In 2007, we launched the Middle High Forum, a network that brought together districts aiming to improve the transition students make between middle school and high school. At the same time, we jettisoned our old name—the Mon Valley Education Consortium—because new programming, like the Forum, was attracting participants from an expanded geographic footprint.
When the Forum began, U.S. high school graduation rates were still worrisome, after hitting a nadir at the beginning of the decade. Research showed students often were dropping out of high school during or just after freshman year. The thinking at the time was that extra support at that critical juncture might help more stay the course.
The Middle High Forum took straight aim at the problem. It supported teams of educators in developing and implementing strategies to make the transition easier. Among other things, the Forum provided participating districts with research, speakers, and opportunities to share best practices among peers who were focused on the same challenges.
Projects that districts undertook as part of the Forum ranged from simple tweaks, like “move- up” days to familiarize rising eighth graders with high school before they went, to full-blown freshman academies that supported ninth graders throughout their first high school year.
Laurel Highlands School District’s team implemented a strategy that reduced dropouts from as many as 35 students a year to no more than a handful. Known as the “Exit Interview,” the project made parental consent a requirement for students to leave school and also mandated exit interviews with school administrators. As part of the process, counselors and others were able to determine the reasons students wanted to drop out, and usually were able to offer support that kept them in school. A student who was leaving to work, for example, might get a “work release” schedule that provided the flexibility needed to continue with classes.
The dropout prevention program was just one of several creative strategies Laurel Highlands developed as part of the Forum, said Randy Miller, the district’s Director of Curriculum & Instruction.
Like a number of participating districts, the Laurel Highlands team also brought the Forum’s work to bear at other grade levels. Said Miller, “We enhanced our transition activities at all levels.”