Should 9th Grade be Separate from High School?

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Should 9th Grade be Separate from High School?
Learn about the pros and cons of separating 9th grade from high school.
As young adolescents move from middle to high school, many parents and school leaders are recognizing problematic patterns of behavior emerging among high school freshman. In an attempt to improve the issues among 9th graders, many schools are restructuring their programs so that 9th graders are in a separate setting, apart from the larger high school community. 
As studies from Boston College explain, “The transition from eighth grade to ninth grade is a critical time in a young person's educational career. Ninth grade programs and separate buildings for ninth graders have grown over the last ten years in an effort to meet their distinct needs.” 
Concerns Regarding 9th Graders in High School
Studies from The National Middle School Association (TNMA) reveal that, from the students’ perspective, the greatest concerns regarding the transition to high school revolve around “the amount of homework, class difficulty, and organizational issues (e.g., getting lost).” On the other hand, parents expressed concerns regarding issues of bullying, negative peer pressure, as well as other various academic and social worries. 
Current Problems Facing 9th Graders in the High School Environment
As TNMA supports, freshmen in the high school setting often experience a number of negative issues, such as:
  • A decrease in achievement from middle school to high school
  • Many straight-A students experience their first-grade decline
  • Cases of behavior problems, such as suspensions and expulsions, significantly increase in the early 9th-grade year
  • New social concerns, such as bullying, navigating the new and larger school, in addition to establishing new relationships at the secondary school “overshadow concerns about academics.”
Current Advantages of 9th Graders in the High School Environment
According to further research by TNMA, while 9th graders experience a number of setbacks, the high school setting also provides the younger students with a number of advantages, such as:
  • 9th graders enrolled in study-skills classes, or time-management courses showed a greater ability to stay on task
  • High school social opportunities allow students who may have been excluded in middle school to experience new social networks.  The social groups in high schools tend to be less limiting, as there is a larger dichotomy of student interests and groups: “Students in high school were able to establish new social networks or cliques that did not exist in their respective middle schools.”
  • In addition to new peer groups, studies show that students also look forward to “having more freedom, and attending school events as they transition to high school.”
Is the Separate 9th Grade Setting Effective?
As a number of schools across the country experiment with programs to separate 9th graders from the larger high school setting, Boston College investigated such programs to gain insight into their effectiveness. By reviewing curriculum data and conducting teacher interviews, Boston College analyzed separate 9th-grade programs for the span of two years. 
Results from the study show that, overall, the isolation of 9th graders in “a separate building, wing or floor eases the transition to high school.” Paired with this, “Ninth grade students benefit by building relationships with peers in the same grade,” as students, teachers, and administers reported fewer concerns of bullying by older students.
How Can Parents Help?
According to TNMS, “Parents can play an important role in helping their children during the transition from middle school to high school,” as studies found that, regardless of the school community/setting, “students whose parents monitored their activities and intervened positively (e.g., schoolwork, peer networks, and direct participation at the school) were more likely to have a smooth transition from middle school to high school.” 
Paired with this, reports show that when parents maintained contact with their son/daughter’s teachers and school leaders, communication became more reciprocal, as this approach allowed for an overall improvement in the communication between families and the schools. 
According to the Boston College study, however, parental involvement was higher in the separate 9th-grade setting than in the 9th-grade high school environment, which may also have been a factor in the success of the separate 9th-grade schools. Whether a child is in high school or in the separate setting, “positive adult relationships with ninth graders are essential for their success.” 
While each setting may offer different perks and drawbacks, parental involvement is proven to aid in a child’s success. In addition to being involved, parents can further help their child’s transition towards new grade levels by fostering their well being through extra-curricular activities. 
As Boston College research states: “Student activities play a pivotal role in ninth graders' feeling connected to their school, and offers opportunities to build positive relationships.” While there are more extracurricular opportunities for 9th graders in the high school environment, separate 9th-grade schools are seeking to further develop their clubs, sports venues, and student programs as well.
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