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THE JOURNEY, A “Person First, Student Second” High School Freshman Curriculum

By: Kathleen B. King, Akribos Guest Contributor


Unprompted notes given to me by a few high school freshmen:


“I barely have any friends. Everyone thinks I am weird and ugly.” – Rachel


“I have been having problems studying. I study really hard and the day of the test, my mind goes completely blank.” -Adrienne


“I’m just so tired with everything…last night me and my dad got to arguing and I locked my door so he wouldn’t come in. He was cursing at me.” – Elantra


“I need help in my English class…it’s because I have trouble paying attention and remembering stuff.” -Danny


From 2005-2013, I read similar thoughts through letters my students would write and place in a purple mailbox stationed near my desk. My class was a freshman seminar course; a class that was implemented to help freshman transition into high school. These written notes, my own research, and the disconcerting trends I was witnessing among adolescents showed me a real need for a discussion-based curriculum. Students were frustrated by their academics, isolated from their peers, not connected to a teacher, disjointed from their parents…these students needed to chat out some issues.  How does a school find the time to do this? The answer would be a class and a teacher that would address the needs of the person behind the student.


I was fortunate that my school’s administration saw the need for a freshman transition course. My principal at that time, Jeff Hyche, felt that freshmen needed lots of nurturing and support. He saw that many students required an intentional teaching time to learn skills that often get neglected.


When discussing a matter such as illness, we often hear “prevention is better than a cure.” This same approach can and should be considered by educators when looking at the whole person. Perhaps, instead of waging a disciplinary ‘tug-of-war’ with students, equip them with the tools to solve their own problems. Rather than expending time and energy on remediation, invest it by teaching students to use their learning style to their advantage when studying. This approach encourages students, and builds confidence in their ability to problem solve – whether that problem is a difficult class, test, relationship, or decision.  By equipping them at the start of their high school career, we give students the confidence to face the obstacles they are certain to encounter.


The method for teaching this curriculum is as important as the content within it. With the push for technology integration in schools, teachers must place an even greater emphasis on the need for students to develop verbal communication. Take a walk on any college campus and notice how many young adults are looking down at their phone as they walk to class. It is rare to find a student NOT engrossed by their device. The 2018 Pew Research Center reported that, “Smartphone ownership is nearly universal among teens of different genders, races and ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.” The study also found that 45% of teens claim to be online almost constantly. This growing trend in smart phone technology has greatly decreased students’ opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Adults and adolescents are often aware of the smart phones’ addicting nature, but find it challenging to escape its allure.


It was my experience that, even with this trend, adolescents desire to talk. Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a nationally recognized family therapist, insists, “Children want boundaries. They thrive within limits.” These boundaries help adolescents to function proficiently. Purpose-driven dialogue creates a healthy boundary that tells them that their smartphone can’t supply all that they need. For students, the need for discussion and external processing with a caring, attentive adult has become vital.


I designed The Journey curriculum to engage students through class-wide dialogue and small group activities. Students are prompted to individually and collectively explore their thoughts on certain matters. A teacher who has experienced the topics and reflected on his/her findings leads discussions and activities. Neuroscience researcher, Stefanie Frank, says that, “Adolescents are the best BS detectors.” Authenticity inside content delivery is key to effective learning.


The Journey curriculum takes the teacher and student on a journey exploring who they are and who they want to become. Just to name a few of the things inside the curriculum:


  • Students will learn about their personality, values, and character.


  • Students gain a better view of the perception others may have of them due to their demeanor, organization, time-management, and manners.


  • There is time spent discovering their learning style, study strategies, and note-taking skills.


  • Tools for solving conflict and communicating more efficiently are discussed.


  • Students learn what it means to lead others or collaborate with their peers.


  • They discuss the reasons for dating and what a healthy dating relationship looks like. Because it is a part of their world, they learn appropriate handling of social networks.


  • Confidence is emphasized when making decisions to turn down social pressures.


  • Students learn what healthy coping options are available when dealing with stress.


  • They navigate concepts regarding their future involving finances, college and career.


With a curriculum like The Journey, teachers have more time to invest in the creative delivery process. While the freshman course is the optimal environment for teaching these matters, any teacher can pick up the curriculum and implement the activities into what they are already doing in the classroom. It is a living, breathing document that will be uniquely delivered by the teacher who holds it in their hand. Pursuing a “person-first, student-second” mentality will have an impact that exceeds far beyond the classroom.


For more information on The Journey curriculum, contact Kathleen King at or 205.292.5271.


About the Author
Kathleen King
Kathleen King is an educator and curriculum author who teaches both students and teachers the value of investing
in the social-emotional skills of high school freshmen. She studied Special Education at both the University of Alabama and the University at West Alabama receiving her master’s degree in 2008. In 2005, she began her teaching career at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and taught in the classroom until 2013. During her career at Hillcrest, she was asked to start a general education elective course called “Freshman Seminar.” The purpose of the course was to make the transition to high school easier for freshmen students. The material provided wasn’t working for her and wasn’t engaging her students. This challenge inspired her to pursue her own curriculum. While building rapport with her students through creative teaching, she surveyed students each year gaining a better understanding of what they needed in order to be successful. These surveys provided her focus for research, and a way to further develop her curriculum to benefit both students, and other teachers. The feedback from students also provided the heart and foundation of the program, which King describes as “Person-First, Student-Second.”

In Spring of 2013, after her husband’s career move to Tennessee, she decided to stay home and raise her three
young children. As a stay-at-home mom, she continued to research and write, revitalizing the curriculum into
what it is today. Kathleen, her husband, Jonathan, and their three children moved back to Tuscaloosa in the
Spring of 2017. She now continues to pursue opportunities to equip teachers with The Journey curriculum, in
order that they might connect with students in the same way she has.


About the Author

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