Last week I had the privilege of working with Oneida BOCES in Upstate New York delivering keynote addresses to over 3000 of their teachers on moral education. While there I talked in length with many of the staff members and discovered that teachers at Sauquoit High School were implementing a Freshman Seminar. The purpose was to prepare their incoming ninth graders not only for their high school experience but also for life. The more I heard about it, the more excited I got. This is something every high school should implement. No matter where I go in my work, I’m never ceased to be amazed with the creativity and passion of teachers. There is hope for kids!

I asked the staff if I could describe their program in my blog and they graciously agreed.

Here is Sauquoit High School’s Freshman Seminar, “Learn It, Live It, Give It.” (I love it!)
To find out more about the research and for the need of incorporating a unique program like this see:×600/slide37.html


Across New York state, only 67% of students are graduating in four years. This ranges from 45% in the “Big 4 cities” to 91% in the wealthiest districts. Most of the students who do not make it in four years either drop out or stick it out for one or two more years. So, where do we leave the children behind? Many say it is in 9th grade.

Sauquoit Valley Central School District in Upstate NY wants to catch their ninth graders so that their children are not left behind. This year they have begun a unique program called, “Freshman Seminar.” Their goal is to keep their students enrolled, and graduate by entering high school with this homegrown course created by teachers. And that staff has created not only a unique way of helping meet their students’ needs but also integrating character education AND academic achievement.

The determination of need began December 2006 when SVCSD looked at their completion rate data. Their numbers, like the rest of the districts in NY are not 100%, therefore, they asked themselves the big question: “Who are those children and how are we failing them?”

Research states that we lose many students in their 9th grade year therefore, we wanted to target this cohort of teenagers. The staff sorted through the research and found that successful programs for grade 9 students have some common threads. To catch their kids, an in-house developed program would incorporate:

• Knowing all 9th graders personally. From the district level to individual adults in the system

• Understand the data – where the gaps are and what specifically each child needs

• Work on academic and personal skills with students through sessions in flexible groups so students can easily move and work with other people

• Monitor students with diagnostic assessments to be sure students are grasping the content taught

• Students need an “Advocate” who is an adult they can have daily contact with. This “Advocate” also is the vital link between school and home

• Teachers regularly monitor student work in teams – not just individually

• Be sure all support systems are in place including attendance, social services, and guidance.

The important step administration had to take was to choose teachers who would give 100% to the 9th graders and the Freshman Seminar program. Six teachers, both new and experienced, were selected to conduct the Freshman Seminar classes to 110 students. These students were put into 6 groups. The teachers work in teams of two with these groups. Depending on the meeting day, one teacher takes the lead in the class with the other teacher assisting and watching the students and for possible individual red flags. The FS meets every other day the last period of the daily schedule. On alternating days, the freshmen are in PE together – just freshmen. Prior to this program, freshmen were mixed with upper classman in PE and this often created conflict and bullying.

This summer the 6 teachers, Guidance Counselor, and key administrative staff worked together to plan the particulars of this program. As the group brainstormed essential program components, they found similarities with the frame of Sean Covey’s “The Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” The planning team also purchased Michele Borba’s “Building Moral Intelligence” and Harry Wong’s “The First Days of School” to develop the curriculum for Freshman Seminar.

The best ways to build character are always WOVEN IN—NOT TACKED ON, and RELEVANT and AUTHENTIC to students’ needs.

Sauquoit Valley Central School District in Upstate NY – I salute your efforts!

Michele Borba

The staff of Sauquoit High School has graciously sent to me a description of their Freshman Seminar program. I know I’m going to be swamped with questions on this from high schools nationwide, so here is their process. You can find more information on their website as well as a complete description of their curriculum map (

You can also contact Mrs. Susan Synakowski, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction about the program at or 315-839-6331

Mission of Freshman Seminar

The mission of the Ninth Grade Advisory Program is to foster a sense of community, develop positive communication, promote good character traits and learn skills and habits that will help our students become productive citizens in the High School and beyond.

The goals of the program are:
1. to provide a safe environment in which students can learn how to interact in a positive way
2. to provide all Ninth Grade students with a trusted advocate and a positive adult role model

Program Organization
Scheduling/ Grouping
The student groups are chosen randomly. Each group will meet during the last period of the day, every other day. There are two advisors per group with each advisor team. Advisors serve on a volunteer basis. The Advisory Program is considered a class assignment and will be treated as such by both teachers and students.

Grading and Assessment
Participation in the advisory program will be assessed on a pass/fail basis for credit.
In order to pass the program, the student must attend and participate in the activities.

Student responsibilities:
• Participate on a consistent basis
• Demonstrate a positive attitude
• Show respect for the feelings and opinions of others
• Keep a reflective journal

Grades: Students who are successful participants in the advisory program will receive one-half of one elective credit.

Program Components
The Ninth Grade Advisory Program is based on the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey. The program will include modules based on each of the “Seven Habits”.

Components to be covered within the “Seven Habits” will include the following:
• Health and Wellness
• Lifelong physical activities
• High School Survival Guide
• Conflict Resolution
• Time Management
• Building Healthy Relationships
• Study Skills
• Community Service
• Team Building

All components will be covered as part of the “Seven Habits” modules. All modules will be covered by each group at the same time periods throughout the year.

Students will be provided with the following materials:
• The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens book
• Student Achievement Workshop workbook, “Developing Habits of Success”
• Agenda planner
• Reflective journal

Teacher Advisors will be provided with the following materials:
• Facilitators Guide for The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens
• Bibliography and Videography of materials that are appropriate for character development
• List of suggested journal topics

Teacher Advisors will be provided with training on:
• facilitating the Covey program
• identifying and dealing with serious issues
• positive communication
• team building

Teacher Advisors will also be provided with:
• two days for summer training and program development
• one day for team building activities and introductory parent communication
• substitute coverage for program review in late September
• three – four additional days of sub coverage during the year for program review and adjustment as needed

The teacher advisor will:
• act as the group leader and implement the program components
• strive to develop feelings of trust and caring within the group
• foster quality communication and relationships among the advisees
• become informed of the activities and background of the students in the group
• work cooperatively as a group to develop and maintain the advisory program
• participate in training and professional growth opportunities related to the program
• serve as an advocate for the student with the parents and the school staff
• establish protocol for on-going parent communication