Saving the Freshman

By Brown, Joyce V. | Techniques, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Saving the Freshman


Brown, Joyce V., Techniques


The current educational reform agenda requires that stakeholders in the school community help all students graduate. The U.S. Department of Education's A Blueprint for Reform: Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act sends all stakeholders a clear message to take action that results in every student completing high school both college and career ready. This message and other reform measures have strong implications for school counselors, who are often excluded from conversations about academic achievement and college and career readiness planning.

If we are to reach the goal of educating every child entering the American school system, school districts must focus their efforts on successfully transitioning freshmen into high school. Statistics reveal that many of our nation's students are not achieving the goal of a high school diploma. Especially in large urban and small rural districts, freshmen often enter high school and fall behind in credits, and then they dropout. Keeping freshmen students on track for graduation must be a priority if we are to meet the demands of a global workforce, which requires that every student obtain, at the very least, a high school diploma. Research informs us about the critical importance of the first year of high school--the ninth grade--since it is the last chance to put students on track to graduate.

The nature of the adolescent learner requires that careful attention be given to the transitional challenges freshmen experience during high school entry. Implementing practices that build student/adult relationships must be an essential component of transition programs if we are to combat the cycle of underachievement. School counselors are best suited to lead this effort because their professional training enables them to holistically assist students with identifying personal interests and then formulating interests into concrete college and career plans. The goal is to keep freshmen on track to graduate. The strategy is to establish relationships between ninth-grade students and their high schools, and to help them develop interpersonal relationships with counselors, teachers, principals and other staff members in order to enhance their achievement.

Relationships Matter

One important component of this intentional ninth-grade dropout strategy is the implementation of a counselor-led freshman transition program. The program's focus is building meaningful relationships between entering students and the adults that serve them. Research highlights the importance of relationships and its benefit to student achievement. Achievement is supported and best accomplished when every student is known by at least one caring adult. This fact becomes even more important at the onset of high school entry, when established peer and teacher relationships are disrupted during the transitioning process. The first caring adult that freshmen often encounter is the school counselor. School counselors are at the core of supporting college and career readiness by providing transition practices centered on appropriate student scheduling and high school orientation activities. School counselors are trained in dealing with students' social/emotional development and possess skills and knowledge to support teaching and learning in order to facilitate student achievement.

Positive student outcomes occur when counselors lead efforts to connect students to their school, students to each other and the families of freshmen students to their new school. Counselors often address these areas during transition programs. Adolescent learners often shun adult guidance and revert to peers for information. It therefore becomes critically important to establish processes that result in establishing open lines of communications between adults and freshmen students.

Since counselors are often the first adult a student meets when entering high school, this encounter must be utilized to support a transition model that is preventive in scope and relational in nature. …

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