STEP (School Transitional Environment Program) is a school organizational change initiative that seeks to decrease student anonymity, increase accountability, and enhance students’ abilities to learn school rules and expectations. The program proposes that improving the transitional learning environment will provide a better educational foundation for students’ middle school and junior high school years. The program’s goals are to reduce barriers to students’ access of formal support, increase availability and accessibility of support, help students access information about school rules and expectations, and increase their sense of belonging and familiarity with teachers.
Target Population/Program Components
The program targets students in transition from elementary and middle schools to large urban junior high and high schools with multiple feeder schools, serving predominantly nonwhite lower-income youths. Its two major components involve restructuring the physical and social environment of the middle school and restructuring the role of the homeroom teacher.
The school’s social system is reorganized by creating smaller learning environments within larger schools, which results in a stable set of classmates for transitioning students. This reduces the degree of complexity and change facing young students entering a new learning environment. Students remain in small groups for their homeroom periods and academic subjects (the classrooms are physically close).
Homeroom teachers act as administrators and guidance counselors, providing class schedule assistance, academic counseling, and counseling for personal problems. Teachers also explain the project to parents and notify them of student absences. Project students are assigned to homerooms in which all classmates are STEP participants. They are enrolled in the same core classes to help develop stable peer groups and enhance participants’ familiarity with the school.
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Classroom and Problem Behavior
The STEP (School Transitional Environment Program) group demonstrated significantly less problem behavior compared with the control group. In another measure, teacher classroom observations, STEP students also exhibited significantly better classroom behavior relative to the comparison group.
There was a significant association with improved grade point average among students who participated in STEP compared with control students. In addition, the measures for academic expectations were significantly better for the STEP intervention group relative to comparison group children.
School Transition Stress
The treatment group in the Felner et al. (1993) study of STEP reported significantly less transition-related stress than the comparison group.
Depression, Anxiety, and Self-Esteem
Study authors assessed student depression, anxiety, and self-esteem using an aggregate measure of “psychological distress.” STEP students had significantly lower levels of psychological distress compared with the control group at the follow-up measurement.
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