Learning is a process. We often think of the K-12 experience as a linear experience as students progress from one grade to the next, but within the 12+ years of school, students undergo multiple transitions that break that numerical structure and make it anything but seamless.
Students experience big transitions like going from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. They also experience smaller change from year to year or from a holiday break to academic schedule. Each new year brings new people, more rigor, higher expectations, and less space between the student and graduation day.
This is why successful transitions are crucial for successful students. What makes a transition successful? Preparedness, curiosity, familiarity, and support are just some factors in helping a student navigate the unknown. We know from experience in anything we do, whether setting out on a hike or assembling a bookcase, that we get some advantage over a new situation if we have been properly introduced to it and are given the tools to succeed. But between teaching and testing, many teachers don’t have the time to both teach to academics and prepare students socially and emotionally for the transition. That’s why the summer months leading up to the new year is a great time for schools to offer a transition program.
In Louisville, Kentucky the program Next Step is specifically focused on helping ESL high school students get prepared for college. The program was started by a retired ESL teacher, Jackie Thomas, who worked at a local community college. Thomas saw international students who had the potential to go on to college, but who didn’t know how to get into college — an obstacle that is familiar to many students at poverty level in rural and urban areas. She approached the ESL program director and was able to secure a grant for a summer program. The program caters to international students who are refugees or on the edge of poverty. Many of their families moved them to the U.S. for increased opportunity, but find opportunity can be out of reach for those unfamiliar with the system. Over the summer months, the Next Step program teaches students how to get into college, apply for financial aid, and succeed in higher education. They also take tours of the local colleges, write resumes, and learn the jargon used by colleges that can be confusing for a non-native speaker.1
So, whose responsibility is the transitioning student? A successful transition and seamless entry into the next phase of education is in everybody’s best interest. Schools can create programs like the one in Louisville. Parents can have summer reading groups using books like LifeBound’s Success in Middle School, Making the Most of High School, and Majoring in the Rest of Your Life. Students can take a tour of the campus, take advantage of orientation and student services, and interview their friends and family who have successfully (or unsuccessfully) navigated their education.
1“Promising ESL Students Assisted on the Path to College,” by Joseph Gerth. 16 June 2012. Courier-Journal. Accessed 17 June 2012. http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20120616/NEWS01/306160063/Promising-ESL-students-assisted-path-college?gcheck=1&nclick_check=1