Mentors Help Freshmen Navigate High School

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About 250 freshmen received a jump start on the school year at a "Making High School Count" orientation July 28 in Longhorn auditorium.

It was obvious the first-year students were more than a bit intimidated by their new surroundings.

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Stephanie Vandruff and Wellington Cassuto were two mentors chosen to help guide Payson High School freshmen through a July 28 orientation and into the coming school year.

A group that had been a bit verbose and antsy as eighth-graders sat strangely stoic and silent as the assembly progressed.

"Look at this --hat a great group," PHS principal Sue Myers said.

The orientation was designed to help students understand the importance of high school and what needed to be done to maximize their opportunities upon graduation.

The new mentor program also addressed transitional issues such as time management and study skills.

Freshman Kylee Foster found the assembly helpful.

"I learned it is very important to take good notes, not to be late for class and try to get good grades," she said.

Although school didn't officially start until the following day, Myers brought the freshmen in early to help better prepare them for life on a high school campus.

The freshmen were greeted at the assembly by mentors comprised of cheerleaders, athletes, band, chorus, student council, Key club and Rotary Interact.

"Each mentor had three or four students," Myers said. "(The mentors) were outstanding."

The duties of the mentors this year will be to provide a big-brother type relationship and help guide the students through freshmen pitfalls.

Freshman Amber Marshall, who drew Willa Frazier as a mentor, liked the big-brother concept.

"We learned a lot about high school from the mentor," she said. "High school is different and it's easy to get lost."

After meeting their mentors, the freshmen followed their first semester schedule -- finding each of their classrooms where they were greeted by their teachers.

"The teachers told us the way they did things and what we were supposed to do," Foster said.

Myers is encouraging the faculty members to develop a close relationship with their students.

"Some kids go through high school and never have an adult they connect with," she said. "We don't want that to happen."

Myers instituted several changes for the freshmen this year, partly because of an alarming failure rate last year.

At the end of the first semester, in January of 2004, 56 of the 272 PHS freshmen failed at least one course. Eleven of the students failed at least three subjects.

The changes in the way freshmen are introduced to high school began during eighth-grade promotion exercises last spring at Rim Country Middle School, Pine and Tonto Basin.

Myers attended each promotion and passed out to all promoted students a copy of John Steinbeck's "The Pearl."

The students were instructed to read the book and complete a short homework assignment that involved answering questions about the story.

Some of questions were linked to the pillars of character which is a part of the school curriculum.

After the freshmen ate lunch in the cafeteria, they attended a pep rally.

In the assembly, the freshmen learned the school song and were given, by their mentors, a purple T-shirt screen printed "Class of 2008."

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