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Posted under: Race & Identity Education

Supporting Transitions: Effective Ways to Guide Students Through Changes

Why institutional support for students matters.

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Schools exist in our collective consciousness as agents of both liberation and restraint. Schools can determine if you remain trapped in your cycle of poverty or if you’re able to escape its grasp. Full of both potential and harm, the influence of schools on lives, especially the lives of the marginalized, cannot be overstated.

Challenges faced by underprivileged students are often complex and seemingly unending. Grappling with issues such as segregation, school funding and the achievement gap, can cause paralysis when trying to envision and materialize a better future for youth who deserve one. However, as long as problems remain ubiquitous, so do their solutions.

Institutionalizing support for underprivileged students during unsettling times, taps into the potential of schools and their influence on futures. Transitions between middle school to high school and high school to college are key areas where room for improvement is gaping. The vital transition made between middle school and high school can have long term impacts on a student’s life. Ninth grade is one of the most failed grades and starting high school off on the wrong foot can potentially derail a student’s academic career and eventually their life outcomes.

The transition into high school can be an intimidating experience. Students are often overwhelmed with the change of environment, uprooted from their familiar social surroundings and struggle to meet new academic demands. These pressures coupled with personal, familial and social issues can compound and cause unsupported students to give up.

As a first generation student, I often experienced isolation and confusion while trying to navigate school systems on my own. The most disorienting however, was my transition from middle school to high school. I remember stumbling through this awkward transition into late adolescence, feeling unprepared for the amount of change and decision making that awaited. I watched my privileged peers feel supported by their social capital which assisted them with new academic demands, college exploration and long term goals. While I, along with other marginalized students, didn’t fare as well. As privileged students eased their way into and throughout high school, underprivileged students were often left to grapple with these changes on their own; causing many to drop out and disengage. What we lacked in social capital, could have and should have, been supplemented with institutional support.

Without adequate support at key stages in their academic careers, students who come from marginalized backgrounds are untapped gold mines. If essential transitions, such as the one between middle school and high school aren’t addressed, we risk too many lives falling between the cracks of a system that could have served them, but did not.

So what does an effective middle school to high school transition system look like? Primarily, the transition should be an effort that both middle schools and high schools are participating in. Out of date or misleading information is often given to students and families about their former and impending environments causing families and students to be ill prepared for their transition.

Secondly, parents and families are key stakeholders in ensuring the success of their children throughout high school. Empowering parents with accurate and useful information about what it takes to succeed in high school is instrumental in ensuring their children are transitioning successfully.

Furthermore, instituting formal transition programs have proven to positively impact students’ early high school experiences. Implementing better transitions programs can increase retention, influence graduation rates and ultimately impact lives. Programs such an orientations, mentoring and formal open house events for eighth graders and their parents could have drastic effects on decreasing the anxiety experienced by students as they transition into high school.

Fostering academic success among marginalized students is not an easy task, but it is a possible one. Proactively supporting transitions are essential to cultivating long and healthy academic careers. What are your thoughts on the transition between middle school and high school? Let us know in the comments below.

The views in this piece reflect those of Blavity, with funding provided by the Gates Foundation

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Blavity Staff Writer