Transition schools help during years when students face most adjustments
By Susan Riddell
It’s a common belief that a student’s freshman year of high school is one of the most difficult. Another challenging time for students is when they move into middle school. So a growing number of districts have created transitional schools in the past few years to help with the emotional and educational transition.
The Henry, Scott, Shelby, Hardin, Edmonson and Barren county school districts are just some that have created a transition school for incoming middle or high school students.
Edmonson County 5th/6th Center (EC56C) is in its seventh year. First-year Principal Gary McReynolds said the center has one goal.
“We provide a safe environment and an opportunity for all students to learn and be productive citizens,” McReynolds said. “In my opinion, the reason students have difficulty transitioning to middle school is immaturity. We have two elementary schools merging into one school. (At EC56C) the students get to know each other at an earlier age and get used to transitioning to a new school.”
EC56C is housed in the former middle school. Each grade is separated.
“We have 5th-grade teachers who are used to the elementary setting and 6th-grade teachers who are used to the middle school concept,” teacher LaNetta Skaggs said. “However, over the years, we have worked on becoming a cohesive group and share our ideas and strengths with each other.
“Our teachers work as a team on intervention for students who are struggling with math and reading. We are successfully utilizing the strengths of individual teachers to create a school with a focus on student learning and achievement.”
McReynolds said the combination of teachers with both elementary and middle school backgrounds helps not only teaching but learning, too.
“It’s a great academic climate,” said McReynolds, who sought advice from other transition school principals before starting the school year. “The basic curriculum is the same as all other Kentucky schools. Our school does provide 6th-grade students with an opportunity to take a band class. Other students during this time have intervention or enrichment classes in reading and mathematics.”
Skaggs said that a key component to the school’s success is additional personnel as teacher resources.
“We are very fortunate to house within our building the community education director and the family resource center,” Skaggs said. “The 5th/6th Center staff is interested in educating the whole child, including social, emotional and educational needs. Our counselor is also part of our educational teams. She is wonderful at supplying an insight into test scores. The counselor also plays an integral part in our grade-level professional learning communities.
“Teachers at the 5th/6th Center are not afraid to try new things to help students learn the required content,” Skaggs added. “Instructional software is utilized by the majority of the teachers to either track students’ progress in reading and math or to teach subject matter. This year, we are meeting in grade-level teams to look at student test scores and sample open-response questions, and to share teaching strategies used in classrooms that have been effective.”
EC56C has a mentoring program that pairs students with adults from the community. “It has helped students who struggle academically to view schoolwork and learning in a more positive light,” Skaggs said. “Our school was the pilot for this program. As students move to the middle school and high school, our mentors have continued to work with them.”
Tina Prunty is principal at the Trojan Academy (Barren County). The school for freshmen is in its fourth year.
“The middle school connects to the Trojan Academy, which connects to the high school,” Prunty said. “Not only can students make a social and emotional transition, they can make the physical transition as well.”
Approximately 380 students attend the Trojan Academy. Prunty noted that it alleviated an overcrowding problem.
With its focus on getting freshmen acclimated to high school, Prunty said, the Trojan Academy has looked at the whole day and not just class time to make things easier on freshmen.
“We have a bell system in place that puts students on different schedules,” Prunty said, “so only 190 of them are in the hallways at the same time while changing classes. There have been fewer discipline problems on this bell schedule.”
The school also has seen fewer students repeating 9th grade. Prunty said her first year as principal, 12 students were retained, and last year only five had to repeat the grade.
Teachers benefit, too.
Based on the different schedules, “our teachers have common planning time and the ability to collaborate daily. That support is vital,” Prunty said. “The other benefit is they have students year-round. They get to know the students very well because they have them for the entire year. They make the connections that students need.”
While the school is geared toward getting freshmen ready for high school, the Trojan Academy also makes time for 7th- and 8th-graders to prepare them for 9th grade.
“All 7th- and 8th-graders have a class at the Trojan Academy,” Prunty said. “Some take technology classes. Select 8th-graders take Honors Algebra 2. This makes a strong connection that is so important.”
While curriculum is similar to those most state freshmen study, the Trojan Academy offers ACT prep in daily advisory classes and “Teen Tuesday” when teen issues are discussed. Social and academic topics are priority during “Teen Tuesday.” Sometimes students will watch the MTV series If You Really Knew Me, which deals with student understanding and tolerance of others. Other times, students will discuss cultural diversity or college plans.
“It’s scary jumping into high school,” Prunty said. “Students are still trying to figure out who they are; they have more responsibility, and the academy is crucial to that social development.”