If you thought the beginning of your freshman year was overwhelming, imagine starting your high school career in eighth or even seventh grade. That is the reality each year for a small group of around 10 highly motivated students who choose to enroll in high school math or foreign language classes while spending the remainder of the school day at their middle schools.
According to math department chair Mrs. Cheryl Nowak, rising eighth graders—and, in rarer cases, seventh graders—have the opportunity to take the math placement test along with the incoming freshmen. The middle schoolers generally place into either Algebra I Honors or Algebra/Geometry honors, although some skip into even higher courses.
Many such students turn to Saint Viator because their grade schools—typically Catholic feeder schools—lack math class levels appropriate for more advanced students.
This was the case for Ruby Arun, an eighth grader from Holy Family. She took math classes with the grade above her at Holy Family from fifth through seventh grades, and she now takes honors pre-calculus at Saint Viator.
“It was quite intimidating at first, seeing all of these much older students than me,” said Arun, who has been learning remotely for the entire year. “It was really different for me because I was used to being with students that I know and that I’ve been in school with for so long.”
This feeling was shared by fellow eighth-grader Lucy Drake, who comes from St. Theresa and takes Algebra/Geometry Honors.
“The first week, it was kind of intimidating because [high school students] are really big, but after I was here for a while, I got more used to it,” said Drake.
Although the middle schoolers may feel like small fish in a large pond, the opposite also holds true.
“They’re usually quieter, but they’re definitely not intimidated by the freshmen,” said math teacher Mrs. Nancy Jensen. “If anything, the freshmen are intimidated by them.”
In any case, eighth graders taking advantage of this opportunity generally say that they enjoy it.
“I like that it moves really fast, and you always have something to do,” said Drake. “You don’t just sit there during class. I also like that I got to meet new people.”
Ellie Rosean, an eighth grader from St. Raymond who takes Geometry Honors, echoes this sentiment.
“I really enjoy learning so much each day, where I feel I would have been held back if I had stayed at my current school for math,” said Rosean.
“It’s been so amazing being part of this class,” said Arun, whose deep passion for math inspired her to start her own non-profit organization called Mission:MathMinds. “I really like the way everything has been going so far.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t any challenges. At the beginning of the year, these eighth graders are confronted with many of the same adjustments as any freshman: new schedules, heavy workloads of homework and tests, an unfamiliar building, new software like Blackbaud, and more.
“High school seemed really intimidating to me between the assignments and workload, but by being part of this class, I’ve gotten used to the workload, and it’s not that difficult once you get used to it,” said Drake.
This early exposure can even be helpful for the future.
“It helps you ease into high school more,” said Arun. “It’s almost like a practice class because you only have one class to worry about versus all of them being high school classes. I think it’s really beneficial for someone who gets the opportunity.”
Students taking this route may end up one or more years ahead of their peers in math courses. To keep up with this demand for higher levels of math, according to Mrs. Nowak, the school recently added a class in Calculus III.
Junior high students also have the opportunity to take high school classes in foreign language, according to modern world language department chair Mrs. Mirella Rullo, although this initiative is more recent and has, so far, included only a few students taking Chinese.
While these opportunities certainly benefit students in getting ahead academically, they also help with school enrollment.
“[Students] like getting their foot in the door here, to see what Saint Viator is like, and we always hope that once we get them in the door, then they will stay,” said Mrs. Nowak.