Parents, teachers, lawmakers, consultants and even kids have been saying it for years -- public schools need to get creative about new offerings and provide twists on old offerings if they want to compete for students.

Traverse City schools has taken one of those needed steps by creating what the district calls a Freshman Academy, where ninth-graders will get the chance to ease the transition to high school.

The district next year will realign its K-12 building lineup, with sixth-graders moving out of the elementary schools and into the two junior highs and ninth-graders moving into the two high schools. The districtwide restructuring will also include closing three elementary schools and moving to a trimester schedule.

For both targeted grades, the transition could be an eye-opener. Instead of being the oldest kids in their respective schools, they'll become the youngest in much bigger buildings.

The transition from elementary to middle and then to high school is never easy, but under the new program, students will be doing it a year earlier than they used to; for ninth-graders there will be the academy.

Under the plan, 100 to 125 West Junior High ninth-graders who volunteer for the program would be assigned to a team of four teachers. The students would take their four core classes in the first part of the day in a wing at the junior high, then be bused to West Senior High to take electives at the end of the day.

Teachers say the program would allow them the chance to discuss lesson plans, schedules and individual student progress with each other. The setting would also give students a chance to connect the curriculum to other subjects, they said.

"We're able to pinpoint students' needs," said ninth-grade biology teacher Carrie Robbins, who will teach in the academy.

Each of the four core classes will be taught the entire year, which will earn students two additional credit hours because of the new trimester system.

Academy students will also be exposed to a variety of professions in business, communications, technology and medicine to help them better decide their future.

While the success of the academy system has yet to be seen, it is a step toward more creative options that could lure students from other districts and from private schools. The district has been losing students for years now; with every one of those students representing about $7,100 in state funding, even 10 and 20 students takes a toll.

Any program that can increase the chances of success for individual kids is worth the effort.

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