LONG BEACH — For the 10th-graders, entering high school the first time last week was not all that bad. The seniors now have ninth-graders to kick around.
"It's great. We won't get picked on," explained Louie Williams, a 10th-grader at Millikan High School.
For the first time in the Long Beach Unified School District, some ninth-graders have been switched to high schools this year. And some sixth-graders have been moved into schools with seventh- and eighth-graders.
About 20,000 students, including kindergartners, entered new schools last week, district spokesman Richard G. Van Der Laan said. "We've moved more students this year than after the earthquake of '33," he said.
Adding ninth-graders to a high school has made things easier for 10th-graders such as Williams and Michelle Mejia, who on Wednesday crossed the great divide from junior high to high school.
'Scared, Because We're Lost'
"I think it's good because there are younger ones below us," said Mejia, 15. Williams added: "Mainly, (seniors) tease them because they get lost."
The 10th-graders had their share of trouble searching for classrooms the first day. But the younger ninth-graders seemed most vulnerable.
"We're scared now, because we're lost," ninth-grader Yen Huynh, 14, said half-jokingly. She was wandering through a Millikan High hallway with freshman Norma Corona several minutes after a bell announced the beginning of third period. "It feels strange being around bigger people," Corona added.
But several freshmen said they were happy about the transition. They said they didn't mind missing out on the traditional "King of the Hill" status in junior high school.
Unlike many freshmen, Dave Najar, 14, appeared relaxed and confident on his first day of high school.
What's the best part of high school?
"Being with a better crowd," Najar said. "In junior high, you're with a lower class. High school students get a little more respect."
But in the hierarchy of high school--where seniors are above juniors, who are above sophomores, who are above freshmen--nothing is better than being a senior.
As senior Chris Karrenberg explained: "You feel like you have more power, mainly because you know how the system works and what you can get away with."
Seniors also tend to know more people. Senior Kari Sunde, arms outstretched, greeted each friend with a shriek and a hug.
When the proposal to transfer ninth-graders to high schools surfaced last year, more than 800 parents signed petitions opposing the plan. Some said at a hearing that they feared the school board was rushing things, that less mature ninth-graders would encounter more peer pressure to fight, take drugs and engage in sex.
But a report prepared by a Joint Task Force on School Facilities stated that four-year high schools would, among other things, provide ninth-graders with more course choices and would give them a chance to participate in a greater variety of athletic programs.
As part of the plan, six junior high schools were converted to middle schools. Sixth grade was added to seventh and eighth grade in the middle schools, as district officials attempt to ease overcrowded conditions in elementary schools. The school district's enrollment, which has surpassed 67,000, is growing by 1,200 students a year, according to school administrators.
Administrators plan to convert the remaining eight junior highs to middle schools by next September, said Martha Keizer, the district's middle school coordinator.
Unlike the seventh- and eighth-graders, who attend six or seven classes each day, sixth-graders are being divided into teams taught by two teachers, providing "a smaller, supportive environment," Keizer said.
The sixth-grade teachers "will work as teacher, counselor, father and mother," said Juan de Cordova, principal at Cecil B. DeMille Middle School. "The idea is to provide them with real nurturing because they're very young."
"All the teachers are excited about the idea (of shifting sixth-graders)," de Cordova said. "They feel this is the best thing that has happened in the district.
"Ninth-graders really belong in high school," de Cordova said. "By the same token, sixth-graders have more in common with seventh- and eighth-graders than with younger kids. They're more apt to learn. Oftentimes, ninth-graders want to be big-man-about-campus and that becomes more important than schooling."
'Still Play a Lot'
De Cordova said he does not expect the eighth-graders to assume that haughty role now that they're the oldest on campus. "They're young. They still play a lot. They're kids," the principal said. "It's amazing what difference one year can make."
To help the sixth-graders, each new middle school held orientations for the students and teachers. At the high schools, freshmen also attended orientation sessions on their first day.
In Room 219 at Millikan, ninth-graders filled out a series of registration, emergency, informational and locker assignment cards.