The Freshman Transition Network

Working together to transition freshmen & transform schools from the bottom up!

Part 1 - Creating a Freshman Transition Program

My plan is to post a series of blog posts about creating a Freshman Transition Program in your school. I’m going to start at the beginning and go through some recommendations step-by-step. These ideas are based on my experience at my own school (Salem High School in Salem, VA) and on my experiences as a consultant for Solutions, etc. working with numerous schools in 18 states. I hope you’ll find these ideas and suggestions helpful. Please be sure to let me know if you have any questions and to leave comments if you have additional ideas that others could benefit from.

The first thing I would recommend is that you check out this suggested timeline that Ray Moore and I created. It could give you a good overview of things to consider when creating a Freshman Transition Program.

Next, don’t blindly adopt a program that someone else uses. Instead, create something that meets your school’s needs. To do this, the first thing you will need to do is to identify your school’s needs. It’s easy to simply say that we have a “freshman problem,” but what exactly is your “freshman problem”?

Start by examining data. You might look at data related to:
1. Drop outs
2. Course failures
3. Retention
4. Attendance
5. Discipline
6. GPA
7. Credits earned
8. Course requests
9. Course enrollments

Study this data. What are your school’s weaknesses? What are your school’s strengths?

Does your “freshman problem” involve all your freshmen? Many schools try to apply their freshman solution to all their freshmen despite the fact that year in and year out there is a sizable portion of the 9th grade class that doesn’t share in the problem. This might be an ok strategy; however, it could also be like putting a square peg into a round hole. You’re going to have make some decisions and set some priorities that will impact your school. You want this impact to help your freshmen without negatively impacting the rest of your school. It might be that you don’t need to apply your freshman solution to all freshmen. It’s not uncommon to have a group that might range in size from 10 – 20% that are doing just fine and that might not need the entire freshman solution. Forcing all students into the same solution can sometimes create too many constraints on your school’s master schedule and resources and make the entire Freshman Transition Program unworkable.

Once the data has been gathered, it is wise to present an overview of it to your faculty. Invite anyone interested to become part of a freshman committee that will begin meeting, analyzing this data, discussing your school’s freshmen, and creating a solution tailor-made to your school’s needs. An open invitation to your faculty is important because it gives everyone a chance to give input and let’s the faculty know that this new program is going to be something they create rather than something forced upon them. You might pick up some individuals that you never would have thought would be interested. However, it’s also a good idea to personally invite the teachers you really hope will take an active role in your Freshman Transition Program.

The next post will deal with the idea of the academy approach (where freshmen are separated) v. the idea of keeping freshmen integrated with the rest of the school’s population.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

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Comment by Scott Habeeb on March 22, 2009 at 10:28pm
The following statement should have been written differently in my reply to Esther:

Why did we do things this way? For 2 reasons:
1. When we studied our data (as I recommended all schools do) we found that students that took only our advanced 8th graded courses (usually a small number) did not have the same sort of problems that freshmen who chose a different sort of courses did. This leads to number 2…

Instead it should have read:
"that took only our advanced 9th graded courses "
Comment by Esther on March 12, 2009 at 6:11pm
Actually that does answer all of my questions. Thank you. I am so looking forward to seeing you here in Iowa in April. Hopefully it will warm up before you get here. Esther
Comment by Scott Habeeb on March 9, 2009 at 9:45pm

Your question is an excellent one. In fact, I will be discussing that topic in some detail in a later post when I talk about teaming courses instead of students.

The answer to your question is varied. Since you asked it this way, I’ll answer it specifically for Salem High School. To do that, let me clarify that at Salem High School we really don’t follow the “academy” model. As I said in the original post, this will be the topic of my next post. But for now, let me just say that we do not separate out our freshmen into an academy or special "freshman wing" at Salem High School.

So to answer your question – yes, our Freshman Teams only include some freshmen. However, we do not decide WHO will participate. Instead we choose WHAT COURSES will participate. For example, we have 2 levels of English for freshmen – English 9 and, what we call, English 9 Pre-IB (think honors or advanced). We team our English 9 sections (usually we have 10 which is 5 per team). We do not team out Pre-IB sections (usually we have 4 or 5). We team Earth Science (again, usually 10 sections which is 5 per team), and we do not team Chemistry Pre-IB.

The point here is that students are not forced into a team or pre-selected by some sort of school-created criteria. Instead, students are free to choose courses just like any other high school student. If they choose teamed courses then they are teamed. If they choose some teamed courses but not all, then they are partially teamed. If they choose no teamed courses then they are not teamed at all.

Why did we do things this way? For 2 reasons:
1. When we studied our data (as I recommended all schools do) we found that students that took only our advanced 8th graded courses (usually a small number) did not have the same sort of problems that freshmen who chose a different sort of courses did. This leads to number 2…
2. Trying to force too many students into a certain mold can place too many parameters on a master schedule and can limit students’ choices and opportunities.

Finally, you asked if we have required courses of all freshmen. The answer is sort of. All of our freshmen take:
1. English (Eng 9 or Pre-IB)
2. History (World or US)
3. Math (Alg 1 Part 1, Alg 1 Part 2, Geometry, or Algebra 2)
4. Science (Earth Science or Chemistry Pre-IB)

I hope this answer helps. Thanks for the question. Much of this will be repeated in more detail in a future post.
Comment by Esther on March 8, 2009 at 10:57pm
Does the academy at Salem High school only have some freshmen in it and if so how did you decide who would be participating? Do you have required classes for all freshmen? Esther Molyneux

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