The East Aurora School district was experiencing large dropout rates among its freshmen. They attributed this to the tough time many of its freshmen had coping with a large school environment and in keeping up with the pace of class. They wanted to create an environment that would shelter incoming students from the rest of the 2,700-student body. They wanted a supportive environment that allows for specialized education for students in need of catching up; as well as accelerated education for those students who excel.
The 1,000-student Freshman Center, designed by Cordogan Clark & Associates, encourages maximum learning while easing the middle school to high school transition. It integrates freshmen on the high school campus while giving them their own place. Four academic "neighborhoods" provide learning environments customized for ninth-grade students. The Center supports team teaching, with general classrooms, science labs, art rooms, student rest rooms, individual learning areas, and learning resource rooms all easily accessible. A large central area with amphitheater seating connects each "neighborhood", supporting collaborative learning and team teaching curricula.
The Freshman Center's "team teaching" environment unites five major disciplines in a "school within a school". A Science room forms the group's hub, and is combined with Math, Language Arts, Social Studies and English. Classrooms are grouped around specialized study areas. These instructional groupings can be observed from adjacent classrooms. This provides a secondary study area that can be used for tutoring and group study projects. It creates cohesive support groups in which five teachers guide 150 students in a friendly, supportive environment where no student can be anonymous or ignored.
The Freshman Center's two wings on two stories feature common areas that allow "home towns" to gather for group presentations and informal meetings. A full court basketball gymnasium doubles as a lunchroom. Areas located off the "main street" student entrance allow early arriving students to gather before class in the morning. Support spaces including teacher offices and student lockers complete the facilities that make up the freshmen's "home town". The main public entrance connects the Freshman Center to the high school building. Various shared-use spaces connect freshman to the main campus. The Freshman Center's various programs, including academics, sports, the arts and music, gradually acclimate freshmen into high school student life.