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Eighth graders get early taste of what high school will be like

Transitioning to high school can be nerve-wracking for students.

In years past at West Valley High School, incoming freshman have been invited to the school to get their schedules and lockers, tour the school, and meet some of their teachers the day before school begins. This year, the district is adding to that experience.

Principal Gary Neal was having Thanksgiving dinner with relatives who were talking about Pirate for a Day, a program for middle school students who will attend Rogers High School. He thought that might work in his district.

Eagle for a Day sends eighth-graders from Centennial Middle School and West Valley City School to the high school. They are paired with a junior or a senior from the high school Link Crew and attend classes and lunch with them.

Neal said students not only get an idea of what high school is like socially, they also get an idea of the culture and expectations of high school so they aren’t overwhelmed when they get there.

Rosalie Sigler works at Centennial as coordinator of GEAR UP – Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs – a grant that funds after-school programs, tutoring, mentoring and transition activities for the class of 2017, this year’s eighth-graders. She put Eagle for a Day together in a couple of months and Neal said the program is done with relatively small transportation costs.

“We will sustain this after GEAR UP ends,” she said.

A different group of about 13 eighth-graders travels to the high school every Tuesday. It will take 15 weeks for all of Centennial’s eighth-graders to visit.

Each student receives a handbook with tips, goals and objectives for students. They are provided some questions they can ask of their student mentors and they meet with each other and their counselors after lunch to discuss their day.

“Overall it was a wonderful experience,” said eighth-grader Haylee Clark. She said she was very nervous going in before she was paired with senior Jacque Swanson. The two went to study hall together and worked on some problems for algebra, Swanson’s next class.

When the two got to class, the teacher assigned them a problem and asked students to raise their hands when they were done. Clark completed her problem and looked around, but everyone was still working. She said she finally raised her hand.

“I got it right,” she said.

Amber Mayer, another eighth-grader, said she really enjoyed a marketing class with teacher Cheryl Perry.

There is still one aspect of high school that makes her nervous, however.

“High school is really big,” Amber said.

Neal said it is important for the eighth-graders to do what the rest of the class is doing at the high school, not just look on as an observer. If the class is taking notes, the eighth-graders take notes. If the class is taking a test, so do the eighth-graders.

Eighth-grade counselor Ty McGregor said the visits make the students more familiar with West Valley, which gives students more confidence about the transition.

“More confidence is key,” McGregor said. He said the visit also offers students a chance to see whether West Valley High School is the right place for them. One student wasn’t sure he was going to West Valley, but was leaning toward Spokane Valley High School, a nontraditional high school in the district. McGregor said more information helps the students make the right decision.

Teachers hope to continue this program next year, but start it earlier, before students register for their high school classes, with smaller groups of students.

McGregor hopes to pair the students with older students of similar interests. For instance, if an eighth-grader plans to be involved in band, they would arrange for a mentor who is in band.

For Haylee, high school just can’t come soon enough.

“Oh, my gosh,” she said. “I’m so excited I can’t even put it into words.”