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More Utah high schools including ninth grade

Schools see academic, behavioral benefits in reconfiguring grades.

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Most students sat before computers, working on designs for campaign-like buttons, while a few others worked in the project room, finishing silk screening T-shirts with original art.

It’s the kind of class ninth-graders wouldn’t have had in their junior highs — along with classes such as swimming, Japanese, Latin, welding and math 2 honors.

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Chalmers said it’s fun teaching freshmen. "The ninth-graders are so eager," she said. Plus, she said, it gives those who are really interested in graphic design a chance to get on track to eventually take her more advanced classes.

"Ninth-graders, when they come to the high school, they have access to far more classes," said Hunter High Principal John Welburn. "They have more choices to see what they might enjoy doing."

Drawbacks vs. advantages » Hunter High, in West Valley City, is one of a number of high schools that might soon open its doors to freshmen.

Hunter had a community meeting about the idea in October, and the Granite School District just finished a survey about the proposal. If the results show support, then the school community councils at Hunter and its feeder junior highs may make an official request to the district board to change grade configuration as soon as fall of 2015, Horsley said.

Magna’s Cyprus High is holding a community meeting about adding ninth-grade later this month. Kearns High has already been approved to add a ninth-grade next school year.

Those schools are in addition to all the Canyons District high schools, which added ninth grade in the fall.

"They can start in high school taking AP classes right when they walk through the doors as ninth-graders," said Jeff Haney, Canyons spokesman. "They’ll be able to take advantage of more extracurricular activities. Just from day one, they become a true member of the high school."

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Canyons doesn’t yet know whether its ninth-graders are performing better academically, and is waiting on results of state tests to determine that. But the district, which also converted its junior highs to grades six through eight, is already seeing results in those lower grades. Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are a full grade level ahead of their peers from past years, said Hollie Pettersson, Canyons director of evidenced-based learning for secondary schools.

That’s not to say, however, that reconfiguring grades doesn’t have some drawbacks. Some Granite parents, for example, have been disappointed to see competitive sports suffer at the junior high level with the departure of ninth-graders. Granite schools that lost ninth-graders eliminated competitive sports against other schools, and instead expanded intramural opportunities. Also, the juniors highs have lost the career and technical education funds that came with their ninth-graders.

Some parents also expressed concern before the switch about senior boys trying to date freshmen girls, though proponents say that’s an issue families can deal with at home.

The Cottonwood High community had a meeting about including ninth grade several years ago, but parents didn’t like the idea, so the effort never got off the ground, Horsley said.

Still, many students and parents seem happy with the switch at Granger.

Parent Shelley Francom said her eighth-grade daughter is excited — and a bit nervous — to go to high school next school year. But Francom thinks it will be good for her and it "just makes sense."

"I think it gives them more confidence, actually, and helps them grow up a little bit to be the low man on the totem pole, so to speak, a little sooner," Francom said.

Granger ninth-grader Jonathan Faltao summed up his feelings about the switch as only a teenager can. "It’s pretty chill," said the 15-year-old.


Twitter: @lschencker

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