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The Student News Site of Altoona Area High School

Mountain Echo

The Student News Site of Altoona Area High School

Mountain Echo

Freshman Seminar proves unnecessary

Classwork.+Students+in+Freshman+Seminar+are+currently+working+on+community+service+projects.+Throughout+the+first+three+marking+periods%2C+they+worked+through+workbooks+and+on+Smart+Futures+skills.+
Emmalee Martyak
Classwork. Students in Freshman Seminar are currently working on community service projects. Throughout the first three marking periods, they worked through workbooks and on Smart Futures skills.

To many eighth grade students, the deciding factor of whether or not their freshman year will be enjoyable seems to be which electives they choose to take. Students preparing to make the transition from junior high to high school at the end of the 2022-23 school year planned on  electives which would fill two and a half periods throughout their year. This could look like two full year electives and one half year elective, one full year elective and three half year electives or five half year electives. On top of this, students also had to select which physical education class they wished to take, and most had to choose a foreign language to learn.

All of this is overwhelming to many students, but knowing what to prepare for can ease some of the stress that comes with the transition period. 

Until they received their official schedules in the week leading up to the first day of the 2023-24 school year, incoming freshmen weren’t aware they would also be the first (and possibly only) class required to take a new class: Freshman Seminar. 

The class is structured around Sean Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” and is, in principle, a good idea for students struggling with in school motivation or preparedness for the future. Unfortunately, even students who are not struggling in the areas which the class targets are made to take it. Students in the class have been spending the year making their ways through a workbook based on Covey’s book and have also been working on lessons in other programs such as Smart Futures.

“All Freshman Seminar teachers are expected to deliver the same lesson each day,” teacher Natalie Trimmer said. “Sometimes it follows the Leader in Me program, sometimes they’re more social emotional learning lessons and sometimes they’re lessons about internet safety or college preparedness. We’re given a sort of blueprint for a lesson with some directions, but oftentimes the lesson itself doesn’t fill the whole class period, so some teachers find their own materials to supplement with and to try to make the class more meaningful.”

As the year progresses, students have been quick to notice several flaws in the class. On days where students work from their workbooks, many of the lessons are read straight from the book or are taught by a short video. Following instruction, students are assigned work in the book. This work is typically a short constructed response where students ponder application of the lesson in their day-to-day lives followed by questions for single word responses. However, the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” workbook has only 114 pages, and because many of the pages are spent reiterating the lessons shared by teachers of the class, daily use of it in a full year course would leave it completed in a matter of weeks. 

To combat this, other lessons and activities that aren’t covered in the book, but many may view to be necessary, are added alongside the regular lessons. Some of these lessons are productive, but many of them are seemingly added as fillers. Some lessons outside of the workbook look like lessons through the Smart Futures program used by everyone in the school, featured articles which may concern students or national news and some are more fun lessons such as word searches. 

“We do Smart Futures, workbooks and lessons on the board together, but that’s about it,” freshman Adrielle McNeal said. “We get to do a community service project at the end of the year for a field day for the kids.”

Looking into the end of the year, freshmen in the class will be working on community service projects. For classes, this may look like a pajama day, movie day, field day or a variety of other ideas.  

The class also has days built in to “sharpen the saw,” one of the principles of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” These days are framed as a catch up day for students to do work for other classes, but the reality is that most students don’t treat them this way. 

Because some students are granted frequent, sometimes daily downtime, having whole periods of a more or less study hall isn’t often too appealing. However, for students whose teachers go beyond the original plan, “sharpen the saw” days may be a great way for them to have a relaxing period amidst a stressful week. 

“I think that students are having completely different experiences,” Trimmer said. “Some students have a lot of extra time in that class where they’re working on work for other classes, and some students’ teachers are filling the entire period. So, to me, it seems to be different based on the teacher.”

Plans to introduce the class school wide have also sparked debate on the need, as many don’t view the class as something necessary for older grades. Many have also expressed the feeling that the class has no place in a high school setting and would serve a greater purpose in an elementary or junior high setting. 

“I think that it shouldn’t be mandatory for all kids to take because some students already have the mindset on how to act and how to do daily necessities like laundry and stuff like that,” McNeal said. “I think that it’s useful for some students but not for others.”

Currently, the plan is to have a Leader In Me class added to homeroom for all grades beginning in the 2024-25 school year. However, as the program is also being added in elementary and junior high schedules, the long term plan remains unknown. 

“I definitely don’t think all grades need an entire class period of this,” Trimmer said. “I think that most things in the class can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time, so if homeroom is the place that it fits the schedule best, then I would prefer that plan to what we have now.”

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About the Contributor
Emmalee Martyak
Emmalee Martyak, Reporter
Hi! I'm Emmalee Martyak, a freshman reporter for the Mountain Echo. For as long as I can remember, I've loved writing. Last year, I joined the Livewire staff, and, after falling in love with reporting, decided to join the staff this year. Besides writing, I also love music. I'll listen to just about anything, but my favorite artists are Conan Gray, Taylor Swift, Hozier and the Waterparks. I also love all kinds of movies, and some favorites are "Mean Girls," "Edward Scissorhands" and just about any Adam Sandler movie. Some of my other hobbies are painting, baking and reading.

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