District 96 administrators announced the creation of a new transition orientation program for incoming transfer students at L.J. Hauser Junior High last week, citing a noticeable trend toward lower academic achievement and social involvement among that group of students.

“What we discovered this year, when we were looking at groups of students who were struggling, by and large close to 90 percent of those students were new to the district,” Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson said at the regular business meeting of the District 96 school board meeting on June 20.

Lamberson added that Hauser Assistant Principal Dan Johnson also noticed a larger proportion of transfer students were not involved in any extracurricular activities at the school.

He attributed that trend to the challenges inherent in adjusting to a new environment, and said the new program will address those challenges by, for the first time, measuring transfer students’ skill levels and identifying potential problems they may have in adjusting to the Hauser curriculum.

“Quite honestly, the demands in this district are higher, and we need to make sure new students are prepared for that,” Johnson said. “We need to help them know how to be successful here, because they want to be. Students don’t come to school looking to fail.”

Lamberson explained the program, which will start in the fall, will assess each transfer student’s reading level as well as quantitative and study skills, and then work with the students to strengthen any areas that may fall short of district standards.

Although all of those main components will be covered for each student, Lamberson said the district will try to tailor the program to each student’s needs.

“Some kids will fly through it, some will need real help,” he said. “We’ll tailor-make it, so it works for all kids.”

The program will also encourage students to become more involved in extracurricular activities at Hauser Junior High, which serves students in Riverside, North Riverside east of First Avenue and the Hollywood section of Brookfield.

Lamberson said this may be a natural result of improving the students’ grades, increasing their confidence and giving them more time for clubs and sports, but the students will also work with a guidance counselor to help them adjust to the new community.

He said school administrators have also considered creating a “buddy program,” pairing up transfer students with other Hauser students to help them become familiar with the school, but no specific plans have been decided for that aspect of the orientation yet.

Of the 427 students at Hauser last year, 68 were transfer students. Although Lamberson noted that some of those students may come from districts whose academic standards were similar to those in District 96, he stressed that transfer students from all districts would be involved in, and helped by, the program.

“This is a program for every new student, even if they come from Burr Ridge or Hinsdale,” Lamberson said. “This is a different environment, and we want them to understand how they can come in and get connected. If they come in seventh or eighth grade, they’re not going to figure it out until May. We want to push that awareness time ahead, so the student really can get involved.”