Developing a ‘North Star’ for Middle School Graduates

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Publish date: April 29, 2020
Categories: News and Updates, News from the Network, Other Helpful Resources
Post author: Stephen Nielsen

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Developing a ‘North Star’ for Middle School Graduates
Success Bound at AUSL

It’s your first day of high school. The halls are crowded and loud, and the scene overwhelms you. For comfort, you opt for your 8th-grade bookbag, a sign of more familiar times. After 1st-period, you realize this bag is missing your mandatory history book. You rush down three flights of stairs, across the crowded hallways, and finally make it to your locker. You can’t remember your combination. The bell rings. You now have a tardy, and this is your first week. 

This scenario might sound familiar to you. The pressure of transitioning from 8th-grade to the autonomy and self-reliance needed to succeed at the high school level often leaves students behind, especially those already at-risk. 

1. AUSL Prepares and Prioritizes What Matters for High School and College/Career Success

“Success Bound is the only time during our students’ day that is solely dedicated to allowing students to ask questions about their future opportunities. Given the inequities that our population of students faces, Success Bound bridges the gap and allows our students to explore beyond their current environment.” Latonia Reynolds, Success Bound Coordinator & Science Teacher at  Piccolo School of Excellence


In partnership with The Lefkofsky Family Foundation, the AUSL network implements a research-based intervention that ensures middle grade students are prepared for both high school and beyond. Success Bound was created based on the factors proven to lead to high school and college success, a stark move away from using standardized testing as the primary measurement of readiness. 

Why did this mindset shift happen? Identifying early indicators of high school graduation helps schools set students on the path to success before they even reach high school. In 2014, the report Looking Forward to High Schools and College from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research provided insight into the middle school indicators most predictive of student accomplishment in high school. The report concluded that:

  • Students ‘very at-risk’ of poor high school outcomes can be identified as early as 6th grade
  • Middle school grades & attendance (measured through on-track in Chicago Public Schools) are more predictive of high school success than standardized test scores. 
  • High school selection matters as well. Students are more likely to be successful in high school if they attend higher achieving, rigorous high schools. 


The Program

Success Bound helps students break the cycle of poverty and attain meaningful career pathways through early preparation beginning in middle school. As a departure from the emphasis on standardized test scores, this program takes a holistic, research-based approach to college/career readiness. 

AUSL was selected by the Lefkofsky Family Foundation as a pilot partner to inform the implementation of Success Bound. Components of the program executed across all 26 AUSL Network schools include:

  • The Success Bound Curriculum. The Success Bound curriculum connects students’ current choices to their future self. Each week, AUSL students receive 45-60 minutes of instruction, which helps them goal-set and build autonomy. By 8th grade, focus is spent on the transition into high school and developing skills to maximize the high school years and be successful in college and career. Lessons align to CPS Naviance to help students begin their college planning as early as 6th grade. 
  • On-track Inventives. Schools create incentives for students to come to school and get good grades (ie. pizza parties and award ceremonies). 
  • High School Preparation. Success Bound helps students select their ‘best fit’ high school. With a recently rolled out school choice platform called GoCPS, students are more in charge of their high school destiny than ever. Students learn to navigate the new system and receive transportation to high school fairs, visits, and selective enrollment exams. Some schools even host family engagement events.
  • College Trips. The ability to see a college campus, meet with students and faculty, and envision their future possibilities increases student ambition. Through this program, our students have gone on over 80 college trips including Howard University, Georgetown, and the University of Chicago

Success Bound puts purpose behind why students come to school.


2. Case Study: Piccolo School of Excellence

Whether it be virtual college tours, physical college tours, high school fairs, high school visits, or guest speakers, Success Bound provides a safe space for our students to ask questions that may seem rhetorical to others and to realize that their opportunities are endless. Success Bound is a key to ensure that education is truly equitable for all.”

Latonia Reynolds, Success Bound Coordinator & Science Teacher at  Piccolo School of Excellence

A 2012 alumna of the Chicago Teacher Residency, Latonia Reynolds is a middle school science teacher and the Success Bound Coordinator since the program’s inception in 2014. Thanks to Ms. Reynolds’ commitment to the work and the supportive instructional team, AUSL identified Picciolo School of Excellence as a model for Success Bound implementation.   

Picciolo School of Excellence truly utilizes a school-wide approach that enables teachers, counselors, and instructional leaders to lead Success Bound in their areas of expertise. The intervention is expertly integrated into each school’s culture, as it guides mentorship around future goals and helps build student autonomy. 

Ms. Reynolds even set up a mock high school day where students practiced switching classes and getting items from their lockers – an introduction to the demands of high school that would prevent the introduction scenario from happening. Underpinning the curriculum, an on-track incentives program and high school/college events help keep students focused on how their decisions today impact their future tomorrow. 

Every year 8th graders plan a ‘Signing Day’ Party. At this event, students invite their parents and siblings and announce to their classmates what high school they will be attending in the fall.

  1. Instructional Leaders – Principal Heather Pusatcioglu and Assistant Principal Erin Lauesen lead the push for on-track through bi-weekly meetings with Ms. Reynolds and the Success Bound team to deep dive into on-track data and strategize around incentives.
  2. Teachers – Middle school teachers take ownership of co-teaching the curriculum and integrating lessons into the school day. 
  3. Counselor – The counselor assists with 8th grade preparation for high school including the GoCPS selection process.
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