competitive tendencies, allowing themselves to break through barriers and be spunky, funny, and creative.
Ninth Grade Academy gave incoming students the chance to meet other peers in their classes. It also introduced them to the upperclassmen who volunteered and supported them. These upperclassmen really rose to the occasion and became role models at the academy. This academy is important for upper class students as well because they learn the leadership skills they will need to be on boards of school clubs and leaders at GWHS. I witnessed this as, at my station, the upperclassman began taking more responsibility and helping explain directions to incoming students.
During lunches and breaks between activities, I was able to sit and talk with incoming students about what they might enjoy in high school and what they are looking forward to. They even asked me questions about my experiences and I was able to share advice with them. This gave me the opportunity to reminisce about my high school years and actually reminded me of what I like to do, which is work with students.
Overall, it was quite enjoyable to host GWHS on campus for a couple of days. I wish all incoming students a very successful high school experience and look forward to hearing more about the growth of connections and opportunities that started with ninth grade academy.