The freshman year of high school is a major milestone for students, especially at University School of Milwaukee. Whether coming from USM’s Middle School or a different school, our 9th graders begin to learn the communication, transition, and study skills necessary to be successful Upper School students, starting with Freshman Orientation for students and their parents or guardians in August. Students also work with their advisors and teachers to develop a strong balance between their academic and extracurricular activities, as well as time management skills to balance USM responsibilities with those outside of school.
Many freshmen begin to explore current and future leadership opportunities as they are also more formally introduced to service learning in the Upper School. Freshmen also begin their work with their college counselor—whom they remain with all the way through graduation—and will have several touchpoints with that individual and the College Guidance office throughout 9th grade.
Establishing a new sense of comfort and community is key to a student’s first year in our Upper School, and time is spent in advising getting to know the advisor and other advisees. Each year, approximately 20 to 30 spots in the freshman class are reserved for students who are new to USM, which brings important diversity in backgrounds and experiences to classroom conversations and student relationships, as students begin to move beyond their comfort zone in a safe and supportive environment. All freshmen are assigned to one of the Upper School’s four Houses—Academy, Arrow, Crest, and Ledger—which are also made up of sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The house model serves to further support the development of relationships and community during the high school years.
While the freshman year finds students taking many required core courses, 9th grade students also have many choices in their elective courses, along with study halls for coursework and academic support. For the first time, grades are recorded on transcripts that will be sent along with college applications. Freshmen students typically have a maximum of 40 minutes of homework per class meeting, and no homework is assigned over breaks (except for Advanced Placement classes, which freshmen do not typically take).
Early in the freshman year, 9th graders participate in two day-long retreat days, which serve to build relationships and reinforce the Common Trust. The first day is typically spent at Camp Whitcomb-Mason in Hartland, Wisconsin, and the second day at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in nearby Bayside, Wisconsin, with Youth Frontiers joining for their acclaimed Respect Retreat. These are highly engaging days that serve as a foundation for interpersonal relationships and for the advising program that runs throughout Upper School. In addition, 9th graders are involved in helping to organize the annual Winter Formal each year in February, and are able to take on additional leadership roles on the Upper School student council and the freshman class board. Freshmen also form special bonds with USM’s 1st grade students, including reading sessions and fun activities during spirit weeks, as USM works to form relationships across the entire school.