SFUSD helping students navigate difficult transitions

Last week, I talked about the ways our seniors have been preparing for their journeys after high school, so this week, I want to talk about all the other students who are making important transitions as they move from one grade to the next or one school to the next.

Schools and the classrooms within schools are second homes for our children, and as we all know, moving from one house to another can be stressful. Here are some ways we prepare students for their big moves:

Pomp starts young

Across San Francisco Unified School District this week, you’ll be seeing lots of proud high schoolers in caps and gowns posing for pictures with family and friends. But did you know that many of our schools celebrate a much earlier big step the same way?

Kindergarten graduation ceremonies, like the one at Commodore Sloat Elementary School, honor students with pomp and circumstance, speeches and, of course, crowds of families taking photos. These little graduations help familiarize our students with the feeling of pride and accomplishment that can help them to imagine their future graduations from high school and college.

Step right up to sixth grade!

Here’s a really tough move: From being the big kid on campus as a fifth-grader to being the new kid wandering the halls of a middle school. Lockers. Changing teachers throughout the day. A whole new cafeteria. A bunch of strange faces.

We offer a great way to help students sort these things out before that first day of school. Called Step Up, our comprehensive middle schools offer a one-week summer orientation for students entering sixth grade. They go to homeroom, an English class focused on writing and a math class, and they even spend time in a class that focuses on building empathy. They also get the school tour and some fun team-building activities. Last year, 730 sixth-grade students participated at their middle schools across The City. I wish I’d had this back in the day.

Minding early warnings = celebrating later success

Perhaps the toughest transition of all faces our high school students. Suddenly, the stakes are really high. Even more classes to juggle and more new faces, and now everybody’s talking about graduation requirements, grade-point average and college.

Some students arrive in ninth grade with a track record of low academic performance and high absenteeism from middle school. Years of research have shown that these students are way more likely to drop out of high school. So, our high school teachers, counselors and principals take action and get incoming ninth-graders with these early-warning signs additional support from the moment they walk in the door.

Burton High School’s graduation rates went up this year by more than 10 percentage points. The principal links the increase with the school’s focus on laying a strong foundation for incoming freshman.

I love seeing our kids move through all of the big and little milestones of their education, and I’m proud of our staff for being there to help them every step of the way.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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