MARQUETTE - Luke Jacobson has spent the last three weeks attempting to become accustomed to his new life as a high school student. And almost three weeks into his first high school semester, the 14-year-old Negaunee High School freshman is finally starting to feel a bit more comfortable.
"It's been pretty chaotic. It's a little different than middle school," he said. "I was nervous a little bit, but I was kind of looking forward to a new school."
Negaunee High School teacher Andy Skewis said that sort of response is typical for freshmen making the shift from middle school to high school.
Above, Negaunee High School teacher Andy Skewis assists freshman Luke Jacobson with an assignment during class. Luke works on an assignment with other classmates. (Journal photos by Johanna Boyle)
"There is a new level of responsibility and the expectations for that are a little bit greater," said Skewis, who has been teaching in Negaunee for 12 years. "Some students make the adjustment seamlessly and I see some kids just take off and run with that. Some kids struggle with it academically."
Though Skewis' precise teaching assignment changes annually, he often finds himself standing before a room of wide-eyed freshmen, many of whom are surprised at the elevated level of choice they have in high school.
While freshmen do have the choice between a handful of academic electives, Skewis, 38, said new state standards have limited those choices. The greatest difference in freedom that students experience, he said, comes beyond classroom walls, in the form of clubs, sports teams and service organizations.
Those options often spur a crash course in time management and that can be a bit rough for some students.
"The vast majority are well prepared for it and enjoy that freedom," Skewis said. "I find that most of our students adapt to the high school environment very well."
Jacobson, who has lived in Negaunee his entire life, is a class officer, but is also interested in organized sports. He plays football, and is planning on going out for both hockey and track. He knows practice and team activities eat up a lot of time, but he is confident he can balance them with his school work.
"I will have to work harder on that, on doing homework and on getting it all done," he said.
For a parent, the struggles that come with a busy extracurricular schedule can be a surprise, as well.
"Maybe one of the shock factors for the kids when they get (to high school) is that we expect them to be able to manage their time a little better," said Jacobson's mother, Pam Jacobson. "Some kids are able to handle that and some kids aren't."
But Luke hasn't been caught off-guard by the workload just yet. He said the homework and classwork has been less strenuous than he expected. However, he is a bit perturbed about the bell schedule, which allows him even less time between classes than he had in middle school.
For a new student in a new building, that presents a whole new challenge: navigating the hallways.
"Sometimes I start in the basement and then go to the third floor, then I have to go back to the second floor," Jacobson said. "I'm all over the place."
Skewis said that although the shift from middle school to high school is large, he most enjoys seeing the change students undergo from the time they show up as freshmen to the day they graduate.
"For me, the change is most noticeable when you see these kids getting ready to graduate and talking to them three years later about how that whole high school path has gone for them," he said. "Sometimes we'll talk about that or they'll remember ninth grade. They're able at that point, I think, to recognize how they've changed, as students."
In today's fast-paced world, he said, it's easy to believe that children have innately changed. Skewis hasn't found that to be true, however.
"Sometimes the perception is that kids are different today. Kids aren't any different than when I was a kid," he said. "Maybe some of the details have changed, but by and large, what gets them excited and frustrated - and their struggles and strengths - aren't very different."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.