Reynoldsburg City Schools officials earlier this month held the first of a series of parent meetings on the new freshman experience known as the 9X Impact.

The concept will be rolled out this fall with the class of 2023. Instead of choosing one of four high school academies at the end of eighth grade, all ninth-graders will be together as freshmen on the second floor of the Livingston Avenue campus, 6699 E. Livingston Ave.

A freshmen class of about 540 students will be divided into five groups for team-based learning.

Officials are enlisting help from parent and student focus groups to design the 9X Impact course offerings, but everything will revolve around the "four pillars" of the program: high school readiness; choosing an academy pathway; and focuses on the future and the social-emotional needs of students, 9X Impact Principal Chris Brooks said.

He said social-emotional learning describes the processes by which students understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals and develop relationships with peers.

More than 40 percent of current eighth-graders said they need help with stress or depression, according to a district survey, Brooks said. More than one-third cited anxiety.

The curriculum will incorporate study skills and time management to "promote a culture that empowers and a technology that enables," Brooks said.

"They're going to have teachers always looking at their progress. The teachers will have a smaller number of students so that we can be very proactive when we see any type of social/emotional or grade issues coming up."

Freshmen will now have an entire year to decide on a focus for the remaining three years of high school: (HS)2: a STEM-based approached to health and human services BELL: a college prep course focusing on business, education, leadership and lawe-STEM: science, technology, engineering and math-based learningEncore: focusing on performing and visual arts.

"We're not going to take away anything in the curriculum. (9X Impact) will just exist on top of what we're doing," Brooks said. "Because it's called 9X does not mean that they are not part of the high school. They are part of the high school, so they can participate in all athletics and other activities."

District officials hope the 9X Impact model will include some of the traditions of middle school -- team-teaching, for example -- while giving students a year to make the transition into the rigors of a high school academy.

"We're looking at it as kind of a one-year bridge that makes that transition a lot easier," Superintendent Melvin Brown said. "They're going to still be getting some of the same support they had in middle school but it won't be exactly like middle school.

"Right now they go in from eighth grade, never ever see a high school and we say, 'Go to high school.' Now they're going to see it."

The project is a race against time -- the next school year starts Aug. 19.

The Reynoldsburg Board of Education last month waived the competitive bidding process in order to fast-track renovations to the Livingston Avenue high school to prepare for the changes. Doing so will expedite the process by up to three weeks and is not expected to increase costs, officials said.

Renovations are expected to start this spring, with most of the work being done over the summer. They include replacing an elevator, painting and removing lockers.

Other changes include relocating second-floor lab space, knocking down some walls and replacing others with roll-up style doors to allow for flexible collaboration space. The 9X Impact area will have its own entrance and administration team.

The district is in the process of finalizing construction plans and cost estimates, spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said.

Incoming freshmen have helped pick the 9X Impact logo and the wall paint colors, along with the district's standard "Raider purple."

The school day for 9X Impact students will run from 8:50 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., Brooks said.

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