Date of Award

2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Department

Individually Designed

Advisor

Edward Brazee

Second Committee Member

A. James Artesani

Third Committee Member

William E. Davis

Abstract

An important relationship exists between early identification of at-risk students, the challenges of transitions for academic achievement and engagement with the school environment, and a high school program that provides a supportive framework to assist students with staying on track to graduation. Growing interest on the part of researchers and educators has focused on the ninth grade as a critical turning point for young adolescents, and schools have designed programs intended to effectively transition students from middle to high school. Limited research has examined the perceptions of at-risk students as they interact with these programs. The purpose of this case study was to identify at-risk student perceptions regarding the helpfulness of transition activities during their move from middle to high school. A team of school personnel in each of two Maine schools identified potential eighth-graders for participation. Qualitative data was collected and analyzed from transition documents and interviews conducted with students at two intervals: during the spring of eighth grade and again in the fall of the ninth. Findings focused on three essential components of the transition process: personal/social, procedural/organizational, and academic. While the emphasis of the formal transition activities organized by the schools was perceived as primarily academic, students highlighted the importance of the personal/social aspects, often developed through more informal avenues. Peer interactions, meaningful adult relationships, and belonging through athletics, the arts, and other extra- and co-curricular activities were cited as contributing to engagement with their ninth-grade environment. Results reflect the changing nature of student perceptions regarding the helpfulness of the transition activities, as well as offer, through the words of the participants, suggestions for improvements. The results of this study may assist administrators and educators as they design, implement, and assess transition programming in their individual settings, as well as contribute to the literature on issues related to the transition process and the critical ninth-grade year. These results will also add fourteen voices to the limited existing research on student perceptions of the transition experience, research that should continue to explore the temporal nature of this process throughout students' eighth and ninth-grade years.

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