Middle School Engagement

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Attendance and success in middle school are critical in keeping students on track for on-time graduation and preparing them to continue their education after high school or secure a self-sustaining job.

In so many ways, middle school represents a period of transition and evolution. It can be difficult for students to remain engaged and persist into high school, especially for students who struggled academically in elementary school, who have experienced trauma or have mental health and/or identity issues. To increase the chances of success, students must have safe school and home environments, positive interactions with adults and peers and feel a sense of empowerment as they mature into young adults.

Middle School Engagement: By the Numbers

While standardized test scores are only one piece of the middle school engagement puzzle, they are a critical piece nonetheless. Standardized test scores help us know whether a student is prepared to face the greater academic demands, new environments and new school cultures that await in high school.

In 2017, 73% of our region’s eighth graders passed the reading SOL test.

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While standardized test scores are only one piece of the middle school engagement puzzle, they are a critical piece nonetheless. Standardized test scores help us know whether a student is prepared to face the greater academic demands, new environments and new school cultures that await in high school.

In 2017, the eighth grade math SOL pass rate in our region varied from 34.7% in Petersburg to 88.9% in Chesterfield. The regional pass rate for the 8th grade math SOL in 2017 cannot be calculated, as raw data for all the localities is not available due to data suppression rules to protect student privacy.

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Children missing 15 or more days of the school year are much more likely to struggle to stay engaged in middle school. Chronic absenteeism creates and widens achievement gaps throughout elementary, middle and high school. Students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, and the impact of absenteeism on their academic performance is twice as great as it is on their more affluent peers.

In the 2015-16 school year, 8.1% of our region’s middle school students (3,348 students) missed more than 10% of school days.

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Regular school attendance is a strong predictor of academic success. Research has shown that students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to have academic problems, drop out of school and enter the juvenile justice system.

In the 2015-16 school year, 12% of our region’s middle school students were suspended or expelled (4,733 total students).

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Research finds that the presence of one or more caring, committed adults in a child’s life increases the likelihood that children and youth flourish and become productive adults themselves.

Unfortunately, no community-wide survey of youth social and emotional behaviors or supports is conducted in our region. United Way and our nonprofit partners in the out-of-school time space are committed to collecting more data about this critical indicator.

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What We Do

At United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, we understand that middle school is a complicated period for all students. There’s no silver bullet to strengthen engagement, which is why we work with a variety of programs in the region to tackle the issue from all sides.

  • Together with VCU’s Mary and Frances Youth Center, we run the Richmond Youth Program Quality Intervention (YPQI), which ensures out-of-school time programs make elementary and middle school-age students feel safe, engaged and empowered.
  • We convene the RVA Youth Development Network, which brings together professionals from the out-of-school time, youth development and education fields for networking and shared learning.

How You Can Help

  • Donate. Give to United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg. Let us know you want your gift to help increase middle school engagement.
  • Volunteer. Want to lend your time to supporting these efforts? Send us an email and we will help match you with the right opportunity. Or visit our Events page to see our existing opportunities.