BY RACHAEL GRAY
Matthew Roberts likes that the Freshman Academy is less crowded than the rest of Garden City High School.
He doesn't like a few things about the academy, such as the busy stairwell or blinding windows, but in general he is fond of the place where he spends most of his time at school.
"I appreciate that you don't run into someone who maybe doesn't like freshmen," he said.
The new high school features four academies, one of those being the Freshman Academy.
It's where most freshmen spend about 90 percent of their school day, according to Tracy Leiker, Freshman Academy principal.
The academy was designed to help students navigate high school — from the actual geography of the building to choosing the curriculum and career path that is right for each student.
"The move has been great. It's helped putting all of the freshmen together. They're less overwhelmed. We're able to work with them on learning responsibility and the importance of high school. Our teachers have worked really hard with students to develop study skills to succeed," Leiker said.
Leiker said no students have dropped out this semester, although it's not common for freshmen to drop out. Students must be 16 in order to make that decision, Leiker said.
The new building has helped improve attendance rates for the 643 freshmen.
"We've had better attendance and less tardies in the Freshman Academy," Leiker said.
That's compared to last year.
"In the past, it's been hard to track attendance. Now, we know where students are and why they're there, or why they're out of class," Leiker said.
She said having the students mostly in the Freshman Academy has helped them form bonds with the school and the teachers.
"It's wonderful. They're building relationships with all the teachers. They're taking pride and ownership that they're a freshman in this school," she said.
By knowing the students better, the teachers can work together as a team and help track student achievement and at-risk students.
They also learn their strengths and weaknesses, Leiker said.
Freshmen students take a Kansas Career pipeline survey during their Freshman Success class to help determine which academy they'll be in after this year.
Diana Perez, 15, said she will likely go into the School of Trade and Health Sciences because she wants to pursue a career in medicine and become a surgeon.
"I'm taking health classes. It's something I'm interested in," she said.
Perez said she's enjoying being in the Freshman Academy.
"It can be fun, like my JROTC and art classes," she said.
Perez doesn't like being separated from her older friends, however.
"I have a lot of friends in the upper grades," she said.
Ivan Trejo, 15, said he likes being separated from the older students.
"It's not as crowded. There's more room. It's nice," he said.
Roberts said it's easy to get around.
"They made it pretty simple to get from place to place and didn't put 50 cross sections in everywhere. It's easy to find the classrooms and the office," he said.
The bad part about the academy, for Roberts, is the location.
"They put it exactly in the farthest place from where you come into the school," he said.
But the staff are friendly and helpful.
"The staff is really friendly. They're understanding that we're still getting lost trying to get everywhere and the transition is harder for us than everyone else," he said.