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Ninth Graders Share Lessons Learned from CIS Support

Starting your freshman year of high school can be tough. You’re navigating a new school, adjusting to new teachers, and trying to make new friends. Starting your freshman year during a pandemic can be overwhelming. The pandemic added layers of stress to students’ lives, particularly those transitioning from elementary school to high school during remote learning.

In 2020, Communities In Schools of Chicago recognized the need to support ninth graders as they embarked upon this big change. Our team responded by launching an initiative called Freshmen Rising in four high schools across Chicago. This initiative pairs ninth graders with a dedicated Freshmen Rising Coordinator and provides students with support at a critical time in their lives.

Last year, Freshmen Rising Coordinator Brian provided students with monthly check-ins to discuss their goals, he led a weekly student group where they could build academic and social-emotional skills, and he shared resources with students and their families. Even during remote learning, Brian found innovative ways to reach students. He hosted sessions over Google Meet and chatted with families by phone and email.

What were some key takeaways from Freshmen Rising during its inaugural year? We chatted directly with the students and asked them what skills they will carry with them to sophomore year – and beyond.

What students learned about themselves and others

Students said that Freshmen Rising taught them everything from stress management techniques, like list-making and breathing exercises, to self-advocacy. The program helped them learn how to set goals and how to stick with those goals when they encountered setbacks or moments of doubt. Through meaningful discussions with Brian, students were able to lean into their strengths and find motivation from within.

What students said they achieved

Freshmen Rising gave students confidence in their own abilities. The program made them realize that even when faced with challenges, they could still manage their emotions and complete difficult tasks. Freshmen Rising students said they were proud of themselves for building trusting relationships with teachers, peers, and other caring adults in the school building. This allowed them to be honest about their experiences and seek support when they needed it.

What students said they would tell themselves a year ago

Students said that Freshmen Rising taught them to ignore the idea that others are looking at them or judging them. Looking back, they would tell their ninth-grade selves to let go of insecurity and to trust in their own abilities. “I’m capable of doing more than I thought,” one student said. By managing their time, not getting overwhelmed, and asking for help, students found they could get their schoolwork done, rather than letting assignments build up.

Which strategies students said they will continue to use as sophomores

After a year of working with a dedicated Freshmen Rising Coordinator, students began their sophomore year with a positive outlook, focusing on long-term goals like graduation. They said they will continue using organizational skills like making lists to keep track of their schoolwork, taking notes in class, and incorporating feedback from their teachers. This year, students said they will prioritize their school assignments, and more importantly, they will check in with themselves – setting aside time for their social, emotional, and mental health.

Research shows that if students are academically and socially on track in ninth grade, their odds of graduating improve significantly. This school year, Freshmen Rising will expand to eight high schools across the city, and Freshmen Rising Coordinator Brian will support 55 ninth graders as they adjust to a new learning environment, imparting the same strategies, guidance, and opportunities for connection as he did in the program’s launch.

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