When Dr. Gina MacKenzie became principal of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in September 2022, she saw that the pandemic might be over but that its lingering effects were still being felt in education.
``In terms of readiness, the pandemic changed the landscape of education,’’ says MacKenzie, a St. Hubert alumnus. ``And it changed not only academic preparedness, but social and emotional preparedness.’’
MacKenzie’s solution: Expand an existing summer program known as the Academy that was designed to prepare incoming 9th graders for St. Hubert into a year-round program of support called The Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. The center is an extension of St. Hubert’s mission provide a quality, faith-based and community-centered education in a nurturing environment.
``Students are coming in different from kids five years ago in terms of readiness,’’ MacKenzie says. ``Because of Covid they missed the experience of middle school essentially. So, they missed a year of social and emotional development at a time that is crucial for social and emotional development.
“Academic learning loss can be remediated. There's a clear path there. That's not what our students, or students across the country are dealing with right now. They're dealing with deficits in different areas. And so, this idea comes out of a response that we need to have to where our students are coming to us from. ‘’
Begun at the end of the last decade, St. Hubert’s 9th-grade Academy is a five-week summer readiness program designed to ease incoming students into high school. Using guidelines established by the Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary CESS and Secondary Schools, school administrators established a team of teachers, administrators and social workers that meet regularly with incoming students to help them navigate the transition from 8th grade to the more complex structure required in high school.
That program begins in early July, ends in mid-August, and is optional but highly encouraged.
“There’s a lot to come in to navigate,” says Dr. Lizanne Pando, president of St. Hubert's. “You're trying to meet new people and join new clubs, just finding your way in a new, very different environment. We wanted that transition to be as a supportive as possible so that the girls have the best experience academically and socially.’’
The Academy will remain unchanged but will roll into a more encompassing program designed by MacKenzie. Raised within walking distance from St. Hubert’s, she has seen a geographic shift among the student body that draws from all parts of the region and even New Jersey.
The variances in how and what the approximately 118 incoming 9th graders were taught prior to arriving presents a challenge that required, in Pando’s words, ``A fresh set of eyes.’’
“There are a lot of moving parts,’’ she says. “Sometimes it has to do with your family. Sometimes it has to do with how far away you are from us or how you travel to us, or you might be behind in math, you might be excelled in math. You might have been able to skip a language. And then we had Covid.
``I think our program has been, up to now, about oversight. But Dr. MacKenzie is saying, `Let's get proactive, let’s have a learning space, let's have a career space, a leadership space, get the girls more involved in different aspects. So, she's making this program much more current.’’
That effort began this spring when 20 current St. Hubert students went through a peer training program run by the Anti-Defamation League. Those students will be leading workshops and activities with our whole student body come fall, but will place an early focus on the incoming class.
There will also be a rotating series of 9th grade seminar experiences in their academic classes at homeroom periods throughout their first semester that creates a space for students and faculty to learn and grow together.
The program will also include a speaker series, focusing on the pillars of St. Hubert’s: scholarships, service, spirituality and sisterhood. The Travis Manion Foundation and FierceAthlete are already scheduled to send representatives to speak this fall.
``I think that our sisterhood defines who we are at St. Hubert,’’ MacKenzie says. ``It is one of the value-added components of an education here that our girls are with and for each other at all moments. And the freshman experience that we're going to give to our students will make their transition easier and will set them up for four years of success.’’