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Sugar House Journal

Highland’s Freshman Success succeeds beyond academics

Jun 05, 2019 16h08 ● By Courtney Smith

L to R: Dean Collett, Claudia Bellamy and Geoff Allred of the award-winning Freshman Success Program.

By Courtney Smith | [email protected]

As soon as you set foot in room D-102, you feel right at home. 

The Freshman Success Program at Highland High School is much more than academic tutoring provided to incoming students. It’s a family-like environment; a safe space for new students to adjust to the more rigorous demands of high school, academically and otherwise. Freshmen can use the resources such as the printer and Internet, make new friends while enjoying free Friday pizza, or have quiet study time away from the intimidating cafeteria filled with older students. 

Prior to the program’s implementation, only half of each incoming freshman class earned passing grades. Now, in its 14th year, the pass rate hovers at a consistent 70 to 80 percent.

Claudia Bellamy, the Freshman Success Team director, humbly attributes the success to the broad range of support that the program encompasses and the teamwork of the entire school. It is not a disciplinary program or strictly a tutoring program, but a safe haven for freshmen to address any and all of their needs, from forgetting a locker combination to asking for advice on interpersonal relationships.

“No question is too silly or problem too big; we do our best to help wherever we can,” reads the Freshman Success flyer. Bellamy and her dedicated team of Geoff Allred and Dean Collett truly mean that.

Bellamy, Allred, and Collett collectively possess over a century’s worth of experience at Highland High School, and their passion for helping students succeed permeates the atmosphere of the Freshman Success room. They monitor students’ grades and attendance weekly, helping with homework, assignments, and arranging tutoring sessions when needed with National Honors Society members. A team of TAs from the junior and senior classes also assist with study sessions. They review the at-risk list of students every Monday to ensure that no student falls behind and any possible issues are remedied immediately.

“Instead of going to the third or fourth term and realizing a student isn’t going to pass, we can find struggling kids right in the first term,” Bellamy said. “No student falls through the cracks.” 

The program is responsible for much more than helping struggling students pass their classes; in the last two terms of this academic year, approximately 40 percent of the Freshman Success students earned spots on the Honor Roll.

The team also encourages students to “pick two,” or join at least two extracurricular activities during the school year. “I like to tell students that you never get this time back,” Bellamy said, “so have fun.” Many of the students join a sports team or an activity such as the choir, and they tend to stick with those activities throughout the year.

Students Maea and Sam are two such athletes who were encouraged to join the school’s sports teams. Maea, a football player and wrestler, and Sam, a basketball player, pop into D-102 to chat with their mentor Collett whenever they can. Collett’s friendly and welcoming demeanor invites them to talk about everything from plans to friends, and Maea and Sam promise they will continue visiting Collett even when they become sophomores. 

High school is challenging for a number of reasons beyond academics. Collett and Allred also see many students who are simply overwhelmed by a new school and being the youngest on the roster. Bellamy recalled one student who struggled with drug addiction, naturally adversely affecting his education. He spent a tremendous amount of time with the Freshmen Success Team and eventually turned things around thanks to their support and care, managing to graduate high school with scholarships for college.

A group of freshmen chatted about their upcoming final exams while enjoying their lunch together. Despite being excited about their upcoming summer vacations, the students admit they will miss being a part of the freshman program. 

“I like it because it’s a quiet place that’s not crowded, and you’re not in trouble,” expressed one student. She continued to describe her former schools in comparison to Highland. “They didn’t have anything like this,” she said. “Here, you’re supported in every area, in school and in life. The people here really care about you. My freshmen year has been a great experience.” 

As fond as they are of their freshman experience, they are definitely excited to learn to drive next year.

With so many benefits of the Freshman Success program, it’s no wonder they’ve received national recognition and have won an award from the National Community of Caring organization.

Yet the team isn’t in it for the fame. Allred said, “We do it for the kids, of course.” 

“That’s the most rewarding thing,” Bellamy said. “The kids have taught me more than we taught them. They keep you young.”