There is unseen panic running rampant through the suburban and urban high schools of America.  It is called the 9th Grade Shock.  9th Grade Shock, sometimes known as the 9th Grade Bulge, is attributing to:

  • decreases in student grade point averages
  • course failure
  • students being held back
  • higher than normal drop out rates  

What is 9th grade shock?

9th Grade Shock is caused by an unsuccessful transition into high school.  According to the UCLA School Mental Health Project, “Starting 9th grade is not just another grade transition; it is a major life change. Students who find the transition especially frustrating and discouraging pay an emotional toll, and this exacerbates behavior and learning problems. Unsuccessful 9th grade transitions are correlated with repeating the grade, disconnecting from school, and dropping out. Approximately 22% of students repeat ninth grade (more than any other grade).”  

What can cause 9th grade shock?

Much can be attributed to these statistics but students self report that they struggled with:  

  • large school
  • large class sizes
  • increased workload including homework
  • greater social pressures
  • higher expectations
  • having more autonomy/responsibility
  • feeling less connected to staff and peers

Ninth grade is a very important year for measuring not only student success during high school but also for future success in higher education and the workforce.  “More and more [education researchers] are realizing that it’s the make or break year for many 14- and 15-year-olds. It’s a time when the cognitive, emotional, and physical are all coming together. The schools are likely new environments, and the students have more autonomy and more homework.” (Options for Youth, 2017)

What can you do to prevent it?

Northwest Passage Charter High School in Coon Rapids, MN is redesigning its high school model to address the issue of 9th Grade Shock.   According to school Director Peter Wieczorek, the program, named Headwaters, will address the specific academic and developmental needs of incoming 9th grade students.  Headwaters will replace the existing multigrade classroom approach to better address the specific needs of incoming freshmen.

Headwaters logo

Northwest Passage High School’s Headwaters  program will address the issues of Ninth Grade Shock by:

  • Providing a dedicated space for incoming ninth graders
  • Creating four advisory groups of 16 students each
  • Including a summer orientation program
  • Beginning the school year with a 3 day team-building experience at a local camp
  • Providing additional adult and peer mentors
  • Expanding training in the schools Project Based Learning curriculum
  • Building in intentional community building and personalized attention  

While Headwaters  will be its own stand alone program, students will still participate in the schools personalized Project Based Learning curriculum, as well as multiple out of school field studies and overnight learning expeditions.  Other highlights of Northwest Passage include:

Space in Headwaters is limited to the first 64 students registered. For more information contact Northwest Passage H.S. at 763-862-9223 or visit our website or, find us Facebook or check out our Instagram @northwestpassagehs.

Northwest Passage High School is a tuition free public charter school located in Coon Rapids, MN serving students throughout the Anoka County area.