Pasadena High School Freshmen Get a "Fresh Start"

Published : Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | 10:45 PM

Pasadena High School Fresh Start team leaders: Christina Dixon and Steven Sneed, both with Hathaway-Sycamores School-Based Services program. Photo credit: Marisa Perez-Martin

The transition from middle school to high school is a tough rite of passage for many teens. For a group of students who will be starting their freshman year at Pasadena High School on Aug. 18, however, steps have been taken to smooth that transition via an innovative program called Fresh Start.

These particular students, who completed Fresh Start over the summer, were invited to participate in the program because guidance counselors determined that they were at high risk for either being expelled or dropping out of high school based on their history of poor academic performance and behavioral issues. Fresh Start, which was created by Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, is designed to provide troubled students with the tools needed to succeed academically and socially, along with an opportunity to reinvent themselves; to leave behind their past mistakes and embrace a “fresh start” in their freshman year.

Although Fresh Start was launched seven years ago, this was the first time the program has been offered within the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD). Since 2007, Fresh Start has operated summer sessions at Alhambra Unified School District high schools (AUSD), and over the years the program has grown dramatically. In fact, the first Fresh Start session had only six students; fast forward to the sessions that just concluded on July 31 at Alhambra High School as well as Mark Keppel High School, and some 80 students participated.

Fresh Start evolved organically in response to an observed need. Clinicians and youth specialists from Hathaway-Sycamores, which is one of Los Angeles County’s largest, nonprofit, private children’s mental-health and welfare agencies, have been providing on-campus, mental-health services for several years to students at AUSD and PUSD middle schools and high schools. The Hathaway-Sycamores’ onsite teams started noticing a significant uptick in referrals for therapeutic services among students transitioning from eighth to ninth grade. Difficulty navigating this transition makes sense, as high school presents entirely new challenges, both academically as well as socially, and on a stage that’s much larger than middle school. The Hathaway-Sycamores’ team thus proposed the Fresh Start program.

Topics covered in Fresh Start sessions, which are free of charge and span two weeks, include: fears related to starting high school; confidence and self-esteem; communication skills; positive peer relationships; decision-making and problem-solving skills; coping skills and managing stress; and organization and study skills.

Following the summer session, students then have access to Hathaway-Sycamores’ comprehensive spectrum of therapeutic and other support services. Additionally, Hathaway-Sycamores’ onsite team regularly checks in with Fresh Start participants to make sure they’re staying on track. The teens who complete Fresh Start consistently give the program high marks. Consider this sampling of comments from teens who recently completed Pasadena High School’s inaugural Fresh Start session: “I learned the importance of staying on top of school work from the beginning;” “I learned where to get help for academics, as well as where to go if I’m having a problem;” “I made new friends and don’t feel alone;” “I learned about problem-solving and making choices;” and “I learned about communication skills and to talk through conflict, rather than react to it and make it worse.”

For more information about the Fresh Start program within AUSD, contact the Gateway to Success office at (626) 943-3410; for the PUSD, contact Hathaway-Sycamores’ school-based services at (626) 395-7100, etc. 3717.

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