Transitioning to High School: Issues and Challenges for African American Students

Article excerpt

Although there is a growing body of literature on students' transition from middle school to high school, much of the literature fails to take into consideration the distinctive racial and environmental circumstances of African American students. This article reviews literature related to the transitioning of African American students and discusses the unique challenges that African American students experience during adolescence. Counseling interventions are delineated and implications for school counseling professionals also are discussed.

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The process of transitioning from middle school/junior high to high school is one of the many developmental challenges that students face in their adolescent lives. This process constitutes an "ecological transition" that involves changes in the environment as well as changes in the role of the student (Newman, Myers, Newman, Lohman, & Smith, 2000). Research indicates that during this transition period, specifically in the school year following transition, many students experience a decrease in their academic achievement and grade point average (Reyes, Gillock, Kobus, & Sanchez, 2000). Minority students, in particular, seem to be at a greater risk for adjustment and academic difficulties post-transition to high school (Newman et al.; Reyes et al.). The purpose of this article is to review the literature related to the process of transitioning from middle to high school for a particular minority population--African American students. Also, implications for school counselors are provided.

The transition to high school has been found to bring about increased stress levels, decreased self-esteem, deteriorated academic performance, and heightened risk for maladjustment (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1993). In addition, the process of transitioning from middle to high school involves a new environment and new roles and behaviors for the student (Keyes et al., 2000). These include increased student population size and heterogeneity; changes in school day structure; more teachers with a variety of teaching styles, rules, and expectations; higher-stakes grading; and stricter school policies (Reyes et al.). Research shows that a student's grades, self-esteem, and sense of academic efficacy are likely to decline after the transition to high school (Fuligni, Eccles, Barber, & Clements, 2001).

In addition to academic demands, beginning high school students also may become distracted by the increased complexity of social interactions that are fostered within the high school environment (Newman et al., 2000). Peers emphasize fitting in and belonging, and this can be a great source of pressure and anxiety for many students (Isakson & Jarvis, 1999). Further, due to the increase in the number of students, the high school environment can become a more anonymous setting than the middle school environment. For example, students who were top scholars and athletes in middle school may experience role loss when they arrive in high school (Newman et al.). Although a slight drop in grades and other adjustment difficulties may surface post-transition, the long-term outcomes following transition are largely determined by the ability of the student to cope with and manage change in the new environment (Isakson & Jarvis).

The literature related to middle-to-high school transitioning pays special attention to how environments affect individuals and how interactions between environments and individuals influence adaptation (Kelly, Ryan, Altman, & Stelzner, 2000). Using an ecological perspective, some authors (Fraser & Wahlberg, 1991) pointed to the importance of interdependence in the transitioning process. Changes in any part of an interrelated system, according to these authors, will affect changes in other parts of the system. Understanding the changes that adolescents encounter during school transition and the effects of these changes on students' adaptation is facilitated through this person-environment interactive framework. …