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Leaving a Lasting Mark: Helping Middle School Students Transition to High School

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Youth Voices is working with students from South El Monte High School to explore El Monte/South El Monte and the surrounding communities. The students have formed teams to explore and investigate their communities, map assets, collect and share stories, data and community input for their projects. All the while they are learning and expanding their knowledge of digital media and civic engagement. Follow their work on social media by using the hashtag #KCETYV.

The transition between middle school and high school can be a difficult journey for many students. It's a time of disconnection that may lead to isolation and loneliness. This can have a profound impact on the academic success of many students. Evidence shows that this period is frequently marked by declining academic performance, increased absences, and increased behavior problems. Another key characteristic is the "ninth grade bulge," which describes the large population of students in this grade who fail, more than 20% in some areas.

For a group of students at South El Monte High School these statistics speak to their own experiences. They all felt adrift as freshmen in a large school with new faces and procedures. It took them one or two years to regain their footing but only after struggling with their grades and classes. Participation in the AVID program was an important factor in their recovery as well as involvement in other school programs and activities. AVID is a college prep program that provides students guidance and vital academic tools. These opportunities provided them with the skills and strategies to navigate high school more effectively. The students acknowledge that all this information and support would have been beneficial to have during their ninth grade year. This realization allowed the team to build their Youth Voices project with the intention of filling this gap with support and activities for incoming freshmen.

The team decided to name themselves LasOG's, for "Old Generation."

The name describes their understanding of the responsibility they are claiming for themselves: to share their experiences with the next generation in order to make their freshmen year a more positive one. They decided to build a peer mentoring program that would group 12th grade students with 9th graders to provide support and guidance.

After doing some research they found that one of the major gaps that begin to form in ninth grade is when students forego scheduling or do not pass their A-G classes. These are the classes student need to take and pass with a C or better to be eligible to apply to a CSU, UC, and many private colleges. If students begin to fall behind their freshman year it's difficult to catch up because of the large number of graduation requirements. LasOG's felt that students and parents need to have more information to make better choices.

The team decided they wanted to focus on students from their Alma Mater, Potrero Middle School. Their first steps were to work closely with their AVID teacher, Ms. Sara Quezada, and connect with the AVID Coordinator at Potrero, Ms. Elizabeth Torres. With their support they were able to schedule a meeting with some of the 8th grade faculty members and the principal of the school to pitch their idea for a mentoring program and ask permission to speak to the students about the program.

LasOGs present to the Potrero Middle School staff.jpg
LasOGs present to the Potrero Middle School staff

Las OG's presented their plan to Ms. Torres, Mr. Javier Ortega, and Principal Liz Raymond. They discussed the challenges they faced as freshmen, how they were able to find the support and information they needed, and how they want to use their experiences to help the current eighth grade students as they transition to high school. The Potrero staff had questions and suggestions for the team pertaining to the implementation and sustainability of the program. Topics the team had explored, but the discussion allowed them to work through some of these issues with the assistance of everyone present. The next step was to present to the eighth grade students before the end of the year.

The meeting with the Potrero students started with brief introductions and a film clip from the film "Mean Girls" to generate conversation about how they perceive high school. Beginning with this activity allowed the team to get the students' attention and seamlessly connect their perceptions with their fears and hopes for high school. They also introduced the A-G requirements to the students as something they need to be knowledgeable of before and during their time in high school.

Potrero students contemplate their feelings about high school by answering what they are concerned about and what they are excited about
Potrero students contemplate their feelings about high school by answering what they are concerned about and what they are excited about.

This was followed with a small group activity where the students were asked to write and discuss three things that excited them about high school, and three things that concerned them about high school. It was an opportunity for LasOG's to have a deeper discussion and get to know the students one on one.

Student's shared concerns about the difficulty of high school classes, especially science and math. They also wanted to know about the social cliques and the overall atmosphere at the school. There were students who were excited about high school, especially the social activities. On both ends of this discussion LasOG's were able to provide the students with examples of programs and activities that are available to them at the school.

Overall the meeting with the students was a success, with both LasOG's and the eighth graders eager for the next step. Their plans are to meet the first week of school during lunch, check in, and go over a schedule of events and activities that will assist them in navigating their first year at South El Monte High School.

LasOgs with Mr. Ortega, Ms. Torres, Ms. Raymond , and Ms. Quezada
LasOgs with Mr. Ortega, Ms. Torres, Ms. Raymond , and Ms. Quezada

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