College visits, first jobs, PSATs — junior year of high school is when things start to get real.
OPB’s Class of 2025 started 11th grade this month, starting the final two-year stretch of high school.
Twelve of the 27 Class of 2025 students attend high school at David Douglas in Southeast Portland, where the school year started last week.
“I’m having a lot of mixed feelings about this first day,” said Class of 2025 student Ava. “A lot of me’s very excited, but I’m also flustered and nervous.”
Last year, Ava had a full plate of classes and extracurricular activities that kept her busy. This year is the same.
“I feel like I’m more nervous this year because I don’t want to fall back into old patterns and old habits,” she said near the end of her first-period class, yoga and mindfulness. “I’ve always struggled with my work habits and stuff like that and I just want to make sure that I’m really on top of it this year.”
Eleventh grade means more independence for students in the Class of 2025. Juniors at David Douglas are allowed to leave early, once their classes are over. Their schedule allows for more opportunities to pick classes that interest them. And while it’s not the first or last year of high school, junior year can help set students up for a successful, stress-free senior year if they’re able to stay on track to graduate.
During lunch on the first day, David Douglas principal Greg Carradine walks past tables full of students, checking in. He says by junior year, students are starting to settle into high school. But it’s also time to start thinking about the future.
“They can start to make that transition to the second half of their high school career, to prepare for their post-secondary success,” he said.
More freedom and flexibility
New 11th graders returning to school this fall may have already gotten a taste of independence over the summer. Some may have jobs, driver’s licenses or greater responsibility at home.
“They’re starting to think about ‘adulting’ types of things, and some of them really are different when they come back,” David Douglas counselor Sarah Hunt said.
At school, Hunt says that greater independence junior year — broader selection of electives, greater variety of core classes — gives students a sense of what college might be like, if that’s the path they take.
“We’re giving them a little bit more autonomy over their schooling and their plans for junior year,” Hunt said. “They can also make more choices. It’s like the next step to college when you get to choose your whole schedule.”
Class of 2025 student Ali gets “early dismissal” two or three times a week. On the first day of school, she’s sitting in the back of the class, waiting for English to start.
“I’m feeling nervous but tired,” she said.
She’s excited for the chance to take Advanced Placement psychology, building on the two psychology classes she took sophomore year. But this first day of school feels a little different from last year — she doesn’t see anyone she recognizes in her English class. None of her friends are there.
“They’re all in different classes,” she said.
Ali is also a year behind in math, which puts her in math 2. David Douglas offers a wider range of classes for juniors, which might mean more differentiation from one student’s schedule to another, especially if they have advanced classes or courses to make up.
Ali’s English teacher Heather Marshall loves teaching juniors.
“I get to have different conversations with these students because of their maturity of who they are, they’ve kind of formed more decisive opinions about who they are and about the world around them,” Marshall said. “We get to have some really cool conversations in my classroom and with the content we teach because they’re just at that higher level of thinking.”
This semester, her class is focused on American literature, reading books such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” that can connect to what students are learning in their U.S. history class.
Marshall sees a difference between the students in her sophomore and junior-level English classes.
“They [juniors] start to feel like there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel in this high school career of theirs,” she said, “and so they begin to think, ‘OK, I’m not here forever.’”
The make-or-break year
English teacher Julia Toscano remembers her junior year of high school.
“It was hard, it was really hard,” she said. “For me, I was taking advanced classes, and it was hard.”
At David Douglas, she teaches freshman English classes, as well as Latinx studies, which is an English course juniors are eligible for.
Toscano said her class can have an issue with attendance.
“A lot of them work, junior year they start working a lot,” she said.
She says having a clear routine of going to school and then work is important. In her classroom, she started giving students a monthly calendar. For each day a student shows up, she gives them a sticker to put on that day on the calendar.
“It sounds corny but they really like seeing their calendar get filled up,” she said. “I even polled them, I was like, ‘Do you want to keep the calendars?’ And they said ‘yeah, we like having that’ — and it just looks beautiful in the end.”
With two more years left, Toscano said it’s important for juniors to keep up their stamina.
“Even though they can taste the end, it also doesn’t feel close enough,” she said. “It’s important for them to start finding their routines that are going to get them in class every single day.”
Junior year, students are still earning credits they need to meet Oregon’s 24-credit requirement for graduation. Students only need three credits each in math, science, and the social sciences. If students get most of those credits squared away by the end of junior year, then they won’t have to spend senior year catching up. For students who don’t get the core requirements taken care of, things might be challenging.
“Sophomore year, you could still kind of be limping along, but junior year, if you don’t get it going, it might not be happening for you,” Hunt said.
“We always say freshman is the most important because it kind of sets the tone, and then junior year is — in some ways, it’s make or break.”
Class of 2025 student Joel is in Toscano’s Latinx Studies class. He says he doesn’t quite feel like a junior yet.
“I don’t look too old, I still have a baby face,” he said.
On the first day, he woke up way earlier than usual, excited for school. But by the middle of the day, he was feeling bored.
This year, he’s looking forward to his psychology class, but he still has a science class to make up from last year.
“I’m excited to be almost done with high school,” he said. “It went by quick.”
The Class of 2024 gives advice to the Class of 2025
When English teacher Heather Marshall was a junior, she tore a ligament in her knee, which ended her basketball season as a player.
“But it also taught me what it was like to coach because I sat on the sidelines and I got to really see a different perspective of what basketball was like,” she said.
Coaching has stuck for her. In addition to teaching English at David Douglas, Marshall coaches the varsity women’s basketball team. At lunch, her players flock to her classroom to hang out with her.
Some of them are seniors, part of the Class of 2024. And they have some advice for juniors.
“Take hard classes that you’re interested in,” Amaya Shean-Jones said.
“Develop good study habits, get your sleep in, don’t procrastinate,” Ella Botnar and Tiffany Chiu said.
“Don’t stress yourself out, because it’s not worth being miserable,” Sydney Kimpton said.
Junior year for the Class of 2025 is just beginning. So OPB stepped into an English class at David Douglas to get more advice from seniors for the new 11th graders. A handful of seniors walked out into the hallway to share their perspectives:
- “Take advantage of every opportunity you’re given — if it’s sports, if it’s reaching out to your community. Get yourself involved, network, there’s no experience like high school.” — Emma O’Steen
- “If you find the couple friends you need, then you’re set. Don’t go out looking for trouble, and if you have a guardian or a parent, love them very much because you might not see them every day and just be glad they’re there with you.” — Brandon Martinez
- “Make the most of [junior year] because senior year will be a breeze if you do.” — Lydia Haile
- “Be careful who you’re friends with. If it isn’t a good person for you, don’t be friends with them, it won’t matter in the long run. And if you want to do something, just do it, because you’ll look back and wish that you had.” — Anastacia Paunovic
- “Take your time, any time you get an opportunity from the school take it. Time just flies, and you need to just take advantage of the time you have in your high school career.” — Fiona Dodge
- “Pay attention and just finish your work because you’re almost there.” — Erick Allen
If you have questions or story ideas for the Class of 2025, reach out to Elizabeth Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.