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Transitioning From 8th to 9th on a K-12 Campus

Wednesday, November 28, 2018  
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS


At K-8 schools, students departing after 8th grade is a given. Typically students enjoy special activities during their 8th grade year and a sendoff that may include a graduation ceremony. And ideally, they are well prepared for any 9th grade program they pursue at other schools. But what about 8th graders at K-12 schools? Are they ready to make that leap into high school, even if the move is just across campus? 


Five years ago at Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners, GA, when Jeff Plunk took over as high school principal, he addressed a certain issue head-on. Out of every 8th grade class, about a dozen students were choosing not to continue into Wesleyan’s high school. They were leaving to attend public schools or even other independent schools. Plunk felt that there was a disconnect between the middle and high school programs. “I wasn’t sure that they were leaving and having all the information,” he said. 


Plunk created “Sneak Peek Day,” held in the fall on the same day of PSAT testing, which is a half day for the high school. He asked a group of both 9th graders and high school teachers to remain on campus to assist with the program, which starts with 8th graders eating lunch in small groups with 9th graders for some candid conversation. After lunch, 8th graders attend three 30-minute “snapshot” classes with high school teachers. 


“It gives them a peek of what life is like in the high school,” Plunk said. “The day has developed its own reputation.” 


The school includes parents in the 9thgrade promotional efforts. In February, they attend “Nearly 9th Night,” at which school leaders discuss the academic structure in the high school. Select current seniors talk about their experiences in high school. 


In addition, throughout the school year, the school has found ways to integrate the high school with other divisions. Middle school and lower school chapel services are held in the high school building, all share one dining facility, high school students visit lower school students once per week for a service project or other activity, and all lower and middle school students are encouraged to attend high school sports events. 


And the results are positive. In the last four years, retention from 8th to 9th grade has increased. Instead of losing 12 students, now only about three or four from each class choose to leave. “We wanted to give everyone an accurate depiction of the high school so they can make an informed decision,” Plunk said. 


As far as celebrating the 8th graders, the school holds a final chapel service with a speaker at the end of the year. The students also are recognized at the middle school honors day program, at which school leaders pray over them as they send them to the next step in their academic careers. 


A lot of “life skills” come into play during high school – teachers expect more from students in terms of working independently, managing their own schedules, and starting to prepare for college. To that end, in 2017, Brookwood School in Thomasville, GA, launched a 12-week enrichment class for its 8th graders. 


During transition meetings between middle school and high school teachers, the high school teachers noted areas where students seemed to have some gaps in their skill set coming into 9th grade. Sara Wagoner, middle school history teacher and resource teacher, interviewed 8th graders about what they wanted to know in making the change from middle school to high school. She also spoke with some alumni about what they wish they had known before starting high school. 


The result of those discussions was the creation of the 12-week program taught by Wagoner, in which students learn new study techniques, how to present in front of a group, how to manage their personal calendars, and even how to compose a proper email. Oral, verbal, and written skills comprise a good part of the classwork. Students keep journals throughout the 12 weeks to record their thoughts. In working on narrative writing – which will come up when students craft their college application essays – students wrote “This I Believe” papers. 


This school year, Kim Lord, director of college counseling, took over the class, adding more content in the vein of college prep. Students conduct learning profiles with the Naviance system, an online tool used by many college counselors, and they also complete “The Future Project” as one of their assignments. Students are required to create a brochure about their lives 10 years into the future. It includes their college of choice, what they studied, and what career they selected, as well as the city they reside in and a cost of living analysis. For the project, students research several different colleges, including at least one they did not know and one outside of the state. 


“It helps to assess where they are with their knowledge of colleges beyond sports teams and Greek life,” Lord explained. 


While college/career work comprises about three weeks of the 12-week program, study skills and writing development are equally important. “It’s an opportunity for them to take a step back and it’s been great for the 8th graders to have this concentrated time and get prepared to hit 9th grade,” Lord said. 


“Eighth grade is like the last week of practice before the big game,” Wagoner said. “This program gives them the right tools in their toolbox.” 


K-12 schools each may have different goals for their 8th graders heading into 9th grade but share a goal of wanting their kindergarteners complete 12th grade. Ensuring a smooth transition into the final high school years will benefit the students as they prepare for college and beyond. 

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