Confronting the transition to high school
Mr. McNamar posted some excellent points at The Daily Grind regarding the struggle of freshmen as they transition to high school, and Graycie has a thought-provoking post of her own on the same subject entitled Transition Years.
This subject has been of great interest to me, since I was a middle school teacher for many years. Anyone who has been following this blog from its inception knows that while I adore middle school kids, I am no fan of the "middle school philosophy." I don't think we help our kids get an education by allowing them to coast academically for several years while they try to get their heads on straight-- I don't believe that should be the primary goal of education.
So I found this news article interesting:
"It's giving us better perspective. We're learning to be proactive rather than reactive."
These are not the words of a junior vice president for internal marketing at an annuity brokerage. They were spoken by Demarco DeAndre Shaw, a young man on the brink of his freshman year at the city's Clyde C. Miller Career Academy High School.
Let's acknowledge that "proactive" is not a word normally bantered about by high school freshmen. Ditto "synergy," "prioritize" and - especially - "self-awareness."
What, then, was Shaw talking about as he sat at a table with a group of classmates last week in the Miller cafeteria?
Precisely what St. Louis schools Superintendent Creg Williams hoped Shaw and other freshmen would say when he added a class on self-development to the summer school curriculum.
To understand how Williams concluded that next year's ninth-graders could use a course with the "7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens" as a text, it's instructive to look at the most recent group of freshmen to enter the city's high school.
At one point last winter, over 70 percent of that ninth-grade class lacked one or more of the credits needed to move to the 10th grade. Alarmed by the numbers, Williams yanked the entire freshman class out of Vashon High School halfway through the school year and installed them in a new ninth-grade academy a few blocks away.
By the time classes ended, the performance of ninth-graders had improved somewhat. Meanwhile, Williams decided to launch a pre-preemptive strike he hopes will keep the district's history of low-performing freshmen from repeating itself.
First, he mandated that incoming ninth-graders - with a few exemptions - attend summer school.
Second, in addition to classes aimed at improving math and language arts skills, he introduced a class meant to teach freshmen what it means and what it takes to succeed at the high school level.
"It's important they understand that they have to change their lifestyle to adapt to high school," said Williams.
To put students on the path, Williams assigned the teen edition of the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," the best-selling self-help tome by Stephen R. Covey.
The "7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens," written by Covey's son Sean Covey, provides a litany of common-sense advice, from developing effective study habits to resisting negative peer pressure.
"It gives them the tools they need to be successful in high school, a head start for what's to come," said Jacqueline Farwell, a Clyde C. Miller counselor who teaches the effective teens class.
Right now, Covey's bromides are just words in a book. But Miller freshman Bria Harris can already see how one of the seven habits - putting first things first (also known as prioritizing) - will help her become more effective once school begins in August.
"You have too much to worry about in high school - homework, studying, your reputation, problems at home, the kids at school. This will really help," she said.
While prioritizing is all well and good, Harris and Shaw agree with Covey that another "P" word is the "key to unlocking all the other habits."
Being proactive, writes Covey, means "I am the force. I am the captain of my life. I can choose my attitude. I'm responsible for my own happiness or unhappiness. I am in the driver's seat of my destiny, not just a passenger."
Or, to put it another way, "When somebody tells you that you need to go somewhere with them, you tell them you have to study."
So said Shaw, spoken from the perspective of a proactive ninth-grader.
The transition to high school can be so brutal for so many students. Give the (relatively new) superintendent credit for bold action. At the same time he pulled the ninth graders out, he also arranged for upperclassmen who had demonstrated potential to attend classes at a local public university, as a taste of what they could accomplish if they dedicated themselves to academic success.
Let me tell you, when he pulled the 9th graders out of their school in the middle of the year, there was some uproar. One kid even was verbally disrepsectful to the superintendent at an assembly he held with the students (he was shocked by this behavior, a bit naively.)
Perhaps he should go further. I wonder if, once he pulled the 9th graders out and gave them the summer school shock treatment, Mr. Williams should start building a high school around those students who have undergone intervention as an experiment to determine the effect of the interventions free of corrosive influences.
It is obvious something has to be done given the crisis in the St. Louis Public Schools, and indeed nearly all urban school districts across the nation.