Middle Schools Addressing Student Transition Issues
Al Summers, NBCT, director of professional development, NMSA and Larry Moehnke, chief of staff, Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC)
Successful schools for young adolescents
- Have multi-faceted guidance and support structures.
- Have organizational structures that support meaningful relationships and learning.
- Establish school-initiated family and community partnerships.
- Provide an adult advocate for every student.
- Demonstrate an inviting, supportive, and safe environment.
- Provide school-wide programs that foster health, wellness, and safety.
Effective transition programs are necessary for students to be successful as they move from school to school. With a highly mobile society, campuses have developed programs to assist students with these transitions. This article highlights two middle schools and a technology platform that focus on successful student transitions.
Ft. Benning Middle School, Ft. Benning, Georgia
Julio Gonzalez, principal of Ft. Benning Middle School, relates that seven schools send students to his school and that students leaving the eighth grade at his school have 11 options for the ninth grade. Add to that challenge the fact that many of the students will transition into or out of his middle school at various times during their middle school years, and the way the school deals with transitions becomes a major issue. The transience rate at the school is 40%.
Gonzalez believes that any transition program is only as good as the people involved. He cites three factors that are important in the transition work at Ft. Benning.
- An effective advisory program--meets four times a week and includes work on deployment and transition issues.
- Buddy system--matches an incoming student with a student already established in the school. The buddy becomes a key resource of information from a peer about the school and its programs and expectations including agenda books, schedules, finding one's way around. Gonzalez emphasizes the importance of getting complete information on the incoming student to help facilitate the selection of an appropriate buddy.
- Active counselors--two counselors service approximately 555 students.
Ft. Benning Middle School also offers a variety of after school clubs and activities to engage both new and established students, to extend the learning, and to provide meaningful, supervised alternatives for "latch key" students.
The Army Family Support Center is also very active and helpful, delivering programs during afternoons, evenings, and weekends in Army facilities for grades 6–12. These programs include activities in four core areas: sports, fitness and health options; life skills, citizenship and leadership opportunities; arts, recreation, and leisure activities; and mentoring, intervention and education support services.
Audie Murphy Middle School—Ft. Hood, Texas (Killeen Independent School District)
Principal Minerva Trujillo and her staff at Audie Murphy Middle School emphasize the importance of a comprehensive school Web site and also the role the school leadership plays in support of an effective transition program. They also highlight the climate created by effective teaming as critically important to transitioning students--both incoming and outgoing.
As at Ft. Benning Middle School, advisory is a key element of successful transitioning, and the advisory program works with other important aspects for young adolescents, including learning skills and social skills.
Audie Murphy Middle School's transitioning program also focuses on students moving in from the district's elementary schools and the eighth graders moving on to the high school. The program includes visits to the different level schools, a student shadowing program, and evening presentations to discuss and demonstrate school programs.
The staff at Audie Murphy Middle School lists the following challenges to effective transitions:
- Diversity of curricula (what is taught and when it is taught)
- Differing school calendars
- Effective transfer of records from one school to another
- Testing (different tests in different states for each grade level)
- Differing availability of special programs (e.g., special education and talented and gifted) and various methods of identification
- Emotional aspects of a transition
- Effects of relocation on parents
- Creating an "opportunity instead of challenge" mindset
Interactive Counseling Centers
Assistance in transitioning is also available through Interactive Counseling Centers (ICC) that are provided by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC). The ICC provides "virtual counseling centers" to ensure transitioning students have a smooth hand-off from one school to another. The system allows counselors, the student, and the parents or caregivers to sit in a virtual counseling center and exchange information electronically to and from the sending school and the receiving school. The Interactive Counseling Center is a video conferencing system incorporating Interactive Counseling Center units, which connect to one another via a networking system. The ICC includes both hardware and proprietary software to enable point-to-point combined voice, video, data, and document image communications over the Internet in real-time. The hardware is an easy-to-use video conference box that uses plug-and-play technology with a streamlined interface that is not only user friendly, but also secure.
ICCs are currently installed in more than 200 locations, serving schools throughout the nation and around the world. Any MCEC member school can apply for an ICC. More information can be found at www.militarychild.org
A New Transition Program
Help is on the way in the form of a new campus program called the Junior Student 2 Student (JS2S) program which focuses on transitioning of students into and from schools. This program, patterned after the highly successful Student to Student (S2S) for high schools, was developed by the MCEC. For more information on this group that is also a Month of the Young Adolescent supporter, please go to www.militarychild.org. Both S2S and JS2S are school-managed, student-led transition programs. Although JS2S is adapted from S2S, JS2S is grounded in research on the unique needs of young adolescents.
This new student-led transition program, JS2S, will be featured in October Middle Ground and also will be featured in a concurrent session at NMSA's 2006 annual conference in Nashville.