Understanding youth to smooth their transition to high school

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Identifying potential problem areas, and determining which resources might best smooth each student’s transition to high school.

Elementary-high school transition program at Montréal’s Jean-Grou high school

Understanding youth to smooth their transition to high school

For some students, entering high school can be a particularly stressful time. To help such students, Jean-Grou high school, in partnership with its five feeder elementary schools in Rivière-des-Prairies, set up an elementary-high school transition program last year, working closely with an organization with deep roots in the community: Équipe RDP.

Annie Delisle and Joubenson Choute (Photo : François Couture)

A wide variety of initiatives exist around the province geared toward the key step of transitioning from elementary to high school, with each school taking its own approach to the issue depending on the specific needs of its students. Since basketball is popular with many youth in the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies, getting the (wonderful!) basketball coach, Joubenson Choute, from Équipe RDP, to act as an elementary-high school transition facilitator was a natural choice. “All the elementary students know Joubenson, since he coordinates the basketball program for all the Jean-Grou feeder elementary schools. He really connects with the kids,” explains Annie Delisle, assistant principal for cycle 1 at Jean-Grou high school.

A better understanding of at-risk youth

Every year, Delisle meets with all grade 6 teachers in the five feeder schools to learn about the students who will be attending her high school come September. This allows her to plan personalized support for students experiencing difficulties, either academic or personal, that might hinder their schooling. “This process gives me an overall understanding of my future students, but Joubenson provides the special touch, perspective, and details that can make all the difference. He hangs out with the kids in the gyms, in the halls, and sometimes even outside of school. You might say he has a 360-degree view of them. So his work really complements the efforts of the teachers and other professionals in guiding the students day-to-day. We felt we needed that kind of input, so we had a meeting to establish the foundations of our elementary-high school transition program and what Joubenson’s role would be,” adds Delisle.

For the program’s first year, each of the feeder schools’ administrations targeted 12 grade 6 students, for a total of 60. Then, from January to June, Joubenson Choute spent one day per week in each of the elementary schools to gather information from teachers, coaches, special ed technicians, and psycho-educators about how “his” students had done that week.

“I met with each kid and lent them my ear and my support. We talked about what had happened in recent days and how they felt. Some would be consumed with anxiety about high school.”

“When I finished my tour, I met with each kid and lent them my ear and my support. We talked about what had happened in recent days and how they felt. Some would be consumed with anxiety about high school. They saw it as a huge mountain to climb. They were so overwhelmed that they would be completely disorganized in class. So I tried to reassure them, explain in simple terms what would happen, and let them know that it wasn’t a mountain. Some had problems with medication or family violence. Some had run away. There were problems with motivation, malnutrition, bullying, acute shyness, fighting, repeated lateness. It was clear to me that their lives were littered with barriers,” relates Choute.

While this support was already much appreciated by both students and administrations, the work was not yet done. At the end of the school year, Choute and Delisle met to pool their knowledge, reviewing the cases of all 60 students, identifying potential problem areas, and determining which resources might best smooth their transition to high school in September.

When the students entered Jean-Grou high school in the fall, Choute spent two full months with them in the school to answer their many questions and help them adapt to high school life. The questions were varied, ranging from “Where’s the secretary’s office?” to “How do I get to the third floor?” to “I don’t feel well, how do I see the nurse?”

“Just having Joubenson around in their new school was sometimes enough to reassure them. They look up to him. They have a great relationship with him and they feel they can trust him.”

“Just having Joubenson around in their new school was sometimes enough to reassure them. They look up to him. They have a great relationship with him and they feel they can trust him. At the start of the year, they don’t know I’m the principal, or they think I’m aloof; but when they see me with Joubenson when they get to school in the morning, it makes it easier for me to reach out to them. Joubenson’s presence helps us in so many ways to support them when they get here,” notes Delisle.

“Nothing gratifies me more than learning that such and such a kid is doing well and that their transition [to high school] was successful. Some will always need special help, but they’re making progress all the same.”

In November 2017, Choute completed the support phase for students in last year’s elementary-high school transition program, who are now in secondary I and standing on their own two feet. Choute places a hand over his heart. “It’s January now, and nothing gratifies me more than learning that such and such a kid is doing well and that their transition [to high school] was successful. Some will always need special help, but they’re making progress all the same. It really touches me to know that we’ve done something good for a young person. When they have trouble at school, it’s often not really their fault. They’re basically good kids, and I’m really happy to help them.”

Choute is now back in his elementary schools with a new cohort of grade 6 students, who will experience their own transition to high school next September. Thanks to Choute and Delisle, it is bound to be a smoother one.

 

_ February, 2018


Réseau réussite Montréal is continuing its series of feature articles on fruitful collaborations between the education sector and community partners that foster the success of youth.

We asked journalist and photographer François Couture to go and meet the people involved in these partnerships and tell their stories.