Forum gives parents insights for 8th grade

Preparation for excelling in high school begins well before the first day of ninth grade.

That was the message that Deborah Shepherd, the principal of Hephzibah Middle School, stressed to parents who attended a forum Nov. 27 titled What You Need to Know About Your Eighth-Grader.

"Eighth grade is an important transitional year for your child, and it's an important transitional year for you, as the parent, because when your child leaves us, your child becomes a high school student and life changes tremendously," Dr. Shepherd told the 125 parents in attendance.

"What we want to do is to make this transition smooth for you as the parent and smooth for the children as well. So that's the purpose of this meeting, ... to make this transition to high school as smooth as possible and with as (little) stress as possible for you, the parent," she said.

A major part of preparing the students for high school is ensuring they are ready to take the state's standardized tests, she said.

"We don't want to just meet those standards. We want every student to exceed the standards," she said.

During the forum, Dr. Shepherd described the tests: when they are taken, what subjects are tested and what the results mean from the Georgia Middle Grades Writing Assessment and the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency tests.

She also discussed what the school is doing to prepare the students for the tests, using the school's "breakfast club," or extended learning times, as an example.

"There are two purposes for the extended learning times: acceleration and remediation. The acceleration portion allows students to preview upcoming skills and lessons. Remediation helps them to improve in the area they need help in," she said. "During the extended learning time, we spend about 70-80 percent of the time previewing and 20-30 percent for remediation."

There is an extended learning time for all the subjects and all students take part in the extended learning time for the subject they need improvement in, she said. Extended learning times are held every day in a 30-minute block.

Despite the extended time spent on the tests and what the school is doing to prepare for them, Georgia's new graduation requirements drew the most questions and concerns from parents.

"Since the requirements were recently approved, we wanted to make sure the parents were aware of what will be required when their child enters high school," Dr. Shepherd said.

Beginning with the 2008-09 school year, students enrolling in ninth grade for the first time will be required to have at least 23 units in order to graduate, but that does not include additional units that will be required by the Richmond County Board of Education, she warned parents. Currently, students are required to have at least 25 credits in order to graduate.

"So, at best estimate, what your child is looking at is 28 units to graduate," she said. "That's why it's so important what your child chooses to take in ninth grade and we will be helping with that."

She said the open discussion and the parents' attendance might help emphasize the importance of everyone's involvement.

"We all have to work together." she said. "It's a tripod. All three legs have to be firmly in place: students, parents and teachers working together towards that goal and that goal is success."

Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or nikasha.dicks@augustachronicle.com.

GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS

Georgia's new graduation requirements* will go into effect for those enrolling in ninth grade for the first time in the 2008-09 school year:


- 4 units of English


- 4 units of science


- 4 units of mathematics


- 3 units of social studies


- At least 3 units required from: foreign language** and/or CTAE and/or fine arts for all students


- At least 4 additional electives


- 1 health/physical education course

*This does not include additional units required by the Richmond County Board of Education.


** Students planning to enter or transfer into a University System of Georgia institution must take two units of the same foreign language.

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