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A program at Kinnick High school on Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, is designed to help freshmen adjust to the rigors of high-school academics. The program’s team concept puts freshmen together in groups. For much of the day, they work with the same classmates and teachers.

A program at Kinnick High school on Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, is designed to help freshmen adjust to the rigors of high-school academics. The program’s team concept puts freshmen together in groups. For much of the day, they work with the same classmates and teachers. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Nile C. Kinnick High School ninth-grader Sablle Titus illustrates some of the reasons a team concept implemented there helps freshmen adapt to life in high school.

“It’s easier. You have the same teachers most of the time,” she said, adding it also keeps her in line. “You have more responsibility. You stay out of trouble because you can get into trouble faster since everyone knows your name.”

Under the team concept — similar to that used in many middle schools — freshmen are grouped into teams for core classes and a study hall-like period. This is the first school year in which all Kinnick freshmen were put into teams.

For much of the day, they stay with the same classmates and teachers.

“High school can be a pretty scary place for freshmen,” said Nathan Brewster, history teacher and team leader for the Main Team, one of three at Kinnick and named for the building where the teachers’ classrooms are located. “We get a chance to prep them for high school. You still get the structure of a team but you get the freedom of high school.”

“They’re the top of the heap [in middle school] and a scant 2½ months later they’re not at the bottom of the barrel, they are the bottom of the barrel,” added John Taylor, English teacher and the C Team leader (from the C building).

Having familiar faces in the classroom and the same group of teachers to work with offers freshmen stability to help alleviate that stress, he said.

Students get to know each other better, which helps them navigate the thorny social world of high school.

When the system began to be phased in two years ago, many parents and students feared it would too closely imitated middle school.

“That was one of the big concerns coming into this,” Brewster said.

But in the freshman team system, students have more personal responsibility than they do in middle school, where grades have more maneuverability.

The team method has led to better discipline among students and fewer low grades than at other Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Asia, school officials said.

The team also changes the way teachers work together. Teachers have more opportunity to compare notes on a student who may be facing academic or discipline problems.

“That’s one of the biggest benefits I see: We can get together and talk about kids,” Brewster said.

That also helps at parent-teacher meetings, when a parent might be reluctant to follow advice from one teacher. Coming from the entire team, a message can have a greater impact.

The teachers also work together on curriculum and projects. Team C is working on a project that reflects the recent devastating tsunamis. The students learned about waves in science and will learn about South Asia in geography.

Main Team is working on a research project on genetics.

Different classes approach different aspects of the subject, including the legality, economics, ethics and science of cloning and the geography of disease.

All of it can be woven into a larger writing project in English class.

“It helps students gain a deeper and broader perspective of what they’re learning,” said Rene Schofield, Main Team’s English teacher.


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