The Freshman Transition Network

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

Part 4 – Creating a Freshman Transition Program – Which students?

Early in the process of creating a Freshman Transition Program most schools begin planning for which students will be a part of the program. Before sharing some ways to look at this question, let me first state 2 common pitfalls that schools fall into when answering this question.

Pitfall 1 – Starting with only the most “at-risk” students.
A program like this is destined for a stigma. Parents and students alike will not want to be a part of it. Teachers will not want to teach in this program. More importantly, though, is the fact that these students need opportunities to work side-by-side with students that are not like them. They need examples other than themselves. I have seen many schools that have tried such an approach, and it fails nearly every time – unless the approach taken is not a comprehensive one.

Pitfall 2 – Assuming that all freshman MUST be a part of the program
I will elaborate on this one for the remainder of the blog, but you heard me right, you can have a successful Freshman Transition Program that does not include all freshmen.

I have a hard time answering the question, “Which Students?” The reason is that I think it is the wrong question to ask. We advise schools to instead ask, “Which Courses?” Let me explain.

Rather than try to decide WHO will participate in the program, try deciding WHAT COURSES will participate. For example, most schools have 2 levels of English for freshmen – English 9 and some sort of Advanced or Honors English 9. (If you have more than 2 levels you might want to look at some of the research on tracking and hetergenous grouping. Try this site for a quick start:) Your school probably has 2 levels of each core area subject with the exception of Math which has more inherent levels. Take a look at your school’s data. I would be willing to bet that the students who take only your advanced 9th graded courses (usually a small number) do not have the same sort of problems as freshmen who chose either none or some of the advanced courses. This should make you ask yourself whether or not all freshmen need all of the supports you will be offering in your Freshman Transition Program.

Let’s use my school as an example. When freshman data was studied in the early 1990s, it was apparent that freshmen in English 9, World Geography (now we teach World History), Earth Science, and Algebra 1 were the students most in need of support. The students in Advanced (we call it Pre-IB) English 9 Pre-IB Chemistry, Pre-IB US History, and Pre-IB Algebra 2 on the other hand fared very well – better, in fact, than the typical student at other grade levels.

Why force these students into a more restrictive environment when they are already doing so well? Furthermore, 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. You might not have enough faculty members, rooms, or numbers of sections to put all 9th graders into the Transition Program. And that’s ok…

Consider including the courses that represent the problem freshmen. In our school that means English 9, World History, Earth Science, Algebra 1, and Geometry (Math courses have shifted over the years.) If students choose these courses then they are part of the Transition Program. If a student chooses some of these courses he or she is partially included. If a student chooses none of these courses then they are not included.

The point here is that students do not have to be forced into a program they might not need or pre-selected by some sort of school-created criteria. Instead, students in this model can be free to choose courses just like any other high school student. As you create your Freshman Transition Program be aware of the fact that:

1. Looking at students first might not be the best approach
2. It can be ok to not have all freshmen in your program
3. You need to be creative and be flexible. Do what works best for you, your students, and your master schedule.

Let me know if you questions or thoughts.

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