Summer-bridge classes help kids kick-start high school
About 100 Seattle students, mostly incoming freshmen at Franklin, Chief Sealth and West Seattle high schools, brushed up on academics and made connections with teachers by attending a new summer program aimed at preparing them for high school.
The Hechinger Report; The Seattle Times
Before this summer, Josh Chase wasn't sure he was prepared for high school. He wanted to do better than he had in middle school when he went through a rough time at home, but worried he was too far behind.
So when Chase, 14, received a letter inviting him to attend a 5 ½-week summer program to help him prepare for high school, he signed up.
And now, as school starts this week, he's feeling a lot better about his chances of doing well.
"We reviewed a lot of stuff that I forgot," he said. Chase was one of about 100 students — mostly incoming freshmen at Franklin, Chief Sealth and West Seattle high schools — to attend Seattle's newest summer-bridge program, where they brushed up on academics, made connections with teachers and were introduced to the activities that high school can offer.
Many Seattle high schools have such programs in one form or another. But this one, sponsored by the city and run by the YMCA, is among the most intensive.
Freshman year is recognized by researchers and educators alike as critically important. More students fail ninth grade than any other grade, and once students are held back, the likelihood that they'll drop out increases dramatically.
Nationwide, summer-bridge programs are emerging as a popular strategy to help prevent dropouts. Studies suggest summer-bridge and other high-school transition programs held during the school year have also led to improved pass rates for ninth-graders, fewer discipline problems and increased self-esteem.
A district in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, for example, cut its freshman truancy rate in half by implementing programs including its summer-bridge program. And at Stephenson High School in DeKalb County, Ga., 80 percent of bridge-program participants passed ninth-grade biology, compared with 61 percent for students who didn't participate. And the program's influence seemed to continue beyond freshman year; while most summer-bridge participants took three Advanced Placement classes their junior year, other students typically took just one.
Letters of invitation
In Seattle, middle-school teachers and administrators, as well as YMCA staff, last spring identified students they thought would benefit from the new program, based on a variety of factors such as grades and school attendance. Invitation letters were sent to their families.
While it may seem like a hard sell to get teenagers to give up part of summer vacation, many students who attended the program, held at Seattle University, said they're glad they did.
"My parents made me go, so I went, and it turned out really great," said Asia Davis, 15, who recently moved to Seattle from North Carolina.
She said she was able to make new friends, get the help she needed in math, and take an enrichment class in cooking, which she loved.
Four mornings a week, the students took math and language-arts classes, with enrichment classes in the afternoons. Besides cooking, some of the other offerings were robotics or music or martial arts. All students also spent time learning how to research and write a business plan.
On Fridays, they spent time learning about college and did community service.
Nearly all of the 100 students who started the program finished, said Anne Powell of the YMCA.
It grew out of a sense that many students could benefit from more than just the one-week orientation program that all incoming freshmen are invited to attend at those three high schools.
Many of the students who attended the 5 ½-week bridge program, including Chase and Davis, also took part in the one-week orientation, held at the high schools.
Chase's sister, who is his guardian, urged him to take part in the one at West Seattle High, wanting him to do whatever he could to prepare for high school. He said he also wanted to check out the school building, which he'd never visited before.
In all, about half of the incoming freshmen at West Seattle High attended the weeklong program, spending time with advisers, making friends and learning more about the school's clubs and other offerings.
Even for students who attend only that shorter program, the opportunity to learn the lay of the land and meet teachers can make a difference.
"You forget how terrifying it is to be a freshman in high school," said Kacey Guin, a senior policy analyst in the city's Office of Education.
"The overarching goal is just building that personal relationship with students before they start school," said Lisa Coacher, a reading intervention teacher. "It does help set the tone."
The Seattle Times reported this story in collaboration with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University. Sarah Butrymowicz is a staff writer for The Hechinger Report.
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or email@example.com
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