Before school starts, Camp 9 develops confidence, important relationships for pivotal freshman year
Brandon Osmon (left) and Ed Cruz work through a scenario on how to help a possibly depressed friend during a Redmond School District Camp 9 session in early August. The three-week program helps incoming freshmen prepare for high school. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
The soon-to-be freshmen chattered with each other and staff as they settled into Redmond High School’s couches and library tables at 8 a.m. on a sunny early-August morning.
As most districts around Oregon start school this week and next, some eighth graders have already had a taste of life in high school. Increasingly, districts are offering programs to help students with this daunting transition.
Redmond’s Camp 9 for incoming freshmen is a three-week program that tries to build a web of relationships to catch students in danger of falling out of high school.
Redmond High School Success Coordinator Emily Wirtz roused the nearly 40 students in the library back to their feet and told them to sort themselves in a long line by the alphabetical order of their favorite singer’s first name. Some students were shy; others were boisterous. Some were clearly resistant.
Finally, a ragged line formed across the room.
About 10 students in, Bryce Duncan announced himself as his favorite artist. As a joke, out of nervousness or just to fit in, other students began to name Duncan as their favorite artist. Duncan was new to the group, but now everyone knew his name.
It was a shared moment, and the students learned a little more about each other.
Camp 9 caters to more than just students who struggle academically, seeking out students who may need extra social or emotional support to face high school’s challenges. Students need those relationships so they don’t fall behind as they navigate the pivotal freshman year. Ninth-grade credit attainment is one of the key measures for the Student Success Act’s $500 million a year in school grants because it is closely linked to graduation rates.
Redmond has been offering Camp 9 since 2012. It started with grant support to pay for teachers and transportation before moving into the district’s general fund. Now it receives Measure 98 support.
The program serves about a quarter of approximately 400 incoming freshmen, split between the district’s two high schools. Redmond middle school teachers and principals nominate students for Camp 9 who they think may need some extra support.
Attendance is optional, but students can earn a half credit. Camp 9 students continue to meet throughout the year in mentor periods, getting advice and instruction.
Wirtz tracked the 2018-19 Redmond High School Camp 9 cohort against students who were invited to attend Camp 9 but didn’t come.
Nearly 90% of the Camp 9 students’ grades in the third trimester of freshman year were higher than their grades in eighth grade. The Camp 9 cohort averaged a 2.5 GPA, while the students identified as needing Camp 9 but didn’t go averaged a 1.65 GPA. The nonattenders were also more likely to leave Redmond High.
Redmond Secondary Instructional Coach Stacy Stockseth oversees the Camp 9 program. She said the most recent three years of data show that more than half of Camp 9 students’ Response to Intervention scores stayed flat or went down freshman year. Typically, the measure of risks for students goes up in high school.
The program often surprises students.
“I thought it would be lame,” said junior Mia Luna. Instead, she enjoyed her Camp 9 experience so much that she volunteered to come back as a student volunteer helper.
She said high school scared her before attending Camp 9 because all her friends were going to Ridgeview High School, Redmond’s other main high school.
“It ended up being pretty cool,” Luna said. She enjoyed the activities, and she made lasting friendships. Camp 9 continued paying dividends her sophomore year. When she walked into English class, she already knew teacher Virginia Johnson from Camp 9. That bond made it easier to talk to Johnson when she struggled.
Luna said that as an eighth grader she wasn’t even thinking about life after school. Camp 9 pushed her to think about college, and she said she has become a better student.
While the Camp 9 students took their classes, the student volunteers hung out with Johnson, talking about restaurants, area churches and life. They laughed and let down their guard a little.
Camp 9 is more focused on building relationships than trying to sharpen academic skills. Administrators know they can’t reasonably catch up skills in a handful of classes. Instead, they work to improve mindsets, getting students more comfortable and confident about math and language arts. Classes touch on skills such as note taking and organizing study materials on Google.
Camp 9 partners four math and language arts middle school teachers with four high school teachers to run the sessions. Students come in knowing one of the middle school teachers who can then ease their introduction to a high school teacher.
“I know they need to form a connection with some adult quickly,” said Diane Randgaard, an Elton Gregory Middle School math teacher. This is her third year doing Camp 9.
The teachers share details about students’ specific learning needs as well as their interests. It is also a chance for the teachers to check in with each other about grade level curriculums and how those can better align.
Camp 9, which is free, meets four days a week for a half-day, with breakfast, lunch and transportation provided. Sessions include time management, communication, self-care and self-advocacy, but also field trips, games and other fun bonding activities.
During the morning library session, students talked about what they wanted to do after graduation and what it would take to get there. They talked about potential colleges, the application process and how the Oregon Promise program can help them pay for it.
“You see the light go on about college being a possibility,” Wirtz said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA