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Negotiating the high school admissions maze

By Frank Murphy on Oct 19, 2010 04:07 PM

In 2005, when Meade School’s first 8th grade class moved up to high school, less than 10 percent of those students were accepted to schools other than their neighborhood high school. This was a disappointing result for the many students who had sought admission to special admission schools. It was also disappointing for our teachers. Our staff decided that this was not an acceptable outcome. We resolved to do better in future years.

For the next five years we worked to develop systems and processes that would assist our students gain admission to the high schools of their choice. Our staff worked hard to figure out how to negotiate the high school admissions maze.

Initially, we took the time to try to figure out why so many of our students had received rejection notices. Many of them had done well in 8th grade. They had good grades and their PSSA test results were in the basic and proficient range. But when we looked more closely at their academic, attendance, and behavior records, we observed that their performance in 6th and 7th grade was not as strong as it should have been.

With this observation in mind, we put a greater emphasis on building our students’ high school awareness starting in the 6th grade.

  • We began to include these younger students in all of our middle school assemblies.
  • When representatives from various high schools came to promote their schools, we made sure that our 6th and 7th graders were at those presentations.
  • Whenever a middle school student was involved in a disciplinary infraction, we pointed out to the child and their parents that a history of poor behavior could affect what high school would accept them.
  • We explained to students and their parents that a poor attendance record would be considered as a negative in the high school admission process.
  • Teachers regularly reminded their students during lessons that it was their grades in 7th grade that received the most attention when a high school was considering whether or not to admit them.

Two years ago we realized that our initial efforts were not enough. So we significantly increased the supports provided to our incoming 8th graders. We formed a high school admissions support team. This group included the principal, counselor, members of the leadership team, and classroom teacher volunteers. Utilizing this team, we were able to assign one adult mentor to a group of five 8th graders. In these smaller group settings, each child was able to receive more personalized attention.

The staff mentors met individually with their assigned students several times during September and October. At these meetings, using a high school guide booklet, they helped the students to identify high schools that matched with their interests. They then assisted the students in filling out the application form. Mentors also discussed each student’s choices with their parents and made sure that the parent signed off on the application.

The role of the high school support team did not end with the submission of the application forms. The mentors:

  • Conducted writers workshops with mentees who needed to submit essays.
  • Assisted students to create and organize portfolios for the schools that required them.
  • Conducted mock interviews to help prepare the students to more comfortably deal with the real thing.
  • Practiced making introductions with the students.
  • Helped students figure out what to say about their interests and future objective.

Our staff kept track of the interview schedules of various high schools and reminded students about their appointments. Team members wrote letters of recommendation for mentees. Staff also gave fashion support as to appropriate dress for an interview. 

On interview day, members of our support team helped students to tie their ties and tuck in their shirts. Someone helped them to figure out how to get to the school by public transportation. If they didn’t have the fare for Septa, we gave it to them. If the route was too confusing, we sent an adult along with them.

Even after the final decisions were made, we continued to support 8th graders. When parents became nervous about their child traveling to another neighborhood, we would call them and reassure them it would be all right. When a student who was doing well in 8th grade was not accepted to a high school due to a less than stellar 7th grade performance, I would contact the principal of the rejecting school and plead the student’s case

Anyone who is truly interested in developing a deeper understanding of the obstacles that confront 8th graders in their attempts to obtain admission to the high school of their choice should read Meade School’s blog post. You will find there the comments of many Meade students. They will tell you, in their own voices, what the high school admission process was like for them.

This September, 19 of Meade’s 8th graders from the class of 2010 enrolled in either a citywide or special admission school. Out of a class of 31, this equals 61 percent of the students. This year, there was far less disappointment. 

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Comments (3)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 20, 2010 3:52 pm

This shows how adults working hard and smart pays off for kids. Going from 10% to 61% admission to selective schools is extraordinary!
I wonder if other middle and k-8 schools do a similar set of supports or would be interested in replicating Meade's.
I have often thought that visits to high schools and observing freshman classes starting in 5th and 6th grades could make a big difference because seeing the differences between selective and open admissions schools would motivate younger students to study hard and have good attendance and behavior. Seeing is believing. A nice math exercise could be comparing school data from various high schools and learning how to interpret it.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on October 20, 2010 7:00 pm

Great story. This would be a valuable piece of information and performance indicator for K-8 and middle schools ... whether students get accepted into a high school they want to attend.  We know that the citywide rate of success in the high school selection process is below 50%, so there could be a lot of schools where the 10% figure that Meade started at is the norm.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on October 21, 2010 6:14 pm

This is one example of how the Meade Staff let the data drive the plans. Identifying the needs, creating a plan of attack, then sticking to the program was a vital energizing system that created success. When the goal was not met in one year, more evaluation and changes were idetified and implimented. This is what data is supposed to do. This is what teachers want to do with data. Use it. That's what we all want.
I am glad that this set of data details was in favor of the children. It was worth all the extra work. I wish more places and teams could do this.

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