The George W. Bush Institute has introduced its second big education initiative, a program that seeks to improve graduation rates by focusing on middle schools.

Former first lady Laura Bush announced the initiative, called “Middle School Matters,” at Stovall Middle School in the Aldine Independent School District on Feb. 9. She said research has shown that middle school—and sixth through eighth grade in particular—is a crucial time in determining future success.

“We know now from research that a lot of kids that drop out in high school really drop out in middle school. They just leave in high school,” she said. “One of the goals will be making sure they are prepared for high school.”

For the program, the institute has compiled research done by various institutions on what determines success in middle schools and plans to take that information and work with middle schools to implement new practices.

The program focuses on 11 elements for success, including school leadership, reading interventions, effective teachers, dropout prevention, and school, student, family and community support. The Bush Institute’s research team has come up with specific measures that can be taken in the classroom to improve performance in all of these elements.

“Within each area, researchers are coming up with principles and practices to implement,” said Kerri Briggs, the Bush Institute’s director of education reform.

For example, the institute said, dropout preventions could include assigning adult advocates to meet regularly with students at risk of dropping out. Those advocates also could greet students as they arrive, meet with students to review grades and assignments, and regularly talk with the student’s parents.

The research team is working to make sure all the components of the program are in place. They plan by the 2012-13 school year to implement the program in 10 to 15 schools. And then, making adjustments in the program from what they’ve learned, they will add more schools in the 2014-2015 school year.