Authors: Dr. Fran Rogers & Lesley Corner
Transitioning from middle school to high school is such an important time in an adolescent's life, and what an opportune time to focus on this transition as we near the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year. Over time, educators and educational systems have developed recommendations and programs to better support middle to high school transition, several of which we highlight in this post. These programs are critical in supporting the drastic changes adolescents will incur as they move from eighth to ninth grade. We want to begin by clarifying that programs do not have to place a major burden on manpower or resources. Small, yet strategic, steps can go a long way in supporting the transition from middle to high school. Collectively, let’s commit to providing students the necessary time and space to appropriately make the transition.
Change can be challenging for adolescents, especially given the fact that young people between the ages of 10 and 15 undergo extreme personal developments. Their patterns of thinking, physical maturation, and desire for peer acceptance all contribute to these rapid developments, making support during this time of utmost importance. Add the move from eighth to ninth grade to the mix, and their lives can quickly feel overwhelming. Understanding the possible pressure our students feel when faced with the transition from middle to high school should activate our sensors of compassion. Do you remember what it was like transitioning from eighth to ninth grade? Exactly. The more that we strive to understand where adolescents are in their development, the better we can accommodate their needs and serve as critical support while they prepare to make this big leap. When students know what to expect, levels of anxiety decrease, providing a greater likelihood of an effective transition.
Our hope is that your school has put some transitional procedures and activities in place that serve to prepare students for what they will see in ninth grade. Using combination locks is a great way to prepare students for the possible dreaded high school locker challenges. Middle school yearbooks, class changes, and mentoring programs are other layers you can add that mimic the high school experience. Athletics, clubs, and other extracurriculars provide additional opportunities to support the social and emotional transition of students from middle to high school. Focusing on the similarities and differences in academic expectations is also important. Middle and high school teachers should connect to discuss how the content vertically articulates and apply all relevant components back into the middle school classroom. Middle school teachers should continue to emphasize the importance of organizational and life skills, as mentioned in the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate. As you can see, giving students experiences similar to that of high schools provides a frame of reference and context to which students can draw from when the actual transition occurs.
While normal, feelings of excitement, anticipation, apprehension, and anxiety are stirred up pending the transitional year. The best way to counteract these feelings is to have conversations, structured and unstructured, with students. Students will have questions about the social, academic, and procedural changes they will face, and we have the power to alleviate many of these concerns by simply devoting the time to do so. One quick way to get a jump on these concerns is to schedule a visit/tour to the high school. During this time, students can observe the environment and see adolescent-important aspects like physical locker locations, the cafeteria, and the commons areas. While physically at the high school, students can experience the bell schedule, navigate the map of the school, and peruse the student handbook. It is also wise to schedule a question and answer session with freshman teachers and students so that eighth grade students can receive answers to questions. Again, these are feasible and practical solutions that decrease students’ transitional anxiety and apprehension.
Getting clear about goals and specific transitional plans to support those goals allows opportunities for our students to have the best possible transitional experiences. There are many ways that middle and high school educators can collaborate to focus on this type of support. Forming a liaison that appropriately assists students, parents, and teachers is the ultimate goal of all transitional work. As you begin to consider what transitional supports are available in your school, we would like to urge you to explore several of the additional avenues listed below.
A working relationship with feeder middle school(s) is imperative for student success during the transition from middle to high school. In addition to faculty members having open, working relationships, students should begin forming relationships with high school faculty prior to ninth grade. One method you can use to do this is organized teacher visits. Middle school teachers visit high school subject-alike classrooms to observe classroom instruction and routines, and high school teachers visit middle school subject-alike classrooms to be visible to students and show support to middle school. These visits create a professional relationship as well as foster conversations about vertical alignment. Furthermore, you can use a specially trained ninth grade case manager to service students with special needs during the ninth grade year before transitioning them to a case manager for the remaining high school years. It is also important that administration at both schools work together to bridge this transition. Ninth grade administrators can help feeder middle school(s) prepare for outside agency visits by conducting teacher observations and school visits. In addition, administrators at both schools need to collaborate in order to best support students’ learning and preparation.
At Camden High School, specifically, our full student-experience begins for rising ninth graders in the spring of their eighth grade year. Our principal, ninth-grade school counselors, athletic director, JROTC instructors, band director, and ninth grade assistant principal meet with all rising ninth graders at our feeder middle school to introduce Camden High School (CHS) before our IGP season. The band and JROTC groups give a special performance for these students. During this time, we also review the registration guide with the students. A support session for our feeder school’s school counselors follows this experience to help ensure appropriate student placement in ninth grade classes. All of these experiences precede our April Parent University focusing on the ABC’s of Ninth Grade. During this Parent University, our principal, assistant principals, and school counselors host a workshop providing parents and rising ninth graders with information that makes them feel comfortable with the transition. In conjunction with our feeder school, we also offer a summer bridge program at the high school for students who did not experience success in an eighth grade core class.This bridge program provides remediation in English and math courses and assistance with summer reading. During the summer, we also hand-schedule rising ninth graders based on SC READY data, final course grades, and recommendations from the feeder middle school. This creates a schedule that is tailored to students’ specific needs, increasing the likelihood of success during the ninth grade year.
Starting with the first day of high school, our freshmen become a part of our Bulldog family.
Their first day of high school is a full day Freshman Orientation. This day is led by student leaders and includes information about procedures, tours, clubs, and athletics. Our focus on freshman success continues throughout the school year. In conjunction with a team of teacher leaders and community members, we redesigned our ninth-grade experience by developing a mission statement, vision statement, and motto to reflect our overall beliefs. A three-tier Freshman Transition Program evolved from this stakeholder collaborative opportunity.
Tier 1 includes all of the experiences above and a Leadership CHS course required for all incoming freshmen. This course includes four domains: Being a Bulldog: Introduction to the Bulldog Family; Strategies for Success: Academic and Social; Career and College Exploration: Incorporating School Counselors; and Leadership: Laws and Qualities. In addition, our ninth grade school counselors and our Career Development Facilitator lead sections throughout the semester including Microburst soft skills training. Tier 2 includes students who did not meet eighth grade-level standards in reading and/or math courses, or students who did not meet standards on eighth-grade standardized testing. In addition to our Tier 1 experience, students who need additional support are enrolled in Secondary Literacy and/or Algebra 1 Mastery class during the fall semester of their ninth-grade year. These courses explicitly teach reading, writing, numeracy, and study strategies using Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC) and Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) so our students can meet and exceed grade-level standards. Tier 3 includes our most extensive interventions for approximately 50 identified students. We developed a learning community led by a strong team of enthusiastic, expert teachers to provide data-driven, student-centered instruction. We meet the academic needs of Tier 3 students by offering additional academic support using research-based practices including flexible grouping, community mentoring, individualized instruction, and interdisciplinary curriculum. Using the concepts of High Schools That Work and other extensive educational research, we give all students clearly defined standards for quality work, adequate support to achieve these standards, and an understanding of the relevance of curricular content and skills for their lives.
Ensuring that we support the whole child is the ultimate goal of providing strategic support for eighth grade to ninth grade transition. As middle and high school educators, we must answer the call of this important work by locking arms with our students and doing whatever it takes to create a foundation for student success. Please know that we understand the avenues mentioned above are not an exhaustive list, but we sincerely hope that something piqued your interest and that you will integrate something different and/or additional in upcoming years.
About Dr. Fran Rogers:
Dr. Rogers serves as Middle Level Academic Specialist for Greenville County Schools. Connect with Dr. Fran Rogers on Twitter @franguinnrogers.
About Lesley Corner: Lesley Corner serves as the 9th grade Assistant Principal at Camden High School. Connect with Lesley Corner on Twitter @lesley_corner.