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TMP opens doors to junior high

8/15/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Dressed in their white or blue polo shirts with the school logo, they looked like miniature high school students at Thomas More Prep-Marian.

But Principal Bill DeWitt was quick to tell them they weren't just a mini version of the high-schoolers.

A total of 121 students are enrolled for the 2012-13 school year in the new junior high at TMP, which added seventh- and eighth-grade classes to its curriculum for the first time this year.

They all were together as a group for the first time Tuesday, at a new-student orientation day that started with an assembly in the auditorium. Students then went through a shortened version of their school day, going to classes and meeting their teachers.

"You are the shiny new penny in this building," said DeWitt, also the principal of TMP-Marian Senior High. "I'm not going to treat you like little high school students. You have your own set of rules."

The junior high students also have their own classrooms, teachers, guidance counselor and class schedule, as well as brand new lockers.

Several students already had a good start on decorating their lockers Tuesday.

Seventh-grader Hailey Jensen made herself right at home with a chandelier light that works on a sensor and lights up when she opens her locker door.

"I saw it at Walmart by the school supplies and thought it was cool," Jensen said of the light. "It was the last one, so I thought I'd better grab it ... perfect for my locker."

Jensen said she was glad for the opportunity to go to all her classes before the first day of school, which is Thursday.

The purpose of the new-student orientation was to get students acquainted with their classrooms and the rest of the building, as well as ask their teachers or administrators questions they might have.

"I still don't know where all my (classes) are," Jensen said. "But I think I'll be able to find them OK."

When Heartland Parishes decided to add seventh- and eighth-grade classes to TMP this year, DeWitt rearranged some classrooms to other parts of the building to reserve the east part of the school specifically for junior high.

"I took teachers who had been in the same classroom for more than 30 years and moved them, just to make room for you guys," DeWitt told the assembly.

A concern for some parents was having seventh-graders in the same building as high school juniors and seniors.

"My daughter just turned 12," Andrea Jensen said of Hailey, who graduated from sixth grade last spring at Holy Family Elementary School. "And it was almost like my baby was going from grade school right to high school."

DeWitt hopes his efforts to keep the younger students in their own part of the building helped calm any uneasy feelings parents or students might have. He discussed those items, along with numerous others, at a parent meeting Sunday.

"After listening to the principal, I felt really comfortable," Andrea Jensen said. "Everyone seems really excited about it, are really positive and so welcoming. I'm excited for Hailey; I told her she will be part of the first (seventh-grade) class to go through the new junior high."

And it is a large seventh-grade class -- the largest in the school at 77. The 44 eighth-graders brings the total for the inaugural Catholic junior high school to 121.

That, combined with the 235 students enrolled in grades nine through 12, brings the total number of students at TMP this year to more than 350. The largest class for the high school this year is the sophomore class (68).

After all the planning for the junior high, DeWitt is ready for the first day of class, the same as Day 1 for the high school students.

"I need to get a good night's sleep tonight and tomorrow night," he said Tuesday. "I'll need it, to be ready for Thursday."