Helping students find their place

(Photo by Dawn Green)

(Photo by Dawn Green)

The transition from elementary school to junior high school can be daunting for many students. These adolescents are faced with a new building and bus route, lockers, and switching classes for the first time. There are programs in place to help ease the transition, such as the moving up search party that allows sixth graders to visit and explore the junior high school before becoming students there.

Seventh grade social studies teacher Theresa Hogan, however, felt that there was more that needed to be done to help junior high school students adjust. Three years ago she started the Drama Club as a way to help junior high students who were not athletes build confidence and camaraderie. Hogan says Saugerties is a very sports-oriented district, but she noticed students who were not on a team “wishing they could fit in.” She expected a small number to turn out to join the club and was startled when over 60 students expressed interest. The club recently put on a production of “Aladdin” and went on a field trip to watch the production on Broadway.

Things have gone well. This year, for the first time, junior high students were allowed to participate in the high school Lip Sync variety show. Hogan directed and choreographed a group of seventh grade students who performed a song from “High School Musical.” The students took home three awards, including best choreography and best soundtrack.


Since the inception of the junior high Drama Club, other newer teachers have started extracurricular clubs for junior high students, including Math Club, Fitness Club and a creative writing group. Hogan says these groups help students learn how to get along and work with others with whom they might not see eye-to-eye, and develop a sense of “ownership and belonging.”

Part of the reason Hogan understood the role athletics play for so many students — and why programs were needed for those who don’t participate — is because she’s heavily involved as a coach of volleyball, track and field, and basketball. She doesn’t consider herself an athlete, but says she enjoys spending time with the players and giving the students another place to shine.

According to Hogan, an additional benefit of playing on a sports team is the encouragement to keep one’s grades up. Student athletes are required to pass all their classes. If they fail one class, they are put on academic probation and their teachers must fill out weekly progress reports. If they fail a second class, they are kicked off the team.

Athletes have the opportunity to get regular after-school help, since they are required to stay with a teacher from dismissal until 3 p.m. when practice begins. Hogan says coaching helps her develop her relationships with students, which encourages them to come to her when they are having a problem academically or socially.

She opens her room to students at lunchtime. She says people would be surprised by the number of students who take up the offer to eat lunch with a teacher, but she is not. Hogan says the popularity of lunch as well as staying after can be explained by students’ need to communicate and be with other people. Many would otherwise go home to an empty house after school or have busy families who often don’t have time to discuss what’s happening in one another’s lives. She says junior high students are still at the age where they need someone to be caring and to praise them when they’ve done a good job. As an educator and coach, Hogan finds satisfaction in filling that role.