In an effort to get 9th-graders off on the right foot, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) hosts a month-long Freshman Connection for incoming students who may be at risk of not graduating. The program features half-day lessons on topics like organization and goal-setting, as well as English and math, Chalkbeat reports.
The program takes place at about 70 schools with its portion of a $12.5 million statewide grant. Freshman Connection gives students an opportunity to forge relationships with teachers and staff can identify students’ potential issues earlier on.
The program reflects the district's emphasis on working to keep freshmen students on track. University of Chicago Consortium on School Research finds that performance in the first year of high school is the best way to predict whether or not a student will graduate.
Keeping freshmen on track may be the key to moving the needle up on graduation rates, experts say. This fact seems especially relevant for black males. In CPS, the graduation rate of African American males rose from 43% in 2005 to 71% in 2013. The research also found that freshmen who pass all their classes have a 90% chance of graduating from high school, compared to 70% of those who failed a class during 9th grade.
Evidence suggests that a student’s 9th-grade GPA is the most important predictor of future school success. Good grades reflect positive behaviors and attitudes, attendance and the effort to turn in assignments. This research is based on the grades of 187,000 first-time freshmen in non-charter, non-alternative schools.
CPS' efforts to provide freshmen with extra support has also received attention from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which last year sought schools to participate in its Networks for School Improvement initiative that will help schools intervene with at-risk students at critical transition points, such as when they begin high school.
Districts are also using mental health screening to identify those students who may be at-risk of depression and anxiety. The Auburn School District near Seattle is using a $450,000 grant for the Screening, Brief Invention and Referral to Treatment program at four middle schools. Administrators in the district found that high-performing elementary students often struggled after experiencing the different culture that middle schools tend to have.