The campus of Payson High will be a bit more freshman-friendly when first-year students report for school July 28.
Principal Sue Myers has instituted changes for the freshmen mostly because of an alarming failing rate last year.
At the end of the first semester, in January 2004, 56 of the 272 PHS freshmen failed at least one course; 11 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 at Rim Country Middle School, Pine Elementary School and Tonto Basin.
Myers attended each exercise and presented 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 the Character Counts program, which is part of the school curriculum.
Myers provided a few helpful reminders of the summer assignment by visiting the local movie theater and putting up posters that read, "Freshmen, have you read ‘The Pearl?'"
"We wanted them to understand that high school is work," Myers said, explaining the motive behind the assignment.
Freshman Jennifer Sandoval said she had not yet read the book.
"But, I will get it done before school starts," she promised.
Reading the book is a challenge, but the biggest change for incoming freshmen will occur July 28.
Although school doesn't officially start until the following day, Myers is bringing the freshmen in early to help better prepare them for life on a high school campus.
July 28, buses will run their regular routes and the freshmen will meet in the auditorium where they will be greeted by cheerleaders and athletes, plus members of band, chorus, student council, Key Club and Rotary Interact.
From each of those organizations, Myers has selected outstanding student leaders to serve as mentors to the freshmen.
"Each mentor will have three or four students," Myers said.
The duties of the mentors will be to provide a big brother-type relationship and help guide the students through freshmen pitfalls.
"We want to personalize what we do," Myers said.
Freshman Amber Marshall says the mentor concept is a good idea.
"I think its going to make (being a freshman) easier," she said. "Maybe we won't get lost."
Sandoval voiced the same concerns.
"I think we all worry about getting lost," she said.
The mentors will be trained by PHS counselor Judy Michel and former school counselor Dean Pederson.
"I imagine they'll work with the mentors helping them learn how to be a friend," Myers said.
After meeting their mentors, the freshmen will follow their first semester schedule finding each of the classrooms where they will be greeted by their teachers.
Myers is encouraging the faculty members to develop close relationships with their students.
"Some kids going through high school have never had an adult they connect with," she said. "We don't want that to happen."
After the freshmen and their mentors eat lunch in the cafeteria, they will attend a pep assembly. In the assembly, the freshmen will learn the school song and receive a purple T-shirt screen printed "Class of 2008."
During the school year, the mentors are to frequently check on their charges and provide whatever help is needed.
At the end of the first grading period, a meeting will be scheduled with the parents of each freshman who has failed a class.
Students who fail will be required to attend a mandatory lunch-time study hall until the grade is raised.
Night school for students failing English I will be held and tutoring will be offered Monday through Thursday from 3:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
The freshman intervention program that has been adopted was modeled after other schools around the state, Myers said.
For more information on the freshman program, call (928) 474-2233.