District officials give tips to prepare for first day

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published August 28, 2013

 East Middle School parent Linda Azzam-Harmon attends parent orientation while her 
seventh-grade son attends student orientation.

East Middle School parent Linda Azzam-Harmon attends parent orientation while her seventh-grade son attends student orientation.

Photo by Samantha Sergi

FARMINGTON/ FARMINGTON HILLS — Caitlin Pakkala plans to remember this year for the rest of her life — after all, it’s the Harrison High School senior’s last year in high school.

“I want to remember most my friends and the things we did,” the 15-year-old Farmington Hills resident told the Press recently. “I don’t want to think or say, ‘Oh, I wish I did this. I wish I had done that,’ so when I am older, I can look back and say, ‘My senior year was a blast, and it was definitely all worth it.’”

Pakkala is on the right track to having a great year when she and roughly 11,110 other Farmington Public Schools students start school Sept. 3. 

Linked in
Pakkala is focusing on making this year even more special because she is part of Link Crew, a high school transition program aimed at increasing freshman success.

Juniors and seniors in the program are Link Leaders who act as positive role models and mentors to freshmen they partner up with at the beginning of the school year.

Pakkala said she joined because it was a fun experience, and she doesn’t want others to feel abandoned or unliked.

Harrison High School Assistant Principal Angela Leach said Pakkala is “very involved” in the group, which builds relationships among students.

“We have our incoming freshmen — about 280 — with about 75 juniors and seniors who serve as mentors for those incoming freshmen,” she said.

On Aug. 29, the group will have a Freshman Celebration at the school, 29995 W. 12 Mile Road in Farmington Hills, featuring an assembly and group activities.

Bridging the gap
Leach said developing a successful academic year is just as important as forming social relationships.

She said parents can help their children along academically by talking to them about what their goals are this upcoming school year.

“Have a discussion with your child about getting some tools in (their) tool box,” she said. “If you start having problems, what are you going to do? Who are you going to approach, and that kind of thing.”

Board of technology
Students may already use social media through smartphones, tablets and other gadgets, but they may soon have to get used to using them for school, Power Upper Elementary School Principal Jim Anderson said.

“As a school district, our job is to make sure every student is successful, regardless of what our desks look like or what our rooms look like. We have a job: We need to educate students,” Anderson said.

The school, 34740 Rhonswood St. in Farmington Hills, received new interactive projectors in 35 classrooms at the end of the year.

Students and teachers will use the interactive projectors, which can use whiteboards, or flat surfaces as computer screens. The screens show videos, and students can use their cellphones interactively via a response-software application.

“They both serve the same function,” FPS Director of Information Technology, Michael Johnston said, “the ability to draw on the board electronically from an image coming from a computer.”

Anderson said teachers and students are really excited about the technology.

“It gives more access to interactive technology. Teachers can pull up educational videos, and students have visuals of different things they will be able to access more easily,” he said.

Bully prevention
With great technology comes great responsibility, including combating bullying, which East Middle School Principal Ken Sanders said he wants from his students. 

“We have expectations in all areas of our school, in the classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, you name it,” he said. “Beyond that, we encourage and we stress and we make sure that kids know that everybody is here to help, and you don’t just sit back and don’t say anything when you’re being bullied or if you are having a problem.”

He said students should not sit back if they witness bullying, either. They should tell someone who could help.

“Is it perfect? No. I think as a culture of the school, we are all in it together, and we all have to fix it together,” he said.

Sometimes bullying does not occur at school but at home or on the bus — and sometimes electronically.

“What is our jurisdiction?” Sanders asked.

He said that although the students are not allowed to use their phones in school (unless for something school-related), bullying sometimes rears its ugly head at school from an incident off of  school property.

“The time whenever you see those type of statements (online bullying, they’re made at home,” he said, “and it becomes our problem when it comes here.”

He said the school deals with it by involving parents, which sometimes results in students losing social media accounts.

“Often kids will say, ‘I’m being bullied on Facebook,’ and we’ll say, ‘Well how old are you?’ And they’ll say ‘12,’” he said. “And you know you are not supposed to have a Facebook (account).”

For more information, go to http://www.farmington.k12.mi.us