Make a Successful Transition to Middle School
Middle school is where the rubber meets the road. Many disadvantaged children begin to fall behind; greater levels of truancy and behavior problems lead to out-of-school suspension. Fewer than 2 in 10 eighth graders are on track for college-level work. This means than 8 in 10 won't have the knowledge and skills to succeed in high school.1
Most high school dropout prevention efforts start in high school – which is too late, according to research. Students' academic achievement by 8th grade has a greater impact on college and career readiness than high school academic work. Research shows that students' readiness for college and career can be boosted with focus on middle school activity.2
Students from 4th grade through high school spend less time in school and more time in a variety of other environments, including formal programs and community service. Many United Ways are already working on these important middle grade transitions. Some have begun to map and improve quality out-of-school time resources and others are considering how to include these data in their 2-1-1 systems.
Add case study: n Jacksonville, FL, the high school dropout rate for Duval County is twice the overall Florida rate. The United Way of Northeast Florida convened a focus issue partnership, a group of leaders including local education experts, corporate partners and community stakeholders. They studied the problem, gathered data and scrutinized proven solutions – landing on middle school intervention as a strategy that held out the possibility of doing the most good for the greatest number of people.
United Way and its partners launched a pilot initiative, called Achievers for Life, in Jacksonville's toughest neighborhood in the 2007-08 school year. It targeted 147 6th graders at two middle schools whose attendance was poor, didn't see themselves as successful in school, or who consistently misbehaved.
Involving parents, supporting families and mentoring were three key strategies. Family Advocates work with students and their families to address obstacles to excelling in school, such as mental-health or behavioral problems, financial instability, employment, and housing. After just one year, statistically significant improvements were demonstrated in areas shown to predict early withdrawal from high school. Results included a 31% improvement in GPAs (10% higher than peers outside the program); 37% fewer suspensions; and 36% fewer failures in math and language arts.
Based on the results in just one year, Achievers for Life is being expanded to four more schools. And as a part of the United Way's New Product Investment campaign, a Tocqueville member pledged $1 million in fall 2008 to support the initiative.