The Freshman Transition Network

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I teach at a large high school of about 2200 kids with a very diverse student body.  The incoming freshman class will have 575+ students.  We team and the team teachers meet 2x week during the school day to discuss student issues.  The kids are housed in one building (our entire campus is made up of separate buildings, similar to a small college) and attend core classes there, but they go to other buildings for PE, Health, world languages, electives, lunch, reading, and study halls, depending on their individual schedules. 

 

This week, it was announced at a faculty meeting that the needs of a large number of incoming freshmen are so great that we need to provide additional supports.  One of our 5 teams will now become a "transitional" team and will teach approximately 75-95 kids who need the most support.  They will have Math, Science, English, and History with the team.  They'll also take health (which is being moved into the same building), PE, and all will get intensive reading support in a class with a reading specialist.  At present, the plan is to keep them out of electives and put them in a study hall-- also with one of the team teachers.  Class sizes could range from 15-19 and will have a full-time paraprofessional in each. 

 

I'm looking for opinions on this plan.  Do you think it is a sound idea?  We have never grouped our students like this before.  We have always had them mostly heterogeneously grouped (except for math) and divided among the 5 teams.  The team will have the majority of our special needs students, probably many ELL students, and all will be reading significantly below grade level based on standardized testing (students are all performing at the basic or below basic level).  

 

I see many opportunities for interdisciplinary instruction and hands-on learning.  However, I'm also concerned that the kids will have little to no exposure to students who could be role models.  I'm also concerned about teacher turn-over as this will be a very demanding, high-energy teaching assignment. 

 

I apologize for the lengthy post and thank all of you who stuck with me to the end.  Michelle :-)

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Michelle - I obviously know nothing about your school (other than what you've posted here) and have no understanding of its climate or culture.  Therefore, it's difficult for me to answer your question with specificity.  However, I can tell you a few general things:

  1. Homogeneous grouping has its place, but to make it the rule to that degree for the majority of a day seems to ignore what we know is best for students.
  2. With a freshman class that large I am sure that you have more than 75-95 students who are in need of support.  I would suggest that more than just those students are in need of a supportive transitional team.  Perhaps the new team will be doing important work - but this might be evidence that more needs to be done with your other teams.  
  3. I'd suggest you take a look at what the problem is.  Sometimes we start thinking about solutions before we truly grasp the problem.  Is the problem that these 75-95 students have electives?  Is it caused by them having electives?  Does the same problem exist for all 75-95?
  4. I think it could be a recipe for teacher burn-out.  Some folks would love the challenge, but it will take a very specific teacher - someone you might not always be able to find.  I definitely hope this team doesn't become the place where the newbies get placed.  It will require your very best educators.
  5. Is it too much?  I think the best answers usually require the fewest changes/alterations to a school.  You want a sustainable solution.  I fear that this might be too much for the teachers, the students, and the school to keep going.  I can see this being one of those things that in the future you'll look back on and say "We used to do that..."  I like programs that last year and after year.  Usually the simpler ones last.

I guess in my gut I'm not crazy about this - but again, I do not know your school.  Let me know if I can ever help.  I regularly work with schools across the country on these exact needs/issues.

Michelle - I should add that I have written a book on Freshman Transition Teams.  Perhaps it might be helpful.  You can find it at this link: http://solutionsetc.org/form/bookorder.html

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