The ninth-grade class has been participating in the Freshman Experience (FX) program since its creation in 2011.
FX is a yearlong class that every student takes their freshman year. The class is one period a day, like a normal class, but it switches from Physical Education to World History every other day for three weeks. After each three-week cycle, Physical Education switches to Health, or vice versa, and the cycle continues. The different days are called “A days” and “B days.” Throughout the year, students keep the same Physical Education and Health teacher and the same World History teacher. This class is unique because most other classes at Northwood change each semester.
One main goal of the FX program is to help students do better in school, thus lowering failure and dropout numbers over the years. Lowering the failure and dropout rate is, according to assistant principal Phillip Little, a crucial goal to be reached. The freshmen failure numbers have historically been a problem; freshmen are typically failing the most classes.
“When FX was created two years ago, it was based on the fact that we had seen that most of our first-semester failures were freshmen, and we really wanted to see that reduced,” Little said.
FX is supposed to smooth the students’ transitions from middle school to high school; it’s designed to help them make better friends, become more associated with select teachers and ease some of their workload. The workload is supposed to be eased because students do not have a consecutive class each day.
“Traditionally, the freshmen are the larger class, and if you look at the numbers, the [size] of classes goes down. Somewhere along the lines you lose people; they drop out, they have a different focus or something like that, so we wanted to see that change,” Little said. “With the FX program, we thought we could make it easier for students to succeed.”
Despite good intentions for the program, some question the value of FX. This value is difficult to assess, as there is a lack of data. According to administration, this may be blamed on many factors, like the many changes in Northwood’s administration and the recent change to PowerSchool.
“There does not appear to be a direct correlation between FX and decreased failure rates,” principal Dr. Justin Bartholomew said.
Out of 100 current freshmen surveyed by The Omniscient, 46 percent of the students did not like the program, 52 percent of them enjoyed it and two percent didn’t have an opinion. This new survey differs from an original survey taken by the first FX students. Administration could not provide data, but Little said the students surveyed “had overwhelmingly said that they liked [FX] for many reasons.”
While student enjoyment of the classes doesn’t necessarily indicate their success, it certainly plays a role in whether or not the students will have more motivation to succeed.
“FX was probably one of the most terrible ideas in the education system,” junior Aiden Williams said. “We only got about a quarter of the physical education we should have, and then World History was messed up schedule-wise and had to be a year long class, which was ridiculous and did not help with my core classes.”
One common complaint about the FX program is that students get confused because they always have to keep track of which class they have on a specific day.
“It gets confusing with the A and B days,” freshman Ava Johnson said. “Overall, it’s just kind of stupid. It would be a lot more efficient and helpful if I was in World History, Health and Gym on a normal schedule.”
Another general complaint had to do with the juggling of three different classes for the same period, something that was supposed to be avoided by FX.
“We only get like six grades in World History. It’s very difficult to keep up with your classes when you have multiple grades [for the same period],” freshman Dalton Romagnoli said.
Students also recognize the benefits of FX.
“FX helps students socialize more with other students and because some of us have different Health and World History teachers, we can collaborate with note taking and help each other understand whatever is being taught,” freshman Liam Walsh said.
Administrators also say that FX may have social benefits.
“There are secondary benefits, such as being with the same group of students which helps overcome the socialization issue that often causes difficulty for any high school transition,” Bartholomew said.
The only accessible data comes from last year, when out of 694 failed classes across all four grades, 267 of them were failed by freshmen (38.5 percent). After the first six weeks of this school year, the freshmen took a total of 1,969 classes. Out of those classes taken by freshmen, 151 of them were failed (7.67 percent). This data could be skewed because repeat freshmen may be included.
Administrators of the program say that FX appeared to be working when it was first implemented.
“[In the first year of FX,] it looked like everything was headed in the proper direction; attendance was better, discipline referrals were down…all of those things were going in the right direction,” FX teacher Skip Thibault said.
There is no available hard data to support this perception, so at this point, Bartholomew says that the FX program has no proven impact on academic performance.
According to the Center for Public Education, dropouts are more likely to have struggled academically, which is indicated by low grades, low test scores, falling behind in course credits and being held back a grade.
It cannot yet be concluded that the Freshman Experience program has had a positive impact on freshmen this year because the school year isn’t over yet. The jury is still out on the program’s overall effectiveness, and the future of FX is uncertain.
-By Riley Wolfgang