Volume 26, No. 2: T-E-A-M! (Together Everyone Achieves More)

What Is a Freshman Transition Initiative and Why EVERY School Needs One

Chris Foster, Lead Teacher, Success 101, Derby High School

The statistics are staggering. Every school day in the United States, 7000 students drop out—that’s more than 1.2 million each year! For every 100 ninth graders: 70 percent graduate from high school on time, 44 percent of those enroll in college right away, 30 percent of them remain enrolled in a 2nd year of college, and only 21 percent graduate college within six years. Stated another way, roughly 1 in 50 of said students will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years. The final mind boggling statistic is this: 67 percent of dropouts make their decision before the winter break of their freshman year of high school.

In 2011, Derby High began a journey to address dropout rates (dropout prevention), find a way to ensure our students were ready for life after high school, and address the lack of financial literacy seen in our students. We knew we wanted EVERY student to be included. These are issues faced by everyone, not just a select few. After doing some research, we concluded we needed a freshman transition program.

It was, and continues to be, our firm belief that students should work on their 21st-century skills: communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. To ensure this, we employ “The 3 R’s”—relationships, rigor, and relevance. As seen in the two plans given below, the team of teachers you have in front of the class is key. We began with a team of 10. Three years later, we have a team of six who teach our full-year freshman program and one who is starting our semester-long version for transfer students.

One of our primary goals is to have a personal plan of study (PPS) for each student, now a state requirement. We want ours to extend beyond high school at least two years, getting students through the crucial years following high school. A PPS helps prepare students to take control of their education and stay motivated. Having an online PPS gives students the flexibility and portability that they are used to in today’s age.

Other goals:

  • Engage freshmen during their first year of high school.

  • Place each student in a pathway of interest.

  • Have students learn basic budgeting and personal finance.

  • Through activities such as mock interviews, guest speakers, and field trips, have students work on their “soft skills” (time management, active listening, punctuality, etiquette, taking responsibility for one’s actions, using a firm handshake).

We prepare students for their future by looking at how they can pay for further education and retirement, gain experience, overcome obstacles, support their chosen future lifestyles, and learn the lifelong process of setting goals that are measurable and attainable.

In the beginning, we chose a set curriculum. This was very beneficial as it gave us a starting point, a scope and sequence, to get our program up and running. It is not the only way to begin a freshman transition program, but we found that having something to start with has proved to be most helpful. Once you find what works best for your students, adapt and adjust as required. Our team continually adds to or tweaks what works for our program and eliminates what doesn't.

Below are two plans for getting a freshman transition program started at your school. The two plans share many common features.

These ten steps are recommended by Dr. Rebecca Dedmond of George Washington University. For details on the steps, visit http://www.freshmantransition.org.

Step 1: Gather your resources.

Step 2: Create a vision.

Step 3: Form a team of champions.

Step 4: Generate community buy-in for the new course and 10-year plan.

Step 5: Identify a curriculum that will accomplish your course goals.

Step 6: Recruit your most experienced teachers to conduct the course.

Step 7: Provide professional development and course planning time.

Step 8: Make your freshman transition initiative a school-wide effort.

Step 9: Share all students’ 10-year educational and academic plans.

Step 10: Recognize and reward success.

Following are the seven parts of the plan recommended in The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up by Scott Habeeb, Ray Moore, and Alan Seibert. To purchase the booklet, visit http://solutionsetc.org/form/bookorder.html.

Part 1: A team of teachers

Part 2: Making time for teachers to meet

Part 3: Standardizing expectations

Part 4: Classroom leadership

Part 5: Organization skills

Part 6: Parent/teacher contact

Part 7: Student recognition

Other Resources

For more information, contact the author at cfoster@usd260.com.