By Curt Yeomans
Gerald Bigelow already knows what his son, Gerrell, can expect in high school. That's because the Rex Mill Middle School eighth-grader's three older sisters have experienced the transition.
The school held a Parent Open House event on Wednesday to teach parents and students how to deal with the move to high school, and be academically successful as they approach the Criterion-Reference Competency Tests (CRCTs) in April.
The open house began with a pep rally featuring cheerleaders, athletes and band members from Morrow High School. Then, students and parents spent most of the school day going from one workshop to another, where they were introduced to studying techniques, as well as expected goals set by the school system and state districts for high school students to achieve.
While Gerrell Bigelow's father already knows what lies ahead, the youngster said there is a lot he can learn from the open house and the experiences his older sisters had at Morrow High School.
"At the open house, I learned I should really read and study more so I can make it to high school," said the younger Bigelow. "From my sisters, I learned that it's going to be tough."
The Parent Open House event grew out of a session involving the school's literacy teachers, said Rex Mill principal Susan Patrick.
The school, which opened in 2006, does well in math and science because it is a magnet school in those areas, the principal said. It also does well in literacy, but the teachers wanted to find a way to take eighth-grade performances to another level, said Patrick.
"One of the goals at this school is to be a forerunner of excellence in education for the state," said Patrick. "We don't want to leave any children behind. We also want to close the achievement gap, and make sure our students are capable of succeeding academically once they get to high school."
Eventually, the idea grew to involve the entire eighth-grade class, and focused on what students need to do to be successful once they get into high school. Another goal of the school's faculty and staff was to help the get a 100 percent passing rate on the CRCTs in the spring.
Statewide, students who cannot pass the math and reading sections of the test cannot move onto high school.
"I don't want to see you in summer school this summer," Cynthia McDonald, one of the school's assistant principals, told eighth-graders in a CRCT work session. "You are the first class to go through Rex Mill for all three years. You've had exposure to the best teachers in the state, and you've had exposure to the best technology in the state...
"You should be exceeding the standards on the CRCTs this year."
Rosa Barbee, whose daughter, Travaughn, will attend Mt. Zion High School next year, said the school's dedication to academics and discipline are reasons she and her daughter like the school so much. Barbee is a volunteer who comes to the school almost daily to support teachers and administrators.
While Travaughn was in the workshops, her mother stood in the hallway with a walkie-talkie, making sure pupils got to sessions on time, and did not walk out of class causing a disruption.
"My daughter is a little nervous about moving on to high school next year," said Barbee. "She really enjoys it here."
Some of the parents, like the elder Bigelow, came to event with the experience of having older children go through high school. Tabitha Seals, mother of eighth-grader Deanthony Franklin, already has learned the importance of a parent staying informed about what their children are learning in school.
Seals said she was actively involved in the education of her older son, Deangelo Franklin, until he enrolled in Mt. Zion High School. Then she decided to let him have a little more academic freedom, and his grades began to slip as a result. She learned the lesson and plans to take a different approach with Deanthony.
"I've been involved all the way with him, and I plan on staying involved for the rest of the way," she said.