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Case study

Easing the Transition to High School


Moving from middle school to high school can be challenging for many students. Many high schools ease the transition by offering extra academic and social support—both during the summer after 8th grade, and during the school year in small academies dedicated to new 9th graders.

With a long history of providing innovative programs for middle and high school students, we developed a transition to high school program in 2010 to support incoming NYC 9th graders during both the summer and their first year of high school. Funded primarily by the New York Life Foundation, the program strengthens students’ academic and 21st century skills and prepares them for high school, with a workplace-simulation-based curriculum. The use of this program by six NYC high schools during both the summer of 2011 and the 2011-2012 school year is described briefly here; the program continues to be used in NYC and elsewhere.

In the summer, our program was typically part of voluntary five- to six-week programs housed at the host high school. During the school year, the program was most often used in specially designated 9th grade settings, such as small learning communities, an after-school Freshman Leadership Initiative, a “JumpStart” learning academy, and a 90-minute English Language Arts block. Six NYC high schools participated; four very large, comprehensive high schools with enrollments ranging from 1,500 to 3,700 (Flushing HS, Forest Hills HS, John Adams HS, and Queens Vocational HS), and two small high schools of 500-600 students each (Community Health Academy of the Heights, and Cobble Hill HS).

The transition from 8th to 9th grade is one of the most pivotal moments in a student’s education, and one of the most treacherous.
Breakthrough Collaborative, 2011

Solution: An Engaging Real-World Transition Experience

Students took on leadership roles in workplace simulations, becoming editors, bankers, physician’s assistants, and sports media executives. The “Classroom, Inc. approach” to learning—where students learn academic skills while being “in charge”, and seeing, often for the first time, how a workplace operates—motivates students. While in these roles, students read and wrote a variety of workplace documents, conversed with colleagues, solved problems, and made decisions. They deliberated with classmates and collaborated to come up with solutions, learning and practicing social skills to successfully get through their workdays.

One school’s students created a magazine for incoming freshmen who had not come to the summer program. Their experience as editors while using our What’s Up Magazine simulation helped them develop relevant and interesting articles for their peers. Because our program also fosters non-cognitive skills needed in high school, such as self-confidence, collaboration, and an understanding of the relevance of academic skills to the real world, it fit well with a variety of school-sponsored non-academic components. One school, for example, introduced students to sports and arts programs, and fostered relationships with their guidance staff; another emphasized leadership and character development along with a community-based partner organization.


A group of 1,236 rising 9th graders were part of this program; most came from large comprehensive high schools.

  • 66% were in the program during the school year only
  • 19% participated during the summer only
  • 14% were in both the summer and school year programs
  • 75% of the students were Hispanic or Black (non-Hispanic)
  • 61% were free-lunch eligible
  • 7% were English language learners
  • 6% were special education students.

Students participating in the intense five-week summer program—regardless of whether they continued to participate during the school year—demonstrated positive outcomes including:

  • Improved reading performance, as measured by the Reading-Level Indicator (RLI), of a year and seven months, in sharp contrast to the typical summer learning loss that occurs.
  • Earned more credits during summer school than a matched cohort of students in other academic summer programs, giving them an advantage when they returned to school in September.
  • Had better subsequent school year attendance than the matched cohort.

Students who continued using the program during the school year showed even larger reading gains, as would be expected, with an average increase of two years and seven months on the RLI. Classroom, Inc. concludes that the strongest transition intervention begins with an intense summer program and continues during the school year. This supports the literature, which states “the most successful schools see the transition between the middle grades and high school as a process, not an event.” (Education Partnerships, 2010)

“The work with Classroom, Inc. has allowed our students to develop a real connection to the school, their classmates, and teachers prior to the start of 9th grade. Students participated in engaging work that has a connection to their interests.”

* Results presented here are taken from a study commissioned by Classroom, Inc. and conducted by Metis Associates, Transition to High School Outcome Study, 2014, Metis Associates: New York, NY.


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