Saturday, January 29, 2011

Giving them Wings

Have you ever had to crawl into a gymnasium filled with laughing students, teachers, and principals while you were dressed only in a diaper? Have you ever been tied to another Grade 8 and have to walk through the halls? Did you ever have to be a slave to a senior? Do you know what a swirly is? Ah yes, I remember Initiation Day, the most dreaded day in the my high school career.

Perhaps you have other stories that may or may not be fit for print about Initiation Day or Freshman Day or any such a hazing day that you might remember as an eighth grader.  It was horrible, wasn't it?  The only thing that got me through that humiliation and discomfort was the twisted thought that some how I was going to be able to exact my revenge the following year when the new crop of Grade 8s came into our high school.  I am so glad that those days are a distant memory.  I don't know that there could have been a worse welcome to high school, especially when the legend of the atrocities of that day started when I was in Grade 6 and grew to unbearable, nerve-wracking, Exorcist-like proportions right up until the moment we slightly chubby, knock-kneed adolescents toddled into the gym that day.

"What would happen at a school if children were given permission to care about each other?"

If you have heard this question before and know the answer to it, then very likely you have a LINK Crew at your school, just like we do.  LINK Crew is the outstanding, research-based school to school transition program that we (and numerous other schools) use to welcome our freshmen Grade 8s to SKSS.  It is an unbelievable opportunity for our Senior Students to bond with our Grade 8 students, and we have received an outstanding response over the last 4 years since we brought it to our school.  There are a variety of incredible interactive activities that day designed to allow our Grade 8s to get to know each other (all 275 of them) and to get to know a wonderful and dedicated group of our seniors (usually 80 of them).  As well, they tour the school, get their timetables, visit their classes, have lunch together, and plan numerous follow up activities for later on in the semester.  The parents love it, and the kids love it more.  It is the diametric opposite of what I went through as a student entering high school.


At our school, we have put in numerous structures to support students and keep them connected to our schools.  Outside of the classroom, we have 30 teams in our athletics program, an excellent band and choir, a terrific performing arts and fine arts program, Global Awareness, Gay-Straight Alliance, Science Club..the list goes on.  For our each of our academic courses, we have multiple structures that range from invitational to directive to ensure success for our students, and we have changed our assessment practices to ensure that we are assessing what students and using that knowledge to help alter our practices.  As a result, a our course failure rates continue to drop.  Students are being successful, graduation rates are high, and we continue to work hard to try find new ways to engage each of our learners.

But this week it hit me...we spend a great deal of time getting students comfortable coming into our school in transition activities, but have a huge chasm that we make our students jump across with what I believe to be very little support.  The leap from high school to college or university is massive.  And according to the first-year dropout statistics that indicate that 33% quit, and that 64% of those who begin a four-year degree do not complete it, it seems that students are plummeting to their educational demise.

I would have been one of these casualties. I attended SFU in my first year, and I just didn't connect.  I was there on scholarship and I still didn't want to stay.  And I felt as though no one cared, that I was a number, and that I could have just walked away, and not one person would have noticed.  I didn't quit, I transferred to UVIC, and found my way.  But it was close. VERY close.  We need to change this, and I think there are a couple of things that we could investigate at our school that might help.  These are not academic supports, I am thinking that these are LIFE supports.

Here are a few thoughts that I am having right now, but they have not yet taken shape...not an exhaustive list, and if you have ideas, please comment.

Things we could do at our school


1) Flexible Timetabling - When seniors go off to university, they can pick their courses and set up their schedule, including when they take courses.  How can we work this into what we do for senior high school students?  To this end, why does school have to go from 8:30-3:00?

2) Drop In Tutorials - We have this, but only once per week.  We have mandatory study blocks connected to student's classes


3) Provide the opportunity to take university courses - again, we have this, but we only have a few kids that access these courses, not because they don't want to, it's because our high achieving students are often in numerous extracurricular activities, volunteering, or working--there just isn't time!  Maybe we need to make the senior year less structured to allow this.

4) Create collaborative study groups for senior students - Either physically, within the building, or by using social media tools, or perhaps a combination of both.

Things that the University Could Do

1) Create social connections for students: I think that universities are getting better for this, but I wonder if this is more localized to students that live on residence.  There are a number that live off campus that don't get involved.  There needs to be a LINK Crew at the U (and I am sure there are some examples out there)

2) Identify at-risk students:  In high school, we ask our teachers to identify these students so that we can intervene either academically or socially.  Why don't we do this at university?  Carleton University is trying.
This would involve...

3) Profs re-thinking assessment practices: I truly believe that there needs to be more checkpoints for students in their first year to 'see how they are doing' as opposed to a midterm, a big project, and a final that is common in many first year courses

4) Create mandatory small group tutorial sessions: to augment #2, and to give students a chance to connect with other students.  It's too easy to blow these off, and there needs to be a check-in system.

5) Celebrate student successes: We do at elementary, and at secondary, but how do we do this at university (and I am not meaning at the pub)?


This week, myself and each of the high school Principals had the privilege of meeting with the each of the Deans, the Vice-Provost and the Provost of Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC.  TRU is a great university, so great in fact that 83% of our graduates in School District #73 that go on to tertiary education choose Thompson Rivers.  We had an opportunity to discuss what our roles were, which programs our students tended to take advantage of at the University, and some means by which TRU can be marketed to our students.  However, we didn't get down to the real meat.

With our seniors, do we figuratively 'dress them in diapers' and send them to university, much like that day I remember when I came into high school?

Or when they jump, do we give them wings?

3 comments:

  1. Great post Cale. We have had great success in SD67 at both Pen High and Princess Margaret with LINK crew. I think we could do more, but we do a lot. Our next step is to look at curricular transitions and how we can bridge the acadmeic gap between our middle schools and high schools. As I like to say, "we have enought BBQs and balloons, now it's time to go deeper."

    Our evolution is continuing to move to a point where we don't simply transition students "to" high school; we transition them "through" high school. For us, that means through ninth grade, not just to September.

    However, after reading your post I'm thinking we can/should go beyond that. I also like the way you suggest that the university's play a role in all of this....they need to keep up with what's changed.

    Everyone is always in some form of transition; being aware of that at all times will allow us to create more meaningful experiences for our students.

    Tom

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