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August 30, 2013

Maine Voices: Deering, Portland high schools redesign ninth grade to support students

By CARLOS GOMEZ and SARAH OBARE

PORTLAND - High school can be a daunting place for freshmen.

Students struggle to navigate a building more than twice as big as their middle schools. They meet many new people and try to find those who will become their friends.

Freshmen are expected to produce more work, at higher quality, than ever before. They're encouraged to participate in sports teams, music groups, student government and other extracurricular activities. That means learning to organize their time so that they get their work done.

Ninth grade is a critical transition year. Students who fall behind as freshmen are at much greater risk of failing or dropping out of high school. That's why the Portland Public Schools is making major changes at Deering and Portland high schools this fall.

Each of our schools has created a team of teachers to work exclusively with freshmen. They'll use common planning time to share instructional strategies, monitor student progress, communicate with families and intervene early on, if needed, to ensure that students stay on track academically.

The ninth-grade teams at Deering and Portland High each will be based in a wing of the building. Team members who teach math, social studies, English and science will work with an English Language Learner support teacher, the special education staff, a math coach, a literacy coach, guidance counselors and social workers.

Portland High School has developed a partnership with Johns Hopkins Talent Development Secondary. The high school is offering a new course, Freshman Seminar, developed by Johns Hopkins, to help students acquire the study skills, organizational ability and technological expertise that they need to succeed in high school and beyond.

Students in Freshman Seminar will learn more about themselves while exploring and building pathways to post-secondary education, careers and global citizenship. For example, they will be able to take Introduction to Engineering, a new course offered as part of a national program, Project Lead the Way, that gives students an engineering pathway.  

As upperclassmen, Portland High students will have opportunities to explore a variety of interests through their academic classes, job shadowing, internships and community partnerships.  

Deering has joined the International Studies School Network to ensure that students graduate well-equipped for the increasingly globalized world. Freshmen will focus on developing their academic skills, perseverance and grit as they push themselves to achieve more.

They'll learn about the four key aspects of global competence: investigating the world, recognizing perspectives, communicating ideas and taking action. At the end of the year, they will present a project about their growth as students and their investigation of the world.

Deering teachers are weaving an international focus throughout the entire high school curriculum, complete with extended and authentic learning opportunities beyond the classroom.

Deering is expanding its world language offerings to include Arabic and Mandarin. Deering students will be able to participate in international programming at the University of New England's Center for Global Humanities and the World Affairs Council. Deering also is planning for a robust international study program.

But it all starts with a strong foundation. That's why both of our high schools have redesigned ninth grade. We want to ensure that every student has the support he or she needs to succeed in high school.

The changes at Portland High and Deering are part of a larger district initiative, Pathways to Success, to remodel the educational system for the needs and demands of 21st-century life. This work is being supported by a multi-year grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Our goal is to ensure that students graduate prepared for college and careers.

We invite and encourage the community to get involved in this effort. We need volunteers to mentor students, arrange for job shadows and internships at local businesses, serve on panels that review student work and help in many other ways.

To find out more, please contact the Jobs for Maine's Graduates Pathways coordinators: Eric Moynihan at Portland High (moynie@portland schools.org) and Pam Bessey at Deering (pbessey@jmg.org).

Thank you for being part of this exciting effort to raise the next generation of Portland's leaders.

Carlos Gomez teaches Spanish at Deering High School, and Sarah Obare teaches and coaches math at Portland High School. Both have been involved in planning the new curricula at their respective schools.





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