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April/May 2010

Movin' On Up
Easing into Middle and High School
by Whitney Brennan


The transitions to middle and high school can be daunting—to both children and parents—and the stress of transitioning is only compounded when you’re relocating to a new city. New middle and high school students enter larger schools and have to learn to cope with more peers, new teachers and unfamiliar subjects, as well as becoming the youngest students in the school—again.

While some stress will always accompany the move to middle and high school, there should be excitement, too, as the change also means the possibility of new friends, new extracurricular activities, and more freedom in the hallways. The good news is that there are strategies for making the transition easier for both you and your child.

First, communication is key. Talk to your child and find out what concerns he or she has about moving up to middle or high school. The National Middle School Association, the only national education association dedicated to the educational and developmental needs of middle schoolers, says the main concerns of new middle school students include being late, getting lost, failing, more challenging work, being picked on and taking tests. As these students transition into high school, their concerns change to making good grades, taking tests/final exams, difficult classes, preparing for college and turning in work on time.

However, not all children have the same concerns. Your child may be more worried about what you expect, making friends, peer pressure or getting into trouble. Discuss the transition with your child and ask them how they feel about the change so you can better understand their worries.

Second, make sure you and your child are familiar with the new school and its transition resources. Most schools host an orientation/open house for students, which can be particularly helpful. The sessions typically allow students to meet teachers and other students, receive copies of their class schedules, and, most importantly, familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. In addition to hosting orientations, some schools also send information packets to families that include materials about peer pressure and middle/high school expectations, student handbooks with the school’s guidelines and an outline about what to expect the first day of school. Middle and high schools usually offer more extracurricular activities that also allow your child to make friends and explore new interests, so find out as much as possible about what your school has to offer.

Of course, transitioning doesn’t end once school begins. Some middle and high schools offer peer programs that pair incoming sixth- and ninth-graders with older students who are available to answer questions, help younger students navigate the school, open lockers, etc. But at the very least, these older peers give younger students the comfort of knowing they have someone at the school to turn to during those tough first months. Teacher mentoring, small group Q&A sessions and academic counselors also are great resources for students transitioning to new schools.

Part of moving up to middle school and high school means schoolwork will become more challenging. So as a parent, your job is to help ensure your child succeeds academically. Grading systems might change to a letter grade or 100-point scale, and assignments will be tougher, so be sure to meet with your child’s new teachers at the beginning of the year to inquire about new expectations and grading policies.

It’s important to ask about homework—how frequently will your child have homework; how much time will he or she be expected to spend on homework; will the homework be graded for accuracy, or will the teacher just check to make sure it was completed? Of course, share the information with your child—the more information he or she has about expectations at the new school, the more at ease he or she will feel.

High school students also should be encouraged to think about what they want to do after they graduate. If they plan to attend college, they need to choose classes, such as college prep, advanced placement, etc., that will help them High school students planning to attend college need to choose classes that will help them to reach their goals. They need to maintain good grades to increase their chances of attending the schools of their choice. School counselors are a great resource for helping students prepare for life after high school.

Most importantly, continue to meet regularly with your child’s teachers throughout the year. It’s essential to know how your child is doing so you can provide the assistance he or she may need. Along with parent-teacher conferences, many Metro Atlanta schools offer online programs where parents and students can monitor grades. Ask school administrators what options are available for tracking your child’s progress. Teachers also understand that the transition to middle or high school can be difficult, so if your child is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork, discuss this with your child’s teacher; they may be able to help your child better organize his or her assignments.

The National Education Association suggests students’ grades typically drop when they enter middle school, and ninth-graders have a higher risk than older students for dropping out, so it’s critical to create a smooth transition to middle and high school for your child’s future academic success.

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