Transitions: giving students extra attention

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

“Did you turn in your essays yet? asks Morenci Area High School teacher Kim Mohr.

There’s not a lot of response to that query. The assignment is to write an essay about someone or something that’s had a large influence on your life.

As she talks, she breaks out the juice and cookies, noting that she spoils her group a little more than the other teachers.

Her group consists of 17 students who make up her Transitions Time section. Transitions is a district-wide School improvement program in Morenci that helps students prepare for the next step. At the high school level, that means preparing for life after school—college or the job market.transitions

Transitions Time is the high school staff’s extra effort to help kids succeed. Each teacher serves as a Transitions coach during the twice-a-month meetings.

“Who turned in essays the last time?” Mrs. Mohr asks.

She asks for someone to remind the group why this particular essay assignment is important, and Matt Delaney takes the challenge.

“In a lot of job interviews, they ask you that question,” he says.

“Right,” Mrs. Mohr answers, “in interviews and on applications.”

Essays are to be written and then reviewed by another student. While students work on their writing, Mrs. Mohr gets underway with a mainstay of the Transitions Time program: reviewing academic progress.

“I have your progress reports,” she says. “I’ll call you up one by one to look them over. Remember: 250 words minimum for the essays.”

The writing exercises are new this year, explains teacher Heather Whitehouse. The program began at the start of the 2001 school year and several refinements were added for the current year.

“We now meet more often and we have longer sessions than the first year,” she said.

Teachers are also more organized in their intervention methods to ward off academic problems. Each teacher takes his or her unique approach, but plans of action are in place. Intervention isn’t optional.

Mrs. Mohr looks over the progress report of the first student called to her desk. She reviews grades and looks for potential problems. She dishes out praise where deserved and offers a word of caution when she thinks that’s needed.

“This one’s improving,” she says to another student, “but how did you get yourself into such a hole? Look at what’s happening here so we can get to that goal.”

“As I see it,” Mrs. Whitehouse says, “it’s providing each kid with a guidance counselor. Everybody wants to see Mr. Mitchell [director of students affairs Nate Mitchell] but he’s not always available. The chances are your Transitions coach is.”

The essay writing isn’t going well for everybody.

“Nobody influences me,” says a struggling student. “Nobody influences my life.”

Up at the teacher’s desk, a similar problem is encountered.

“What about your essay?” Mrs. Mohr asks.

“It’s not coming along at all,” the student replies.

Another student heads to the front of the room and Mrs. Mohr addresses progress report comments: Needs to complete assignments. Capable of doing better.

“I don’t like to see that,” she says. “If you were my kid you’d be grounded. You’ve got to get that assignment made up.”

As Mrs. Whitehouse says, it’s almost parental in a way—an adult who isn’t passing out grades, who gets to know kids in a way other than the classroom situation, who can offer some attention and concern.

“Some kids don’t seem to appreciate the Transitions help, but others do like the attention and suggestions,” Mrs. Whitehouse says.

A senior has arrived late and Mrs. Mohr looks through  his report.

“Do you have senioritis or what?” she asks.

“Pretty much,” he answers. “I don’t want to do anything.”

“Time is flying here,” Mrs. Mohr says.

“Not fast enough,” the senior responds.

Progress reports aren’t always the focus of the 30-minute sessions. Each section has a range of students from all four grades and it’s not easy to address the needs of everyone each time.

“Sometimes we’re working on scheduling,” Mrs. Whitehouse says, “and then seniors are left out. Sometimes we’re working on scholarships and then the underclassmen are left out, but they can listen and see what’s happening.”

Attention is also paid to test scores and to keeping track of credits now that Morenci has raised it requirements.

“I think this has terrific potential,” Mrs. Whitehouse says. “I say ‘potential’ at this point since we’re still working out the bugs.”

For Mrs. Whitehouse, even more contact time would be better, but not all teachers agree. She might get support for that notion from Mrs. Mohr. She really loves the Transitions Time approach, but she says there’s never enough time.

She looks over another progress report. Time is running short and she still has a few students yet to cover.

“How did you get an F in geography?” she asks.

An explanation is given.

“That would do it,” she replies.

She’ll work up an intervention plan and contact the teacher involved, hoping to see a vast improvement the next time her students gather.

Improving, keeping on track, preparing for the next step—that’s what it’s all about.

    - March 5, 2003 
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