Small Learning Communities The Impact Dissertation

Excerpt from Dissertation :

" (Rosser, et al., 1999) Furthermore, Rosser et al. (1999) relates that these changes are overwhelming for some students and "…can overtax their capacity to cope, thereby compromising academic and emotional functioning." Unfortunately, there remains a paucity of recent research, especially longitudinal studies, concerning the experiences of adolescents during their transition to high school. According to Isakson and Jarvis, "The amount of time spent in school serves not only to educate students, but also to shape their social world, contributing to overall development. Yet, changing schools represents a specific life transition that is acknowledged as a challenging and potentially stressful life event" (p. 1). In fact, that transition to high school represents a profound challenge for many young learners no matter what their primary school organization. For instance, Isakson and Jarvis note that, "Whether the eighth-grade year was spent in a kindergarten through eighth-grade school (Grades K-8), a middle school (Grades 6-8), or a junior high school (Grades 7-8), high school represents a different environment, replete with many new academic and social challenges. Yet, little longitudinal research exists on the adjustment of adolescents during the transition to high school" (p. 2).

The limited amount of research concerning student transitions to high school has been primary restricted to young people entering junior high school; these studies have generally identified negative consequences such as decreases in self-esteem and participation in school activities, and increases in feelings of anonymity among students entering junior high school (Isakson and Jarvis). Likewise, negative correlations between number of life changes, including entering junior high, extra-curricular participation, self-esteem and grade point average (GPA) have been identified; however, still other studies have provided some positive views of the junior high transition, indicating that individual differences between adolescents and characteristics of the school may be important factors for successful student adjustment (Isakson and Jarvis). Even here, though, there are some fundamental limitations to the existing body of knowledge concerning the transition to high school, especially in the United States. According to these authors, the research that has been conducted over the past two decades or so regarding the transition to high school has also generally reported negative effects in terms of decreases in GPA, attendance, and extra-curricular participation (Isakson and Jarvis). In addition, they note that, "Anxiety concerning school procedures and the presence of older students, and initial transition problems in the larger high school were found, as well as decreased adjustment associated with life stress. However, much of this research was conducted in Australian schools or studied a limited number of adjustment variables" (Isakson and Jarvis, p. 2).

Experiences that result in students failing to remain in school which occur in the ninth-grade year include the inability of the student to establish a feeling of connectedness with the school or to properly correlate the idea of the amount of time and effort required in order to achieve academic success. Given that these types of specific demands continue to increase through the high school and college years, it is vitally important to resolve any transitional problems when they occur and before they have a chance to adversely affect the continued enrollment of these at-risk youths. What can be discerned from the extant body of knowledge of the transition from early educational settings to the high school setting indicate that adolescents may experience a wide range of reactions that can either hinder or facilitate their transition, depending on several factors concerning their feelings of connectedness to the new school and the support systems they already have in place to help them during this formative periods in their lives. In this regard, Isakson and Jarvis report that, "Increased emphasis on social interactions in high school may create an environment where fitting in and belonging serves as an added source of pressure. It follows that because high school is a new environment for the adolescent, a sense of belongingness or feeling of school membership may indeed be lower than it was when the student was in junior high school, at least during the transition period" (p. 2). An early study by Kulka and his colleagues (1982) determined that high school students' expressed feelings of alienation could result in misbehavior and an external locus of control in subsequent interactions with restrictive and controlling school personnel; likewise, Goodenow (1993) subsequently determined that students' feelings of belongingness in their school positively influenced their motivation for school, effort, level of participation, and eventual academic achievement. One rare longitudinal study by Resnick et al. (1997) concerning first wave of the Add Health data (a longitudinal study of adolescent health involving approximately 90,000 students in grades 7-12), determined that older and younger students alike who felt connected to their school reported less emotional distress and violent behavior; in addition, these researchers determined that a sense of connectedness with a school helped young people avoid the use of tobacco and other substances, including alcohol, and marijuana use, as well as premarital sex (Resnick et al.). These researchers concluded that feelings of connectedness may be adversely affected in students as they make school transitions, but here again, this area remains understudied with regard to transitions to high school (Resnick et al.).

Beyond the foregoing considerations, students entering high school may also experience significant changes in their lives from the perspective that there is increased pressure to perform well so that they can be successful after graduation compared to their junior high school experiences, whether that means going to college or getting a job (Isakson and Jarvis). Indeed, in an era of high-stakes testing regimens where high school students are required to pass a rigorous battery of tests in order to graduate, these pressures may appear to be overwhelming for students who are already struggling or who are in an emotional state of shock as a result of their new and more demanding environment. According to Isakson and Jarvis, "Overall, teacher expectations and demands may also increase, creating the need for adjustments on the part of the student. A higher level of stressors than what the student faced in the junior high environment may be the result" (p. 2).

Surveys of high school students have found that their main problems to be in the areas of school, parents, friends, and dating, findings that are congruent with the types of developmental adjustments adolescents typically encounter and the high school atmosphere itself (Isakson and Jarvis). There have been some gender differences identified in some studies, though, with males reporting more school problems, while females have reported more problems with interpersonal relations in the studies to date; consequently, adaptive coping strategies on the part of the adolescent will likely be important when faced with such stressors but this area remains better described than understood in the scholarly literature to date and more research is needed (Isakson and Jarvis). In fact, one of the primary constraints to the literature review was the fact that many of these important issues are discussed in highly general terms or are simply restatements of what others have found, but fail to identify what, if any, steps have been taken to address the issues of emotional and physical withdrawal from the learning environment. Likewise, as Isakson and Jarvis emphasize, while some adverse outcomes have been clearly shown to be related to how well adolescents manage the transition to high school, there remains a gap in the existing body of literature concerning what specific stressors are typically experienced by ninth graders and what coping strategies have been shown to be effective, if any. As these authors point out, "Regardless of gender, examining stressors adolescents experience as they enter high school and coping strategies employed remains an important area to consider. With this knowledge, educators can facilitate adjustment by recommending use of different coping strategies when adolescents need additional guidance" (Isakson and Jarvis, p. 2).

The vast majority of the studies to date seem to rely on tried-and-true approaches to helping students make the transition, including more individualized attention and increased teacher involvement, but many of these studies simply ignore the need for additional parental involvement or only address it tangentially, as if it was an afterthought rather than being an integral part of any comprehensive approach to providing young learners with the tools they will need to succeed. Some authorities have reported some negative outcomes and some factors that have been shown to play a role in mitigating the…

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