My four 8th grades will move on to the high school next year. This worries me because the high school is 3 times bigger than our middle school. Also, the behavior program staff is the same size but the case load is 100-150% larger. Not good! So we've been talking a lot about what we can do to get our students ready for this transition and honestly, there are times when I feel like the answer is: not much.
I think the high school here is simply not designed for students with difficult behavior. Each guidance counselor has a case load of 200 students or more, with one social worker, one mental health worker and, as I said before, just the one behavior specialist and two assistants. Not exactly a lot of support. In contrast, my 8th graders go to all of their academic classes with an assistant and come to me for another class. The only time they're really on their own is in PE and their elective. I wonder whether the level of service they're getting here is actually a disservice in some ways. But we're able to prevent all manner of trouble they would get into otherwise and generally avoid a 'middle school as hell' experience. How could I justify pulling back?
We are starting to work on what we can do to get them ready to move on to high school and this includes regular visits to the high school combined with a social skills class in which we're working exclusively on how to make and keep friends - this is on top of the study hall they have with me every day. Finally, we're going to practice talking to adults for things like passing in work, asking for forms and requesting help. I'm hoping that between these three things they can start to function a little bit more independently. I worry that it's too soon to expect them to do this because maybe they're just not there developmentally. We'll see.
My students are clearly nervous about this transition as well because they joke about us getting jobs at the high school next year. But at the same time my repeated pleading for more initiative on their parts has gone unheeded- not that I should find that surprising - planning for the future is not something you come to expect from impoverished and emotionally disturbed students. I don't want to imagine a future in which all the work we've been doing with these students doesn't translate into some form of high school success but the reality is that by this time next year they may have given up already.
Though I'm not the most important person in this equation I do have to balance not becoming desensitized to the reality of the situation that many student with behavior-related needs drop out of high school while at the same time not allowing that possible future derail my present day work. I don't think there's a way to avoid this post being a bit of a downer except perhaps to note that my 8th grade students have really made some tremendous growth over the years. We just have to hope that it's been enough.