Central principal drives home academic message at freshman orientation

Thursday, August 9, 2007
Kristina Cruse held her stack of textbooks Wednesday as she waited in line behind Davanika Giboney to check out during freshman orientation at Central High School in Cape Girardeau. Incoming freshmen toured the school, picked up textbooks, found their lockers and had their school pictures taken during orientation. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Cape Girardeau Central High School's incoming freshmen arrived at orientation Wednesday hoping to learn the location of their lockers and classrooms. They left with a note of caution: Don't get left behind academically.

Fifty-eight freshmen last school year failed to become sophomores, principal Dr. Mike Cowan told this year's incoming students.

Cowan said the statistic can be an eye-opener for students who now are faced with having to earn course credits to move to the next grade and ultimately graduate.

"As far as high school promotion is concerned, it has nothing to do with the number of years you have attended or your age," he said. "It is totally dependent upon credits earned."

Said Cowan, "That is a different way of thinking about school."

New students and their parents made their way up and down the halls of Central High School during freshman orientation Wednesday. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Based on past graduation rates, Cowan told the incoming freshmen that 66 of them won't graduate from high school.

"I wanted them to understand just how serious we are about maintaining our academic standards," Cowan said late Wednesday afternoon after the students had gone home.

Freshman Tori Twidwell was amazed to learn so many students had been held back a grade and said she got the message. "You've got to work hard and do your homework," she said as she ate lunch in the cafeteria.

The students picked up their textbooks and class schedules, went through health screenings, were photographed for school identification cards and found their lockers. The students and parents ate in the spacious cafeteria, learned about student clubs and attended a school assembly. Classes start a week from today.

Cowan said nearly 90 percent of the incoming freshmen attended Wednesday's orientation. Many of the nearly 300 students were accompanied by their parents.

"This locker does not like you," said Anne McCarty, a senior at Central High School and volunteer at freshman orientation, as she helped Christopher Dedert figure out the combination lock Wednesday. After several tries, Dedert finally made it into his locker.

School officials said they want parents to become acquainted with the high school campus and school procedures. "The most effective schools are those that have the most actively engaged parents," Cowan said.

Parents are most concerned about getting their children enrolled in the proper classes, he said.

Although it's important that students be placed in classes where they can succeed, he said, that doesn't mean students should be placed at an academic level that is too easy.

"We don't want them overwhelmed, but we don't want them underchallenged," he said.

At Jackson High School, the beginning students are sophomores. Freshmen attend Jackson Junior High School.

During ninth grade, they get a tour of the high school and learn about high school classes and clubs. On Friday, those students -- now incoming sophomores -- will get their class schedules during an orientation session from 8 a.m. to noon.

The same day, Central will offer a second orientation session for all students, grades nine through 12, who were unable to attend their scheduled orientation sessions earlier in the week. Students can attend either of two sessions: from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. or 1 to 3 p.m.

At Wednesday's orientation, freshman Stevie Buchheit said she was glad to learn her way around the school building.

She was impressed with the stylish school library. "It's pretty neat," she said after finding her locker.

While the hallways were crowded at times during orientation, school officials said the first day of school will be far more crowded.

The school will have more than 1,300 students enrolled in grades nine through 12 as well as 145 employees, Cowan said.

This is the third year for the full-day freshman orientation. High school librarian Julia Jorgenson said the lengthy orientation gets students acclimated to their new surroundings and makes the first day of class less frightening.

"We don't want them to be intimidated," she said. "You cannot learn if you are scared."

Cowan said the orientation process also allows freshmen to begin school with less anxiety and lessens first-day distractions.

Jorgenson said, "We have school on the first day. We don't start with a party. We take academics seriously."

In addition to emphasizing academics, the orientation program included information about the school's dress code for students. Victoria Dacus accompanied her freshman son, David Burton, to the high school. She said such information "helps parents out a lot" when it comes to what children can wear to class.

Freshman Elizabeth Johnson-Carter said she has no problem with the dress code, which includes a prohibition on sagging pants that show a student's underwear. "No one wants to see your boxers or anything else," she said.


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