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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk: Becoming a Freshman at Ukiah High Is a Big Deal—We’re Here to Make Students and Families Feel Right at Home

Ukiah High is more than a local school. Wildcat Nation represents a shared formative experience for countless community members. Their time here marks the passage from childhood to adulthood. In many ways, our campus, nestled at the base of Ukiah’s Western Hills, is a coming-of-age experience for our community’s young adults.

Extensive research finds that the transition from 8th to 9th grade has lasting impacts on students’ academic success and sense of belonging. In service of our community’s kids, Ukiah High has implemented a range of programs designed to build a sturdy bridge between middle school and Ukiah High School.

Even before freshman year begins, Ukiah High’s Summer Academy program provides a crash course in Ukiah High's success. The program has run for nine years, always during the first two weeks of August. Students get to meet their teachers, know the physical campus, and understand high school and college preparation requirements and strategies for excelling as a freshman in high school. They get to experience our career technical education opportunities like auto shop and welding. Looking towards a college-bound future, the program takes students to four college campuses from our local Mendocino College to the University of California, Berkeley. These trips make the college vision real, giving students the opportunity to see themselves as a future college freshman. If you would like your future Wildcat to attend, they can apply on the Ukiah High website.

Once the school year begins, Wildcat Nation’s commitment to nurturing our newest members continues. Every 9th grader is enrolled in a course called Freshman Advisory. Instructors guide students in academic success, social-emotional health, and college and career readiness. Knowing the importance of starting off right, instructors stay abreast of their student’s grades in all classes so we celebrate their success or provide needed support. Advisory actively collaborates with our Peer Counseling program with upperclassmen facilitating “check-in groups”. Students learn to talk about their successes and struggles, provide constructive feedback, and become comfortable with sharing their perspectives. While Ukiah High’s freshmen contend with the rigors of high school level course work, Freshman Advisory coaches our 9th graders to be the best they can be as new members of the Wildcat Nation.

We know our students are often driven by their peers even more than teachers or parents. Knowing the power of peer-to-peer influence, Ukiah High’s Link Crew charges a team of upperclassmen to make our first-year students feel at home. Link Crew welcomes all of our 9th graders during orientation, providing tours of their new home. Throughout the school year, Link Crew hosts barbecues, ice cream socials, lunchtime games, and hot cocoa mornings, specifically inviting first-year students. Link Crew leaders visit Freshman Advisory classrooms and present information about what it means to be in a healthy relationship and the culture surrounding schoolyard fights. 

The academic expectations of Ukiah High can shock our 9th graders. They find themselves in classrooms asking them to balance chemical equations, analyze literature, or solve a problem using the quadratic equation. We know the rigor students face and made it our mission to provide every student with a tutor in any subject they might need. From this commitment came Academic Tutorial, an open learning center hosted in Ukiah High’s Library embedded within every one of our freshman’s schedules. Academic Tutorial instructors are Ukiah High’s credentialed teachers with an intimate knowledge of the curriculum. This space also serves as an environment to complete coursework, study with peers, and access reference materials. We know our students lead busy lives, and their time with family is vital. Academic Tutorial gives students the opportunity to complete their work at school so they can be present with parents and siblings when they return home. 

Ukiah High’s commitment to our freshmen takes many forms, and our practices are constantly in flux. As our world changes, the needs of our students follow suit. Our community should breathe easier knowing Ukiah High has placed our freshmen’s well-being as a top priority. The challenges of high school will persist, but with Freshman year success, more success will come.