Surviving 9th Grade: Pro tips from Notre Dame Prep freshmen and counselors

May 10, 2021

“Sixteen Candles.” “The Edge of Seventeen.” “Freaks and Geeks.” Hollywood has turned out its fair share of films and TV shows dramatizing and satirizing the lives of high school-aged students. Some, of course, are more realistic than others. But there is nothing more real than the real thing.

Next fall millions of American students will begin their high school experience as 9th graders. The prospect at times might be thrilling, and at other times nerve-wracking. Will I be ready? Will I find all my classes? Will I make friends? Will I succeed?

We know that rising freshmen already are asking themselves these age-old questions. Though the answers will come in due time, we thought some pointers on how to master 9th grade would stack the deck in their favor.

According to Notre Dame Prep school counselors Denise Mahoney and Jason Whalen, two of the biggest challenges likely to face freshmen are time management and organization. Pro Tip No. 1: Use a planner. “It’s the best way to keep on track,” Mahoney said.

Well before that planner comes into play, however, NDP’s Department of Campus Ministry will help on-board new students. In early June, they’ll hold the first-ever “Meet Your Mentor” virtual event, during which incoming freshmen will meet their peer leaders and “family” members. Throughout the summer and year, these peer leaders will serve as friendly faces and experienced resources, available to help freshmen navigate their new surroundings. Pro Tip No. 2: Participate in your peer leader family. “Connecting with other students will help you feel more at ease when you start the school year,” Mahoney said. “Having a familiar face and someone to say hello to can help calm your nerves.”

The day before school starts in August, students will go through The Launch as part of an in-person immersive orientation day. This experience will all but guarantee a student’s success in opening his/her locker, understanding the daily schedule, getting to class on time, and finding the cafeteria on Day 1.

NDP’s faculty and staff—including counselors—want all students to hit the ground running on that first day of school. A good way to ensure success in the fall is staying sharp over summer. Pro Tip No. 3: Read. “Do your summer reading, and make time to read for fun,” Whalen said. “It’s good exercise for your brain.”

Besides reading, Mr. Whalen has another good suggestion for long-term success. Pro Tip No. 4: Take ownership of your education. “It’s really important to set personal goals for yourself, to ask questions in class, and to communicate directly with teachers, counselors and coaches,” Whalen said.

Mahoney encourages students to try new things, meet new people and make connections, while Whalen recommends Pro Tip No. 5: Set “SMART” goals. “Focus on academic, social, and extracurricular goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound,” Whalen said.

These tips cannot help but be beneficial. However, following them does not mean that the step up to high school won’t be an adjustment, one that at times is quite challenging. Some of our current freshmen know that truth firsthand.

“The hardest thing to adjust to as a high school student was managing my time between extracurricular activities, sports, and studies,” said Julia Gurne, a 9th grader from Holy Family Regional School.

Ryan Wells and Grace Simon, freshmen from St. Hugo and Notre Dame Middle School, both agree. “When participating in various clubs, sports, and other extracurriculars, it can be difficult to make time for it all in addition to schoolwork,” said Wells.

“Right now,” Simon said, “I am in three sports, student council and band, and I’m starting an Immigration Club. I love all the activities that I do, but sometimes it can be hard to balance them with my schoolwork.”

For Bradon Prater, who came to NDP from Montessori School of Waterford, the toughest adjustment has been more personal. “The hardest thing for me has been being with different people,” Prater said.

No matter the adjustments they’ve faced, Gurne, Wells, Simon and Prater are now experts in making them, and are able to give the NDP Class of 2025 their own pro tips on surviving 9th grade.

Student Pro Tip No. 1
Attend the Meet Your Mentor Virtual Event*

“This event will help you acclimate to NDP the summer before school starts. I learned more about the school, and that really made me feel that I belonged here. I also met my peer leader, who was very informative. She reached out to me several times after that and answered my questions about the school. We continued to communicate even after school started, and she has been amazing!” – Julia

*Meet Your Mentor is being held for enrolled students on June 6. On Aug. 18, freshmen will participate in The Launch, an in-person immersive orientation event the day before school starts.

Student Pro Tip No. 2
Get Involved

“Playing sports and doing summer workouts was really helpful.” – Bradon

“Volleyball camp and band camp helped me to get acclimated. I met a lot of new freshman at both, and I also got better at the things I was planning to do once school started.” – Grace

Student Pro Tip No. 3
Use Your Resources

“We have a lot of resources at NDP. My counselor, Ms. Bond, has been super-beneficial to me because I know she will help me socially and academically, and she also will help me apply to college. I use my school planner every day to help me keep organized with my assignments and tests. Lastly, the library is open after school as a quiet place to do homework or study.” – Julia

Student Pro Tip No. 4
Make the Most of Community Time*

“Community Time has aided me tremendously by helping me keep up with my workload.” – Ryan

“Community Time is a perfect opportunity for me to work on homework or study for an upcoming test. And the Marist Monday sessions help me focus on my religious and social life. This reinforces my relationship with God, and it teaches me how to be the best friend I can be.” – Julia

*NDP students have Community Time every day from 10:45 to 11:10 a.m. During this period they can meet with clubs, catch up on schoolwork, collaborate with peers, or visit with a teacher/advisor in a small-group setting.

Student Pro Tip No. 5
Grab Bag!

“Get to know other freshmen and stay ahead on your work.” – Bradon

“Focus on time management, have an organized schedule, and write everything down in a planner. Be as social as possible; you will find so many people who have similar interests if you get to know them. I have made so many friends at NDP by starting simple conversations with them. Get involved in clubs or extracurricular activities. Sports are great, too. I am currently playing tennis, and it is the best experience I have had in my life!” – Julia

“Do not stress about 9th grade. NDP is one of the safest environments that anyone could ever be in. There is truthfully nothing to be worried about, as the teachers and students alike are accepting and are rooting for your success. There are always outlets that you can turn to if you ever have any difficulties. Be your authentic self, and I promise that you will thrive here at NDP.” – Ryan

“Put yourself out there and try to join clubs and sports teams. This really helped me to meet new friends from other middle schools and got me closer to a lot of people in my grade.” – Grace

Now that Julia, Ryan, Grace and Bradon are 9th grade masters, we wondered how their favorite high school-set movies compare to their NDP experience.

Julia – “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”: You shouldn’t fake an illness to skip school, but the bonding between Ferris and his friends is very similar to what you would see at NDP.

Ryan – “Hoosiers”: Though I cannot directly relate to the events in the movie, the aspects of teamwork and leadership are certainly a major part of the high school experience.

Grace – “Clueless”: After watching this movie I was so excited to meet new friends and go to parties in high school. But that's not how it actually is! There is schoolwork, school activities, and, of course, COVID-19, which stops me from going to parties every week. I still love the movie though!”

Bradon – “High School Musical”: It’s not realistic at all.

No, Ferris and Sloane, Cher and Elton, Troy and Gabriella, and Jimmy Chitwood do not wander the hallowed halls of NDP. But hundreds of real people do, each of whom are on their own journey. This leads us to Pro Tip No. 5 from Mr. Whalen: “Run your own race. Do the best that you can and don't worry about how that compares to others.”

Interested in learning more about our college-prep school? Call our Office of Admissions at 248-373-1061, or email Before calling, you can get started by completing an inquiry form here. We look forward to engaging with you!

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