Being one of the largest classes in Shawnee Heights’ history with approximately 350 students, the Freshmen are finally adjusting to the drastic change from middle school to high school.
“The most surprising part of high school has been the fun of it,” Freshman Makenna Lunsford said. She said that her year started off a little rough, but she has embraced meeting all the new people at the high school. “I didn’t think I would have as much fun as I am.”
This was the first year the Freshmen did not have an orientation day. This Freshmen-only day gave them the opportunity to spend their first day adjusting to the high school schedule and learning where all of their classes were located. The school chose to get rid of the extra day for the Freshmen because there would have not been enough students attending to count towards teacher contracts, or count as a school day.
“I liked it because it just helped get the school year start[ed],” Lunsford said. “I don’t think it changes a lot because everyone ends up seeing each other anyway.”
Mr. Curtis Hamilton, who teaches multiple Freshmen World Geography classes and is apart of the Department of Enrollment, had a similar view of not having the Freshmen-only orientation day.
“It’s impactful, but not as impactful as you would hope. Freshmen just need to get into the rhythm and one day – I couldn’t say that it would cause much of a difference because we still have the tardies, we still have the ‘I can’t find my classes,’” Mr. Hamilton said. “Either way, I would say it is not that big of an impact.”
Since the beginning of the year, the Freshmen have gotten involved in parade assemblies for homecoming, attended football games, and learned their class chant. Nevertheless, this group’s size sets them apart from all the other graduating classes at the high school. Shawnee Heights’ approximate enrollment is 1,100, according to the school’s official website. This means that, hypothetically, there are approximately 275 students when the total enrollment is divided across all four grades. The graduating class of 2023 – the Freshmen now – have about 350 students in their grade.
“They are just a big class. They are our biggest class,” Mr. Hamilton said. “So I was talking to Mr. Buchanan who has been here a long time, and he was saying he thinks this might be the biggest class he can remember. He said, ‘I don’t know numbers, but this is one of the largest classes.’”
For the teachers, this year’s large Freshmen class is an extreme adjustment to previous classes. Mrs. Savannah Hartman is a new staff member at Shawnee Heights who teaches a variety of English classes, including English 9 and Honors English 9. Mrs. Hartman teaches about 142 Freshmen, ranging from twenty-three to thirty students for a single hour. That amount is more than when she taught middle school students last year at Lewisburg. Other teachers at the school who teach Freshmen this year have similar numbers in their classes.
“I would say that I don’t get as good of a connection with some students and a lot of it is trying to keep chaos under control,” Mrs. Hartman said. “Just the large amounts of students in a room and making sure personalities are jiving, and that there is learning going on and not just social hour.”
Another issue is the grading. This is an adjustment from teaching less students in previous years. Eventually For Mrs. Hartman, this means she will be grading 142 research papers.
Mr. Hamilton is teaching more students than usual, too. He says that as the class moves on to more group projects, there will be more students for each group. Furthermore, he says that providing one-on-one help to more students is difficult and is sometimes not possible with larger classes.
“I would say that is difficult in a big class to get one-one one time, especially as we go to more project-based-learning type stuff. When you are doing projects you like a lot of one-on-one help to get that satisfaction,” Mr. Hamilton said. “That one-on-one help, they want it and it’s not always possible.”
While the teachers have adjusted to teaching more students over the past two months, the Freshmen have adjusted to being in a class of 350 since all four elementary schools combined into one at the middle school. The group has gotten used to their large class size, and now the rest of the high school is becoming accustomed to the abnormal size of the Freshmen class.
“I think (the Freshmen) are kind of used to it because they are such a large class and they’ve been a large class for a while,” said Mrs. Hartman. “So I think they are used to being in that large class.”
Shea Marney and Molly Busenitz, Freshmen who both participate on the high school cross country team, said that they are used to a large class size. They acknowledge that their large class size causes them to be louder in a class setting, and say that because they are such a big class size, it becomes harder to branch out to new people.
“It’s also less, you know everybody is friends with everybody. It’s like, ‘Are you a Freshmen?’ or like, ‘What?’ So sometimes you don’t really even know people exist,” said Busenitz.
For the Freshmen, difficulties occur when they all get together to do class projects, like the parade assemblies for Homecoming. Communication is also hard when information needs to be shared to all 350 people. With these struggles, this class is trying defy the stereotypes and bad reputation Freshmen generally receive.
“Everyone has their stories and you have a story too, and we are just trying to make the best of ours,” said Lunsford. “But it’s hard when we are being judged by something that sometimes you can’t help or change. We shouldn’t be put in groups based on that.”
Although Freshmen usually receive a bad mistreatment because they are new to the high school, does not mean that they have not been welcomed into the student community at Shawnee Heights. For example, Marney and Busenitz have experienced that being in smaller groups such as the high school’s cross country team allows for students to open up to each other and disregard the social standards. Marney and Busenitz say that they’ve enjoyed being apart of the cross country family.
“I just think, Freshmen come in and they need a lot of support because they just aren’t used to being high-schoolers,” said Mr. Hamilton. “They need to learn the grading system, how to get around, making sure they get there on time. And providing that support is difficult when it is that big of a class, so it is just getting used to, hey there is just so many of them it can be overwhelming at times to try to help them get into high school and get into the rhythm and things like that.”
The Freshmen are just navigating high school for the first time as they are working to get good grades and maintain social relationships with each other. Their school life can clash with their home lives, as do teenagers’ lives sometimes do. Nonetheless, the graduating class of 2023 has potential to shape Shawnee Heights into the future.
Having larger classes in upcoming years at Shawnee Heights would affect the amount of teachers needed, and the amount of required core classes offered. Offering so many core classes may affect the number of optional elective classes because of the need for more teachers. Additionally, having larger numbers would make the hallways more crowded than they already are, but these factors depend on if incoming classes of Freshmen have numbers similar to the graduating class of 2023.
“If this is like a one time deal and we go to our normal levels I don’t think it’ll be that impactful as far as that goes,” said Mr. Hamilton. “It’s great to have a big class, again, Shawnee Heights is a great place, so impacting a big class is exciting. At the same time, if we have a bunch of big classes in a row, you can see that really quickly.”
Despite all of the challenges and difficulties that have arisen for the Freshmen, they have a greater potential to change the narrative of Shawnee Heights in the future. Even though the Freshmen are still learning about the rules of high school, learning about each other, and discovering themselves, they have a chance to impact the school through their large numbers.
“They will kind of lead the pack in some ways because there are such a large number of them,” Mrs. Hartman said. “They will kind of affect the atmosphere of how the school goes, so I think if they just come into their own and they learn that they are actually leaders, they can be leaders for good.”