By William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)
During the Olympic Games in London several weeks ago, there were many stories about the value of everyone working together as a team to ensure success on the court and on the field. This team approach to winning works in many areas of everyday life but is especially important for the adults that connect with children at home, at school, and in the community. When children experience a significant change, such as moving from middle school to high school, this teamwork is critical to their success.
As a teacher and parent of five children who have made the transition from middle school to high school, I know that everyone on your child's education team needs to play his or her role. With concerns about what clothes they should wear, the location of the classes, the bus schedule, and the "acceptable seating area" for freshmen at the football games, students need parents to listen and help smooth the transition from middle to high school.
The transition from a middle grades school to high school is stressful. On one hand, students are excited about meeting new friends and having more freedom, more classes to choose from, and more extracurricular activities. On the other hand, they are worried about being lost in a new school, encountering older students, and experiencing tougher classes and schoolwork. The transition to high school is not a one-day event, occurring only on the first day of school. This transition takes place over time and requires the combined attention of parents and educators to effectively support students.
Parent and caregiver involvement in students' transition from middle to high school is critical.
- Find out what might trouble your own child about entering high school and help him identify how he can work through his concerns. Children may express concerns about getting good grades, preparing for college and career, volume of homework, and taking tests, among others.
- Encourage your child's high school teachers to talk to your child's middle school teachers and use the information and recommendations to help your son or daughter make the adjustment.
- Make sure your child is involved in the school's transition activities. They are designed to help your child succeed.
- Encourage your child to explore the new opportunities available at the high school: clubs, sports, theater, and other extracurricular activities. She should take this chance to discover her strengths, weaknesses, and proclivities.
- Help your child take some extra responsibility. This can include such activities as planning and cooking one meal per week, planning a family trip, or volunteering in the community. He needs to learn what it means to be responsible and accountable, and now is the time to give him these opportunities. New responsibilities also give children a chance to engage in decision making and problem solving.
- Work with your son or daughter to set realistic goals for the year, making sure to identify some specific things he or she needs to do to make progress toward the goals.
Educators in the middle school and the high school are responsible for facilitating a smooth transition.
- Bring the middle and high school administrators, teachers, and counselors together to learn about the courses, curriculum, and requirements of each school; to develop a mutual understanding about the young adolescent; and to create a smooth transition plan. Include input from students and parents.
- Include in the transition plan visits to the new school, counseling, and summer experiences that help students acclimate to their new schools.
- Plan activities that provide incoming students with social support, including opportunities to develop relationships with other incoming students and with older students.
- Provide an advisory program that assigns each student with an advisor or mentor — an adult advocate.
- Put significant, purposeful effort into engaging parents and families in the school. Parent and caregiver involvement tends to decrease in the middle grades and even more so during the transition to high school.
- Provide activities throughout the school year that involve students from both the middle and high schools. Peer mentoring programs that connect a ninth grader or older student with an incoming eighth grader are a popular way to accomplish this.
Focused, purposeful, and ongoing efforts of the entire school community help incoming high schoolers remain academically successful, socially connected, and on the path to graduation.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.