The Transition to High School: Why Are Today’s Freshmen Struggling?
It’s the rock bottom of a student’s educational career: The day a student drops out of high school. From there, the world may seem to go down in a spiral. Today, 16% of dropouts are unemployed and 32% live below the poverty line. Dropouts with jobs earn an average of only $12.75 per hour (Messacar 55). Students who do graduate from high school have an unemployment rate of only 7.6% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). While the graduation rate may be improving, there are still some out there who find it hard to adjust to the high school atmosphere after leaving their cozy little middle school. Sometimes, middle school poorly prepares their students for life in high school. Some students grow very stressed during their freshman year in high school which leads to a lower GPA. Freshman year is seen as the “make or break” year because the freshmen who fail their first year of high school will most likely drop out of high school altogether. To help these students, we can use solutions such as freshman academies, an interdisciplinary curriculum, and communication, which are a few yet effective solutions to ease a student’s transition to high school.
Freshman academies are a part of the high school that incorporates only freshman and gives them a more comfortable setting where they can use their freshman year as time to adjust McClain 2 to high school. Usually, this selects a part of the school for freshman use exclusively, or some go the extra mile to construct an actual freshman academy building. The students receive a teacher to teach their core classes throughout the entire year so they can grow more used to one group of teachers rather than have a new teacher every semester. The reason this solution is so helpful is because it improves the students’ attendance rate (which is another large reason why students start to drop out) and it improves their GPA by a reasonably large margin. It would also be beneficial to prepare students in middle school for the challenges high school will present. Simple solutions such as communication among teachers or using an interdisciplinary curriculum where teachers plan challenging projects or lessons that cut across subject-matter lines are a few working solutions.
These are just a few steps we can take to help students adjust to high school and not drop out. Between it all is communication where teachers from the high school and middle school will meet and discuss how they’re educating students so the teachers can all be on the same page.
So what happens after a student drops out of high school? Derek Messacar from the department of economics in the University of Toronto says Students who drop out are more likely to commit crimes, be unhealthy, are less likely to be married, and be much unhappy than the average high school graduate, yet the high school student dropout rate remain at roughly 30% over the past three decades (Messacar 55). Although dropout rates aren’t as high today, there are still many people who have these problems daily because they dropped out. So then why do students even consider dropping out? Reasons can vary from unexpected occurrences at home to financial difficulties. However, a majority of students are simply unmotivated (56). These problems can originate from the poor transition from middle school to high school. With McClain 3
such a drastic change in atmosphere, kids can become unmotivated to excel in school and wind up dropping out. Upon changing schools, students may experience loneliness because their friends went off to another high school or it could be the amount of difficult tests high schools present a student are too stressful on them. Kyle McCallumore and Ervin F Sparapani, two professors from Saginaw Valley State University who have written an academic journal on high school dropout rates, estimated that 22% of students repeat the ninth grade. However this number can be even higher when in urban areas. Only 10%-15% of students who repeat the ninth grade will actually graduate from high school (McCallumore and Sparapani 60). This is usually the result of when a student grows unattached from school and begins to receive inadequate grades. With the use of a freshman academy, however that can change for the better.
Even though freshman academies can be helpful, there is always some sort of fault about whether it is actually helping or not. Although students still merge with the rest of the school in elective classes, most freshmen would not appreciate being isolated because it gives them the inability to participate in school dances and sports activities (63). Usually, they have their own freshman teams and events. Some students feel that it’s the same as having two freshman years in high school. It has also been known to create rivalries between high school teachers who focus more on the freshmen rather than the rest of the school (McIntosh and White 46). Freshman academies can become ineffective if the teachers teaching them are not prioritizing these freshman students as the first priority. Schools would need a dedicated group of teachers willing to teach freshman and to help them adjust to the high school setting. Most of these problems are only social problems, however.
The good news about the freshman academy is its ability to improve a student’s performance in school. Freshman who are enrolled at freshman academies generally do better compared to freshman who aren’t. Julie McIntosh and Sandra H. White, two teachers who teach at Findlay, Ohio, conducted an experiment to see whether freshman academies were worth being used. Freshman who were enrolled showed improvement in attendance, behavior, parental contact, and teacher morale. Freshman also failed fewer classes and scored higher on standardized tests (41). The test was conducted for five consecutive years and each year showed the expulsion rate dropping exponentially from 20 students to only 4 students (48). Before the experiment was implemented, 29% of freshman failed one or more courses in their freshman year.
After the experiment was conducted, the failure rate dropped from 29% to 20.3% in a class average of 480 freshmen (47). Other experiments conducted at schools in Philadelphia and in Scott county Kentucky also showed promising results in the use of these academies. Teachers and students who were involved were very happy with the freshman academy idea. By giving students more space and attention, it helps drop the stress and engages the student more into what he or she is learning. This is one of the basic functions of the freshman academy and it has shown that it can work well. This solution helps to ease the transition from middle school to high school, but a factor that disrupts this method can be that a student isn’t learning everything he or she needs to learn in middle school.
The problem doesn’t have to start when a student gets into high school, it can be before they even enter high school. Many teachers from high schools usually don’t communicate with other teachers from middle schools in a given area. Instead they try to guess as to what the student has learned and when these guesses are wrong, the student will have a tough time trying McClain 5
to figure out how to learn. Patrick Akos and John P. Galassi, professors from The University of North Carolina stated that it is crucial that teachers from these different schools meet and be on the same page so students don’t get lost along the way (Akos and Galassi 217). Many teachers say that they feel incoming students from middle school are not readily prepared for the rigors of high school. A way to improve the performance of freshman academies, teachers from middle schools and high schools should communicate about how they’re educating students that are preparing for high school. Rather than having the student leap the gap, communication between teachers can help bridge the gap from middle school to high school for a smooth transition.
However, communication is only the first half. Next, middle school teachers have to be ready to challenge their students and help them improve more so they can be ready for school. Communication is only the first piece of the puzzle to this solution, after teachers are able to communicate, they should be able to adjust accordingly to make the high school transition less bumpy. The major problem in need of adjusting in most cases would be that middle school isn’t preparing students well enough to the point where they can readily enter high school. Louise Kennelly and Maggie Monrad from the national high school center say many students enter high school with very low reading comprehension skills which can cause students to adjust much slower at a place where academic and social demands are higher (Kennelly and Monrad 23). We can determine that kids aren’t learning everything they need to learn before entering high school. What would be a plausible and effective solution to prepare students for the freshman academy?
Joshua Smith, Patrick Akos, Sungtaek Lim, and Shanna Wiley, college professors from a variety of universities, tested to see if the use of an interdisciplinary curriculum, where teachers McClain 6
work together to plan rigorous lessons that involve critical thinking, would prove to be an effective learning strategy for middle school students. The conclusion was that the interdisciplinary curriculum proved to be very successful. The students scored higher on state standardized tests and students earned fewer suspensions after the curriculum was implemented (Smith et al. 35). These strategies proved to be successful at schools such as Pasadena Middle School in Maryland and Northwest Rankin Middle School in Mississippi. Even though collaborative strategies such as these work most of the time, there may be some students who still don’t understand well enough. It is very important that these middle school teachers can also notice the students who aren’t keeping up with the pace and to help them. When teachers notice the problem, they must get the student to acknowledge the problem as well and help them through the situation. It is helpful when teachers listen to these students’ problems and help them plan out what to do next. Simple one-on-one time with a student may not seem like much, but it makes a noticeable difference later on. Students who aren’t able to keep up in middle school will more than likely not be able to keep up in high school. Luckily, if middle school teachers can help struggling students, they can set them on a path to success in high school (Akos and Galassi 219).
The reason these methods are the most effective is because not only do they show great improvement in a student’s academic career, but it’s also cheap and easy. Most freshman academies only require a simple change in organization to make it work. The same idea applies for an interdisciplinary curriculum. Students and teachers don’t have to take any extra time out of their day teaching classes after school since these solutions will help bring struggling students up to speed during school. If we were to do nothing, the gap between high school and middle McClain school cannot be cleared as easily and we will see many kids failing their freshman year for the same common reasons.
Since freshman year is seen as the “make or break” time for whether a student will receive passing grades in high school, it is absolutely critical that freshman and middle school students receive help when they make the transition to high school. With these solutions showing promising results, schools around the nation can be a more comfortable and engaging place to learn. The chances that there will be fewer students dropping out are convincingly high and we can set students on a more secure path to a career they can enjoy. Schools around the country should work together to help students achieve academic success because by helping students adjust and learn, we can give these students better lives.
Adams, Caralee J. “Completing High School: “2013 Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic”.” Education Week 32.22 (2013): 5+. ProQuest Social Sciences Premium Collection. Web. 12 Oct. 2013. Akos, Patrick, and John P. Galassi. “Middle and High School Transitions as Viewed by Students, Parents, and Teachers.”Professional School Counseling 7.4 (2004): 212-21. ProQuest Social Sciences Premium Collection. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table A-4. Employment Status of the Civilian Population 25 Years and Over by Educational Attainment. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Washington D.C.: United States Department of Labor, 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. Kennelly, Louise, and Maggie Monrad. Easing the Transition to High School: research and Best Practices Designed to Support High School Learning. Washington D.C.: National High School Center, 2007. 31-39. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. McCallumore, Kyle M., and Ervin F. Sparapani. “The Importance of the Ninth Grade on High School Graduation Rates and Student Success in High School.” Education 130.3 (2010): 447-56. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Oct. 2013. McIntosh, Julie, and Sandra H. White. “Building for Freshman Success: High Schools Working as Professional Learning Communities.” American Secondary Education 34.2 (2006): 40-49. ProQuest Social Sciences Premium Collection. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.
Messacar, Derek, and Philip Oreopoulos. “Staying in School: A Proposal for
Raising High-School Graduation Rates.” Issues in Science ; Technology 29.2 (2013): 55-61. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. Smith, Joshua S., Patrick Akos, Sungtaek Lim, and Shanna Wiley. “Student and Stakeholder Perceptions of the Transition to High School.” The High School Journal 91.3 (2007): 32-42. JSTOR. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.