Helping middle school students succeed in high school: ‘Countdown to High School’

21 Nov

Education.com posted the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s article, Teens and Middle School:

The transition to middle school is a major life event for parents and youth.
Students worry about:
• Getting to class on time;
• Finding lockers, classes, and bathrooms;
• Keeping up with the work; and
• Getting through the crowded halls.
Students may also be struggling with concerns about:
• Aggressive or violent behavior from other students;
• Less connection with their parents;
• Less free time;
• Attractiveness and peer status;
• Physical development differences between males and females;
• Increasing peer pressure;
• Development changes associated with puberty;
• Increased parental expectations; and
• More responsibility.
All of this is normal and the best thing you can do for yourself is to talk about your feelings, fears, and thoughts with your friends, family, parents, or other caring adults. You are not alone – other youth your age are dealing with these same concerns….http://www.education.com/reference/article/teens-middle-school/

Some school districts are trying to ease the transition from elementary school to middle school to high school.

Suzi Parker of Takepart wrote in the article, High School Success May Depend on Lessons Middle Schools Don’t Teach:

Leaving middle school for high school can be a scary time for teenagers. Scarier than they even know.
Not only do ninth graders suddenly have more responsibility, more homework, and more life stress, without much guidance on how to cope, but high school is when the dropout risk looms largest.
Countdown to High School, a Boston program, is trying to aleviate some of this stress for teenagers and help keep them in school.
The program began a few years ago when Neema Avashia, a civics teacher at Boston’s McCormack Middle School, along with a few other educators, realized that kids, even high-performing kids, were desperately struggling in their first year of high school….
The program, based on national and local research, began as a pilot program for middle and high school teachers with funding in six schools. In two years, the program grew to 34 schools. Then last year, the funding ended, and the group had to rethink their model. Now, Countdown to High School is a three-hour stand-alone graduate course that 50 teachers in Boston have participated in so far.
For students, the program begins at the end of 8th grade when trained teachers present a series of lessons that address issues 9th graders grapple with.
In Boston, like in many U.S. cities, students don’t have to attend a school near their home but rather can choose where they want to go. In many instances, students have to participate in a lottery process. Other schools make students pass exams. Some pilot schools require students write essays and obtain letters of recommendation. It’s a complicated process without much guidance, Avashia says. So her program helps kids through it.
Once they know where they’re going, students are asked find the quickest public transportation route to their school. They are made familiar with the websites where this information is found. They also talk about scheduling and decide on a wake-up time.
GPA is another issue the curriculum covers. One student in a video short about Countdown to High School sums it up by saying, “Don’t be so caught up in friends. Don’t hangout in the hallways. Students do that, I mean that’s the first thing they do. Stay on top of your schoolwork from the beginning. A lot of people decide to slack freshman year and say, ‘Oh I have two or three more years up until I become a senior and that’s when I can start building.’ But think about GPA. Your GPA has to be good from the beginning, not just the middle of the year.” In Countdown to High School, students are taught how to correctly calculate a GPA and are told how truancy can negatively affect it.
The program also asks kids to be real with themselves if they begin to miss classes. They are encouraged to ask themselves about why they are cutting—is it that they’re not waking up early enough or that their friends are pressuring them or that they just don’t feel comfortable in that class, or in school in general? Countdown gives them tools to make relationships with teachers and deal with any of these scenarios.
After middle school graduation the students are greeted by similar lessons as they begin 9th grade. This ensures that students are thinking in advance about how to deal with the new challenges as they begin their high school careers.
But it’s not all left up to educators. Avashia says many times parents also don’t know where to turn to help and teachers may not know the answers. That’s why the course also requires teachers to write a school plan memo that includes how families will be meaningfully engaged in the choice and transition process.
Transition programs for students or teachers are rare in the United States. Washington has one called “Project Graduation” that includes a “Gear Up” component to identify 7th- and 8th-grade students needing help and a four- to six-week summer program to help them. Hawaii has a plan to help 9th-grade students receive the instructional and support services they need to complete high school, including tutoring and academic summer camps….http://news.yahoo.com/high-school-success-may-depend-lessons-middle-schools-195823440.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory
Here is information about Countdown to High School:
Welcome to the Countdown to High School Wiki!
The Countdown to High School (CD2HS) initiative is a program designed to support 8th and 9th grade students in Boston Public Schools (BPS) as they make the transition to high school. This website is filled with curriculum and materials you can use to help 8th and 9th grade students with this transition. The CD2HS initiative is run by BPS teachers and administrators who are continually revising and updating materials. Please review all materials prior to using them to ensure they are adapted to your school’s needs.
We always welcome feedback: cd2hsboston@gmail.com
What is Countdown to High School?
CD2HS is run by teachers and administrators in BPS. We propose a series of interventions to facilitate the transition to high school, thereby reducing student failure and increasing the likelihood that students will go on to complete the college application process four years later. We firmly believe that students are entitled to clear, consistent support structures as they make one of the most important decisions and transitions of their educational careers.
We intend to provide support to students on both ends of the transition–8th graders who are in the process of deciding what high school to go to, and 9th grade students who are entering new schools, and trying to navigate the transition.
Why is there a need for such a program?
A recent Boston Public Schools-commissioned report showed that only 53% of high school students at Boston’s non-exam schools make it through high school in four years; about three out of four of the students who don’t graduate in four years ultimately drop out. Importantly, this study pointed to the 8th and 9th grade years as critical ones in predicting whether students graduate.
Having over 30 high schools to choose from, all with different themes, different services, different class sizes, different application processes, and different academic outcomes can prove to be an overwhelming decision for middle school students and their families, particularly given the lack of readily available information about the schools
Even after students have chosen a high school, there continue to be challenges inherent in the transition such as: transportation, attendance, change in academic expectations, lack of structured afterschool time, decreased communication as students get older, and appropriate school match.
Here is a list of topics addressed at the site:
1. home
2. 8th Grade Lessons
3. 8th Grade Resources
4. 9th Grade Lessons
5. 9th Grade Resources
6. Calendar
7. Family Resources
8. Graduate Course 2012-2013
9. Meeting Handouts
10. Surveys
11. Transition Coordinator Information
http://cd2hs.wikispaces.com/

RAND’s policy brief, Problems and Promise of the American Middle School details the issues students face in middle school:

Today in the United States, nearly nine million students attend public “middle schools” — schools that serve as an intermediary phase between elementary school and high school, typically consisting of grades 6-8. The middle school years represent a critical time for young teens. Middle schools have been blamed for the increase in student behavior problems and cited as the cause of teens’ alienation, disengagement from school, and low achievement.
What are America’s middle schools really like? RAND Education researchers undertook a comprehensive assessment of the American middle school, made particularly timely and important by the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which emphasizes test-based accountability and sanctions for failing schools. The researchers describe their findings in Focus on the Wonder Years: Challenges Facing the American Middle School. The RAND Corporation report includes some practical advice about how to deal with the challenges middle schools face and proposes a research agenda that might yield additional information for improving the schools.
The State of the American Middle School
In the 1980s, reformers endorsed a new middle school “concept” intended to change the traditional junior high school to create an educational experience more appropriate for young adolescents. The goal was to make the old junior high more developmentally responsive by changing the grade configuration from grades 7-8 or 7-9 to grades 6-8 and introducing new organizational and instructional practices (e.g., interdisciplinary team teaching).
Today, many schools are organized around the 6-8 configuration, and the well-being of middle school students generates tremendous interest from committed educators, innovative reformers, and private foundations. However, in spite of these well-intentioned improvement efforts, middle schools do not yet fully serve the needs of young teens, and several challenges remain. RAND’s main findings and recommendations are summarized below.
Separating the Middle Grades Is Associated with Transition Problems
The history of reform indicates that a separate middle school has become the norm more because of societal and demographic pressures than because of scientific evidence supporting the need for a separate school for young teens. In fact, there is evidence suggesting that separate schools and the transitions they require can cause problems that negatively affect students’ developmental and academic progress. RAND recommends that, over the coming years, states and school districts consider alternatives to the 6-8 structure to reduce multiple transitions for students and allow schools to better align their goals across grades K-12.
Progress on Academic Outcomes Is Uneven
Data show slow but steady increases in achievement scores since the 1970s. However, about 70 percent of American 8th-grade public-school students fail to reach proficient levels of performance in reading, mathematics, and science on national achievement tests. This is particularly true for Latinos and African Americans, who continue to lag behind their white counterparts, even when their parents have had college educations. We recommend adoption of various forms of supplemental services that have been proven effective for the lowest-performing students, including summer school programs before 6th grade and additional reading and math courses after 6th grade.
Conditions for Learning Are Sub optimal
Conditions for learning are factors that can enhance or diminish a student’s ability to learn. Particularly relevant to young teens are motivational and social-emotional indicators of well-being that are related to academic performance. Disengagement and social alienation not only are related to low achievement but also predict dropping out. National school safety statistics suggest that physical conflict is especially problematic in middle schools, and student concerns about safety predict emotional distress that can compromise academic performance. Such findings underscore the need to examine a variety of student outcomes in addition to academic indicators. Schools need to adopt comprehensive prevention models (e.g., school wide anti bullying programs) that focus on changing the social norms that foster antisocial behavior.
The Vision of the Middle School Has Not Been Fully Implemented
The continuing lackluster performance of middle schools might also be explained, in part, by inadequate implementation of the middle school concept in most districts and schools.[1] Core practices such as interdisciplinary team teaching and advisory programs tend to be weakly implemented with little attention to the underlying goals. A sufficient level of fidelity to many of the reform practices is not possible without substantial additional attention, resources, and long-term support.
Middle School Teachers and Principals Lack Appropriate Training and Support
Many middle school teachers do not have a major, minor, or certification in the subjects they teach or training in the development of young adolescents. Evidence-based models of professional development for teachers should be adopted to improve the subject-area expertise and the pedagogical skills of teachers.
Principals face similar training issues, in addition to another challenge: Disciplinary issues increase a principal’s workload and can decrease the time and effort the individual has to spend on other leadership functions. Different management approaches need to be considered that permit principals to delegate their managerial duties and foster a school climate that is conducive to teaching and learning.
Parental Support Wanes
Research shows that parental involvement declines as students progress through school and that middle schools do less than elementary schools do to engage parents. Middle schools should provide information about school practices and offer concrete suggestions for activities that parents and teens can do together at home.
New Reform Models Show Promise
Our review of whole-school reforms and professional development practices identified some promising models that address both academic achievement and the development needs of young teens. If fully implemented, these models might propel our schools forward toward the high levels of achievement that are the goal of NCLB.
Looking Ahead
Today’s emphasis on higher standards (such as those NCLB articulates) and on increased accountability through academic testing poses at least two challenges for middle schools. First, as legislation focused solely on academic achievement outcomes holds greater sway, the developmental needs of children might take second place, even though the two are highly interrelated. Second, it is unclear whether adequate federal and state supports are available for schools and students to meet the new standards. Regardless of the nature and scope of the next middle-grade reform efforts, state and federal support is needed at this time, and the efforts of various agencies, organizations, and foundations should be well coordinated. Continuity of effort is likely to provide the right conditions for student growth, institutional improvement, and educational progress. While NCLB creates a feeling of urgency, that urgency should be translated into steady, reasoned attempts to improve the schooling of all our young teens.
________________________________________
[1] R. D. Felner, A. W. Jackson, D. Kasak, P. Mulhall, S. Brand, and N. Flowers, “The Impact of School Reform for the Middle Years: Longitudinal Study of a Network Engaged in Turning Points-Based Comprehensive School Transformation,” Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 78, No. 7, 1997, pp. 528-550, and R. Williamson and J. H. Johnston, “Challenging Orthodoxy: An Emerging Agenda for Middle Level Reform,” Middle School Journal, March 1999, pp. 10-17.
________________________________________
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This product is part of the RAND Corporation research brief series. RAND research briefs present policy-oriented summaries of individual published, peer-reviewed documents or of a body of published work.
This research brief describes work done for RAND Education documented in Focus on the Wonder Years: Challenges Facing the American Middle School by Jaana Juvonen, Vi-Nhuan Le, Tessa Kaganoff, Catherine Augustine, and Louay Constant, MG-139-EDU (available online), 2004, 152 pages, ISBN: 0-8330-3390-5. It is also available from RAND Distribution Services (phone: 310-451-7002; toll free in the U.S.: 877-584-8642).
Copyright © 2004 RAND Corporation
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world. RAND’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.
http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB8025/index1.html

See, How to Prepare Your Tween for the Middle School Transition http://www.parentmap.com/article/how-to-prepare-your-tween-for-the-middle-school-transition

PBS Kids has some great information for parents at It’s My Life. http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/school/middleschool/
Some kids need more support than others, but most will require some support in making the transition to middle school.

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