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Transition Programs Summary

What is it?

Youth regularly go through transitions – changing grade levels, changing schools, transitioning from school to work – however, such transitions are often left out of schools efforts to support students. Every transition can develop and increase problems or they could be a natural opportunity to promote positive learning, develop positive attitudes and promote social and emotional development. Research indicates (Cauley & Jovanovich, 2008):

  • More students fail ninth grade than any other grade of school
  • Poor and minority students are twice as likely as others to be retained
  • Among fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds who struggle with basic reading and mathematics skills, 20 percent drop out of school within two years
  • A study of fifty-six Georgia and Florida high schools found that schools with extensive transition programs had significantly lower failure and dropout rates than those schools that did not offer comprehensive programs

Schools need to address transitions proactively in order to enhance their own goals of supporting youth development. Examples of transition opportunities include welcoming new arrivals, providing ongoing social supports as students adjust to new grades or new schools, and using before and after-school and summer activities to support students’ academic and social-emotional development to promote success in school.

Transition programs are beneficial during any transitional time, and at any grade level (from home to kindergarten, from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school).

Why is it important?

Transitions from grade levels are marked by several changes in educational expectations and practices. Transitional issues can be compounded when a student is transiting into a new school – not just a new grade.

In the transition in and out of middle school, youth experience an environmental transition and personal transition. The environment in an elementary school – self-contained classrooms, familiar set of peers, one or two teachers – is strikingly different than middle school – more classrooms, more teachers, more interactions with peers. Social, developmental, and academic experiences are affected by these transitions. Some transitions coincide with a youth transitioning from childhood to adolescence.

A well-designed transition plan can help alleviate the anxiety and confusion and restore a sense of belonging that students felt at their old school, or old grade.

Youth entering middle school routinely express concern about finding their way around and getting to class on time, dealing with lockers, and meeting and mixing with other students. They worry about their academics, extracurricular activities and homework. Schools can implement orientation activities that demystify the new middle school environment. Middle school students transitioning into high school express similar concerns.

Students’ experience in their first year of high school often determines their success throughout high school and beyond. More students fail ninth grade than any other grade. This transition time is characterized as a time when students experience a decline in grades and attendance, school systems must support first year high school students to improve their chances of success.

Transition programs can include a variety of activities, but some essential components include providing students and their family with information about the new school, providing students with social support, and bringing school personnel (elementary to middle, middle to high school) together to learn about one another’s curriculum and requirements.

In designing transition programs it is important to include all groups involved, including educators, families and students. Youth can be very effective in designing programs to support their peers because at one point they were in transition too. Involve second year students to help develop and carry out transition programs. Families who have successfully transitioned into the school can be a support for entering families – answering questions, providing suggestions, helping with orientation, among other things.

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