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High School 101

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

For many students, transitioning from middle school to high school is a challenge. Navigating a new environment, managing a heavier workload, adjusting to more independence and less structure – it’s a lot to handle. Harlem Academy’s High School Week helps prepare eighth-graders for what is often an obstacle-laden path.

Held twice during the spring trimester of eighth grade, High School Week serves as an entry to life in high school. “It’s an eye-opening experience for our students,” said Sean Robertson, lead history teacher at Harlem Academy. “They learn where they may struggle and develop strategies to overcome those challenges.”

“This experience has taught me that I’m going to have a lot more homework at my new school and I’ll need to manage my time better,” said eighth-grader Tolu Onanuga, who is headed to Columbia Grammar and Prep next year. “Even though I’ll have some free periods, I’m realizing that I may need to use them to get my homework done, not to relax. It’s good that we’re learning this now.”

Ahead of High School Week, teachers hold several introductory sessions in which students learn about changes to their schedule, an increased workload, new privileges, and higher expectations. For the first time, eighth graders are allowed to leave campus during free periods.

When High School Week officially begins, there are no bells and whistles marking it as a special occasion, pointed out Yealie Ulaba-Samura, who is matriculating to St. Jean Baptiste next year. “The teachers treat it like a normal week in high school,” she said. “They give us the homework load that we will get in high school. The second week is even more challenging because we have to do individual projects on our own time outside of class, just like we will in high school.”

The point, added Tolu, is to make High School Week seem ordinary. The goal is for students to jump right in and begin coming up with a game plan. “We have to figure out how to get it all done,” he said. “That’s part of being more independent and taking responsibility. That’s how it is in high school and now we’ll know what to expect.”

Along the way, students are asked to reflect on their journey so far. What has been challenging? Where have they struggled? What strategies have helped? “Contemplating the ups and downs gives students an opportunity to pinpoint areas for improvement and take pride in successes,” explained Mr. Robertson. Teachers step in to offer feedback and support students as they make adjustments and establish goals.

“In the past I’ve had trouble prioritizing,” said Yealie. “My goal was to look at everything I needed to do and figure out what’s most important. I’ve gotten better at it, and I’m going to keep doing it in ninth grade.”

Consistent practice has been key to helping Yealie triage tasks. It’s also the reason High School Week is so effective. The entire process of the first week repeats in the second week, giving students the chance to build muscle memory when it comes to working through challenges – habits that will boost their confidence and ability to succeed in high school.

Just ask Kyle Cuffe, ‘17, who is finishing his freshman year at Avon Old Farms. “I’m so thankful that Harlem Academy had High School Week because it taught me time management. That’s the number one thing you need at boarding school,” he said. “Harlem Academy definitely helped prepare me for Avon.”

Read more about Harlem Academy’s High School Week in AMLE Magazine.