By Alicia Brown, High School Counselor, Colegio Roosevelt, The American School of Lima and ISCA Taskforce Member
Many of us are likely in the throes of transitions which can include leaving and staying families as well as those important transitions from elementary school to middle school and middle school to high school. Counselors play a pivotal role in setting up structures to support successful divisional transitions. Empowering student leaders to participate in this transition can play an important role in building community, leveraging developmental tendencies toward peer first information, and empowering those leaders with the information to be effective communicators and deliver a strong message of support and mentorship.
Leadership programs for students
At many schools, students in upper grades in their division participate in activities to welcome grade 6 and 9 students in those initial days of middle or high school. To extend that, there are leadership programs that prepare students to lead both initial welcoming activities and follow up with advisory based lessons on important topics like the importance of communicating with teachers, setting goals, navigating the social scene, and those tricky situations that can come up as teens develop and become more independent. The opportunity for continued support throughout the first semester, or the year, can make a big difference in students in grade 6 and 9 adjusting to the social and academic expectations of that division.
Programs that work
Here are a few programs that have curriculum and design ways for upper grade leaders to participate in not only the initial welcoming of grade 6 and 9 students but also have follow up sessions to provide continued support.
Peer Group Connection
An evidence-based program called Peer Group Connection-High School (PGC-HS) supports and facilitates students' smooth transition from middle to high school (<i>Peer Group Connection — Center for Supportive Schools</i>, n.d.-b).The program empowers older students to create a welcoming and supportive environment for incoming 9th grade students. Schools can vary in their approach in terms of frequency and generally once per week pairs of grade 11 or 12 peer leaders meet with groups of 10-14 9th graders in outreach sessions designed to strengthen relationships among students across grades.
According to Center for Supportive Schools (CSS), “All PGC-HS outreach sessions are strongly connected to the program objectives as listed below”:
Increase students’ sense of connectedness and attachment to school
Improve students’ skills in communicating effectively with peers and adults
Increase students’ skills in help-seeking, goal-setting, and decision-making
Support/improve students’ positive school-related behavior
Increase students’ motivation to complete high school and post-secondary education
Improve students’ preparedness for college and/or the world of work
Link Crew is another program that empowers student leaders to be positive role models and play a significant role in supporting the grade 9 transition. Through Link Crew, Freshmen discover that their success matters to people at school, and leaders gain greater self-worth and develop their character as a whole (<i>The Boomerang Project | Providing Premier High School & Middle School Orientation Programs</i>, n.d.).
While these resources are more grade 9 centered, both offer middle school versions following a similar premise.
Building a positive school climate
A potential positive school climate outcome of these programs is a better sense of community. Older students feel empowered and responsible to act as leaders, actively welcoming grade 9/6 students, and hopefully positively influencing their upper class peers to follow their lead.
These programs offer important opportunities for student leaders to consider the role of being a leader, how their visibility as leaders may impact weekend decisions and how to support healthy decisions community wide.
How to implement
While some of these programs require significant resources, it is important to consider what leadership structures you may already have in place.
Here are some considerations:
Seek out student government leaders, determine how they can play an active role in not only welcoming grade 9 or 6 students at an initial event, but interacting with them in a structured way to promote a positive school climate.
Consider how students could regularly participate in advisory planning and delivery for grade 9 or 6 students. This will increase student voice in advisory and has the potential to have a positive impact on engagement and contribute to a positive sense of community.
Leveraging student leaders to support divisional transitions could enhance your current systems and structures in place and have an overall positive impact on school climate. Peer Group Connection is an active part of the transition at Colegio Roosevelt, The American School of Lima. Feel free to contact Grade 9 counselor, Alicia Brown, email@example.com with any questions or review her presentation from the ISCA online collaborative.
Peer Group Connection — Center for Supportive Schools. (n.d.). Center for Supportive Schools. https://www.supportiveschools.org/peer-group-connection
The Boomerang Project | Providing Premier High School & Middle School Orientation Programs. (n.d.). https://www.boomerangproject.com/transition-programs/link-crew