Engagement, Pathways, School Community

From Competition to Transition: Sharing Resources to Ensure Student Success

The fundamental thing that we all agree on in our learning community here at Edmonton Public Schools is that we want our children to successfully complete high school. One way to achieve that is to focus on the transition from Grade 9 to Grade 10 – from middle school to high school. In Jasper Place High School, we had often looked at this time as a point of recruitment. In our school district we have open boundaries so there is no automatic feeder school to high school connection.

In a system of site-based decision-making, where dollars follow students, we have found ourselves competing for students. It was essential for our school to be well-populated in order to have ample resources to operate effectively for student learning. It is also essential for students, once enrolled, to succeed; in Alberta, high school funding is based on the number of students successfully completing courses. When students are unsuccessful in their course work, the school loses funding for those students.

Many Grade 10 students poked their heads in the door early in September, saw how big we were, and slipped away before we even knew who they were.

In a school of 2,400, students can easily slip through the cracks – and they were. When we delved into the matter, we found that students were most vulnerable in the first five months of their Grade 10 year. Many Grade 10 students poked their heads in the door early in September, saw how big we were, and slipped away before we even knew who they were. But, if they stayed long enough to get a successful semester under their belts, they usually completed the three years with us.

Once we determined who we were losing and why, we began to look differently at the transitioning process. We scrapped the word “recruitment” and adopted the word “transition”. I met with principals from our 12 feeder junior high schools and spoke about how we might provide service to their students earlier and over a longer period of time. The goals were to know the students who were coming to us and to identify their needs earlier. The junior high principals were excited about this opportunity and embraced the idea that we needed to change how we were working with Grade 9 students before they moved into Grade 10.

As a group of principals, we generated many ideas about how to personalize the service from our high school for each junior high feeder school. The feeder schools had very different populations, and they required very different strategies for the transition of their students. Drawing from our entire administrative team, student services team, outreach personnel, and mental health team staff, we formed smaller teams to work with two feeder schools each. This was a dramatic change from the one counselor “road show” and open house that had occurred for junior high presentations in the past. Each junior high brought its own team of key personnel, and together the high school and junior high school teams developed plans for what the Grade 9 students needed to make a successful transition into Grade 10. These plans included:

  • authentic learning activities at the high school in specific classes ranging from honours activities to options;
  • shadow days;
  • school tours;
  • staff meetings held in our school to familiarize the junior high teachers with high school;
  • library presentations and project work with junior high students;
  • mini options over a week period with our teachers teaching the courses alongside junior high teachers;
  • accessing mental health services for at-risk junior high students.

We continued to meet as principals and debrief the strategies that seemed to be working. One thing became apparent very quickly: we needed to know our at-risk students in more depth before they arrived in September. Junior high principals brought some individual students to access some of our student services early, and we began to form relationships with those students and to anticipate the effect those relationships might have the following year.

What, we wondered, would be the outcome if we formally identified those students before June and invited them to join us in summer school to complete some key courses? What were the courses our “at-risk/ at-promise” kids did not typically complete? Could we offer physical education and career and life management (CALM), both courses necessary for a high school diploma? Could we tailor our courses to just meet the provincial requirements of three credits each, a philosophical change for our school policy? In our school these were typically five-credit courses and only one could be taken in the month of summer school. What would the outcome be if we offered two three-credit courses that these students could complete during the summer? They would then have completed two “gatekeeper” courses, have six credits under their belts, and we would “know” them.

Early intervention is the key. We believe we are getting a great bang for our buck in moving these resources to the junior highs.

We sent our success coaches out to the junior high schools to talk with counselors and to identify the neediest, most at-risk Grade 9 students. Two “rock star” teachers, who would probably be teaching these students the following year, agreed to teach this summer school course. In 2009, our first summer, we had 20 students come in for the summer programming. Eighteen of the 20 completed the courses and are still attending our school and demonstrating success in Grade 11.

Based on the success of our first year, we decided to expand the program the following summer. Three success coaches, trained youth workers, were already working in our school, supporting our mainstreamed at-risk students. I decided to hire an additional success coach at Christmas break who would take on a new role in two of our junior high schools. She would spend two days in each school and one day at our school coordinating any services needed for those Grade 9 students with whom she was working. The junior high principals were very receptive to the idea and excited about additional support available for their Grade 9 at-risk students.

A success coach costs roughly $50,000. We believe strongly that the relationship with a success coach formed prior to starting high school will lead to an effective transition into high school. Early intervention is the key. We believe we are getting a great bang for our buck in moving these resources to the junior highs.

The success coach we hired was Angel King. Her job was really undefined, and we asked her to document the work in the form of a journal because this was unchartered territory. We felt that putting our resources into our needier junior highs – supporting our neediest students early – would pay off, but we weren’t sure how it would all unravel in the schools.

As Angel began to send us her journals, and we met with her on her Wednesdays to review her work, we began to realize some key components to establishing this work. Job one was the establishment of relationships with the personnel in these two feeder schools. Angel documented her introductions to the staff at the schools and attempted to outline what her role might be and how she could provide support to teachers and students.

Excerpts from Angel’s journal entries

I am your new success coach/ transition coach and will be at Hillcrest Tuesdays, Fridays and part of Wednesdays until summer. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Education. I work for the Family Centre and have been hired by Jasper Place to help transition students from junior high into high school. My job is to help students independently discover what may be hindering their performance in junior high and what things may deter them from succeeding in high school. Although my formal clients will be in Grade 9, the entire school could be thought of as an informal client.

I will introduce Grade 9 students to high school and attempt to make their first experience a positive one.

The second lesson learned was that students needed to establish trust with Angel in very fast order. This was helped by school administration being on the same page and assisting this process. The junior high school principal was the key to making this fly!

This week was full of introductions and relationship building. It has been going well; Wednesday was awesome. I think the part that was most successful was being in the office with Kim and Mike [junior high counselors] during their discussions with students. I believe meeting them in this way told the students that they could trust me and outlined my role with them. I independently met with approximately six students who were each on an in-school suspension and was shocked with how open they were to talking with me. In most cases I asked very few questions and the students led the conversation. The majority of the students subsequently asked how they could contact me. I am very excited about what the upcoming weeks hold!

The work in each school developed as needed, based on the school administration and the students’ needs. There was no set agenda for what it would look like, but the outcomes were identical. Students would know a Jasper Place staff member well, and would feel supported in coming to our school.

Things are going fairly well, I have now done four after school groups, two at Westlawn and two at Hillcrest. Hillcrest always has more students [for me to see], but they also have more Grade 9 students in the school. At Hillcrest there are generally 10 students that stay and about 20 that come and go. At Westlawn there are about seven, and 15 that come and go. The kids that come appear to really enjoy this time and have asked what they did to deserve a party.

We monitored our success by the interest generated in summer programming and the number of students willing to give up part of their summer to join us for a month at Jasper Place. These students had not previously demonstrated interest in school and certainly were not typically motivated to attend “more school”. The numbers were up significantly from the previous year, and this was from only two feeder schools. It looked like the power of having Angel build relationships with students was having a definite impact.

 Things have been going quite well. GYM/CALM Summer School registration (going to introduce the class to various junior high schools as well as collecting and submitting forms from Hillcrest and Westlawn to Jasper Place) has been taking most of my time… So far we have more than 30 students registered!

That second summer, teachers from our Jasper Place staff taught the 50 students. Angel was with them to support the summer programming, and more than 95 percent of the students registered in the two courses completed their six credits. Angel was key to this process because the students came in anticipating her presence and did not miss a beat in getting right down to learning.

When I met Kyle in Junior High School, he had less than 30 percent attendance. When I started working with him, I was told I was wasting my time. I invited Kyle to attend the Gym/CALM programs summer school classes at Jasper Place. Kyle was unable to pay for the course, so we paid for it and gave him bus tickets to and from school. Kyle attended summer school almost every day and passed both classes.

We watched as these students acted as ambassadors for their peers. In many cases they were the leaders in those first few weeks. It was a joy to see them so at ease and so comfortable in our school.

The plan was that Angel would be at Jasper Place fulltime from September to January. She was a familiar face for students from both junior high schools, and she was a necessary support for those students she had identified the previous year. Her client list was full. It was remarkable to see how these students were coming into their Grade 10 year. They were confident and happy; they had already experienced success with us, and they had six credits in their high school portfolio. They knew their way around the school, knew key personnel, including their teachers and the administration team. We watched as these students acted as ambassadors for their peers. In many cases they were the leaders in those first few weeks. It was a joy to see them so at ease and so comfortable in our school.

By October, I was receiving calls from the two feeder school principals asking when Angel was coming back. I reminded them of the plan to have her work with Grade 10 students at Jasper Place until January and then go back into the junior highs. The principals expressed how much teachers and students were missing the additional support. We met as a team and decided to modify our original plan. We currently have four success coaches working in our school. We decided to target an additional two feeder schools and each coach would spend one day per week in a junior high feeder school until January. After January their time would be increased to two days per week.

That is where we are right now. Four junior high schools are receiving front line support from Jasper Place personnel. The message is clear to our learning community. We want our students to be cared for and assisted in their goals to complete high school. We are not just vying for students to keep our schools alive, and we are not just looking for “desirable” students who will help our academic standing. We want to provide great service and resources to all students who come to us, and we want to make sure they are prepared and supported when they come to high school. We are striving for success with every student who enters our school. 

EN BREF – Quand l’école secondaire Jasper Place à Edmonton commença à s’efforcer moins d’attirer le plus d’élèves possible des écoles intermédiaires environnantes, privilégiant plutôt de retenir ses élèves, elle s’est rendu compte que le processus de transition constituait la clé du succès. La direction d’école et les conseillers scolaires de Jasper Place ont collaboré avec leurs homologues des écoles intermédiaires pour cibler les élèves à risque et amorcer la transition dès la dernière année d’école intermédiaire. À partir de 2009, Jasper Place a offert à ces élèves l’accès à un « accompagnateur de réussite » en 9e année et la possibilité de suivre deux cours obligatoires du secondaire au cours de l’été précédant la 10e année. À leur arrivée à l’école secondaire en septembre, ils avaient donc acquis une expérience de réussite, leur dossier du secondaire comptait déjà six crédits et ils connaissaient les locaux de l’école ainsi que le personnel clé. Souvent, ils étaient des leaders au cours de ces premières semaines.

Meet the Expert(s)

Jean Stiles

Jean Stiles is the principal of Jasper Place High School in Edmonton.

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