Tullahoma High School students started their school year in a less traditional fashion than their younger educational cohorts.
For the second year in a row, THS offered special interest seminar classes during the first day of school rather than the typical first-day-of-school experience.
According to THS Renaissance Team member and English teacher Jenna Morris, the idea stems from a Renaissance conference four years ago in Orlando.
During the conference, Morris said, the teachers who attended learned about a special back-to-school operation done by other “Renaissance schools.” These schools focus on behavior, academics and attendance, with special incentive prizes and discounts available for Renaissance students.
Those back-to-school parties at all of the Renaissance schools led to an improved culture and climate in their halls, Morris said, so the Renaissance team brought the idea to THS.
After trying to have an indoor field day in the gymnasium, Morris said, administrators noticed there was still a lack of participation from a large swath of the student body.
“We noticed it was the typical kids who would get up and participate in the games, so it left about 80 percent of the students sitting in the bleachers watching these physical students who were participating,” she said.
A couple years later, former digital arts teacher Nikki Rickard shared a post on Facebook about an Alabama high school that offered special seminar classes on the first day of school rather than the traditional “syllabus day.”
According to Morris, the classes were called “student professional development,” and taught students important life skills such as how to change a flat tire or how to sew.
She thought that idea might work at THS, and pitched it to THS Principal Kathy Rose.
“She loved it,” Morris said.
But the idea needed “a lot of tweaking” to make it work on the first day of school, Morris said. It required “a lot of planning” before it could be attempted at THS.
After fine tuning the details, THS was able to offer the classes for the first time during the 2018-2019 school year.
More than 50 different seminars were offered in locations throughout the building, from the football field house to the science wing to the social studies hallway.
According to Morris, offering these classes brings myriad benefits to the students.
“I think it’s really good in several different ways,” she said. “Number one, they’re learning how to navigate the school.”
Just as last year, the classes are offered all over the THS campus. Having the classes spread out, Morris said, allows students to learn the lay of the land.
“Number two,” she said, “they’re going to classes that interest them with peers alike.”
By attending these classes, students are able to meet new people who share the same interests – even people they had never met before or might not have interacted with in a traditional classroom setting.
The third way Morris saw these seminars as beneficial is they allow students to build better relationships with their teachers.
“They’re getting to see those teachers out of their [traditional] element,” she said. “They’re getting to see Mr. Hickerson play the guitar and teach them about music basics. He’s a real person, too, and he isn’t up there teaching about Shakespeare all day.”
That relationship building is an important component to the day, Morris said. Those positive connections help build trust between students and teachers.
“They’re making those positive connections not only with peers but with the adults in the building, so that they have a safe place to go to where they feel comfortable if they ever need it.”
This year’s classes ran more smoothly than last year’s, according to Morris.
The seminar offerings were reduced by about 20 or so, leaving around 30 for students to choose from.
Attendance was the main factor in the reduction of classes, she said.
“The attendance in some of the classes was scarce, so we went around and saw which classes were the most popular,” she said. “It was a lot easier a process to do this year.”
Those improvements were also felt by the students.
THS senior Haley Viviers said this year’s first day was “a lot smoother than last year.”
“Last year the classes weren’t long enough,” she said. “You’d get in there … but they didn’t have enough time because it was only like 15 minutes or so [long].”
Varsity cheerleader Amy Pham agreed, citing the smooth transitions between seminars.
“Last year was kind of hectic, because no one really knew where they were going,” she said. “The classes were shorter, and no one knew what they were signing up for. This year it’s more organized, so it’s a lot more fun.”
Both said they enjoyed spending their first day in a more relaxed environment than a traditional first day of school.
“It’s pretty cool,” Haley said. “It’s like a warm up.
“This is what you’re interested in, so it’s kind of a warm up to that [hardcore] class,” she said.
Amy also enjoyed spending her first day of school this way.
“I think it’s a really great idea, because the students get to talk to each other,” she said. “We meet new people doing stuff that we like, and it’s something to really bond over and get really familiar with the school.”
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.