PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state-controlled Providence Public Schools are venturing into a new experiment next fall, launching a Freshman Academy that will enroll 9th grade students for a specialized program before joining traditional high school.
The school will be located at 425 Branch Ave. and serve as a sort of “annex” to Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School.
The Branch Avenue building already hosts the Newcomer Program, which serves students who are new to the U.S. and have had interrupted education. Those students will join all of Alvarez’ enrolled 9th-graders to form the new academy next fall, according to Superintendent Harrison Peters.
The roughly 200 9th-graders and Newcomers will matriculate into Alvarez High School as sophomores.
“The 8th-to-9th grade transition is tough,” Peters said an interview about the new program. “It’s a smaller learning environment, connected to the school.”
The freshmen will still have access to the larger Alvarez campus for sports and extracurricular activities — transportation will need to be worked out, since the buildings are six miles apart — but the goal of the separate academy is to give intensive supports and dedicated teachers focused only on 9th grade.
Peters said research indicates 9th grade outcomes determine future high school success, including graduation rates.
“We know that’s when you decide as a student whether you’re even going to graduate,” Peters said. “We’re hedging our bets on this amazing 9th-grade, smaller learning experience to really set our students up for success long term.”
The changes at Alvarez are part of a larger high school redesign plan as part of the Providence schools turnaround effort. Last month, the district announced new and expanded career and technical education programs to be launched at Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex and E-Cubed Academy.
Juanita Sanchez — known as JSEC — will now be a CTE-only school that accepts students by application, with career pathways in teaching, the biomedical field and computer science.
Peters said changes at Hope High School and Mount Pleasant will likely be announced over the summer, with community engagement scheduled to take place before decisions are made.
Different programs are expected at each school, to create a variety of options at the city’s nine high schools.
Parents of current 8th-graders have already submitted their high school choices for next fall, and a lottery is scheduled to be held in about two weeks.
Spokesperson Laura Hart said an informational session for parents who expressed interest in Alvarez High School will be held prior to the lottery, and they will have the option to change their selection if they don’t like the new Freshman Academy model or the location of the school.
High school students in Providence receive free RIPTA bus passes to get to school unless they have special needs, in which case they are transported in yellow school buses.
The program is a pilot, Peters said, and student success will be tracked to determine if it should be used more broadly throughout the district. He acknowledged that there aren’t enough buildings for every high school to have its own separate freshman annex, but said other schools could create programs within their school specifically for freshmen.
“No matter what high school you attend in Providence, there is an intense focus at the 9th grade level,” Peters said.