Transitions are tough on kids. We know this from personal experience - all one has to do is think back to when it was time to leave the park and your child wanted no part of it. Schools are not an exception to this rule and one of the hardest transitions is the move from 8th to 9th grade.
Life Becomes Real for Ninth Graders
Not only is this a time when students are going through major physical changes, they are also faced with all the pressure that comes with being a high schooler. Grades that count, a much larger student body and campus, and the prospect of college looming on the horizon.
Ninth Grade Can Set the Tone for the Rest of High School
Studies show (just as with the freshman year of college) that 9th grade can be a predictor for the rest of high school and that their perception of self can be largely impacted by this first year. If they fall behind, they are much less likely to find success later on, and if they succeed, they will build upon good habits and gain the confidence to continue on.
What Can Schools Do?
1. Create Small Learning Communities
One model of support is the creation of “pods” or “homes”, that keep students with a common set of teachers, so that each teaching group can communicate with each other, ensuring regular check-ins about student progress. For example, at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, a school of 1,400 students (roughly the same size as SPHS), students are placed into smaller learning communities of roughly 100 students when they enter 9th grade. With limited budgets and a lack of resources available for adequate counseling ratios on campus, this model can use the resources already available to help provide support and guidance for our students.
2. Build Freshman Support Systems
Other possibilities include freshman advisory groups, where students have an advisor that guides them through this transition, providing general academic and social support, while providing simple lessons around time management, organization, note-taking, etc. The mentors can work with students, families, and administration when they see a student struggling. These advisors come in the form of classroom teachers that meet with a small group of students and provide the ongoing support students need.
3: Build Pre-Ninth Grade Transition Programs
Over the years, I have paid close attention on both the bridge (5th to 8th) and transition (6th to 9th) years to help support my students from one division to the next. As we examine that first year of high school, we should also look to the 8th grade to identify what skills can be built to better prepare our students for that next step. How can we build resilience and executive functioning skills within in our students so that they are ready for the increased autonomy that comes with high school.
What can we do to build effective programming?
The consequences of struggling during Freshman year may be too much to recover from. By being proactive, our schools can establish successful programs that support our students and prepare them for the life of a high schooler. By taking action to support these students before they fall too far behind to recover, we can ensure a smoother transition as they make their way to graduation.
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About Zahir Robb
Zahir Robb holds a graduate degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, and has worked in pre-K to 12th grade settings over the past 15 years. He has significant experience in curriculum development, school design, and school culture.
He is currently running for the South Pasadena School Board, in the city where he was born and raised. Both Zahir and his wife are products of the South Pasadena public schools and they are now raising their three children within the community.