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Monday, January 7, 2008

Easing transitions for kids

When you think about it, life is really just a series of transitions; small and large, habitual and deliberate. After reading this blog, as you do every morning, I’m sure you’ll transition into a productive work day, now armed with valuable information.

Unlike the gentle transitions of morning to work day, eased by a cup of coffee, certain transitions in life can be confusing and distressing. As if the physical, emotional, and developmental changes that kids experience during puberty aren’t enough, these tweens and teens must also navigate their way through a whole new set of academic expectations and environments when they enter middle and high school.

Shepherded well, kids can come out the other side of these changes, more mature and able to handle the next big challenge. But executed with little oversight, the leaps that students make into higher academic settings can end with them falling flat on their face.

The challenges and possible remedies are explored in my January story, “The Transition Years.”
“You can’t expect people to walk into a new job and know what to do,” says Patrick Akos, an education professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a former middle school counselor. “There’s training and there’s help navigating the system. Why wouldn’t we do the same thing for students?”

The good news is more and more school districts are catching on to that fact. Chicago Public Schools, for instance, is in the midst of pulling together a $10 million plan to help ease the transition eighth-graders make into high school. The proposal, which is still being hashed out, would provide up to three weeks of orientation activities before the incoming freshmen begin their first day of school. Officials there hope the initiative helps curb the high absence rates, which jump from an average of 10 days for eighth-graders to 27 skipped days for ninth-graders.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

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