By Elizabeth Johnson
The middle school transition to high school brings questions and concerns for parents and students. Starting high school can be both scary and exciting. Parents can help their young teens prepare for this monumental transition by gathering and sharing information and staying involved in their children's education.
According to Cindy Carson of the child advocacy group First Call, a positive transition to high school is one of the keys to a child's success in life. The dropout rate for ninth graders is much higher than that of other grades. Students also repeat ninth grade at a much higher rate than other grades. That's why ninth graders in particular need the attention and support of parents to get a firm foothold in high school.
When parents take the time to answer their children's high school questions and help them figure out how realistic their middle school ideas are about high school, they give their children the confidence they need to make the transition easier. Key topics to discuss during eighth grade should include the differences between middle and high school, the importance of academics, the role of friends, and organization and time management.
Studies of middle schoolers' feelings about high school show that they are excited about developing new friendships, having more freedom and more choices, and participating in extracurricular activities. At the same time, they are nervous about older students teasing or bullying them, getting lost in a big school, getting bad grades, having stricter teachers, and being able to handle harder academic work. Without dismissing their fears, parents can reassure their children that by the time they have been in high school for a month, the building will no longer seem so daunting, and they may even have some friends in upper grades.
Many school districts have implemented programs to ease the transition to high school by separating freshmen from upperclassmen in their own wing of the high school or setting up ninth grade academies to buffer ninth graders from older students. High schools may have special classes aimed at teaching ninth graders solid study skills, time management, and organizational tips, or schools may create small learning groups to help students get to know their classmates and build strong peer relationships before mingling younger students with older ones. Parents can explain the benefits of such programs to their children and encourage them to make the most of this special attention.
Another way to help middle school students make the transition is for parents to stay actively involved in the decisions their eighth graders make about high school classes. Instead of simply signing off on class schedules, parents can review class choices and discuss how they fit into the students' overall high school plans. Parents can talk about electives and encourage their children to express their individuality through elective classes.
Parents can also talk about the opportunities high school offers for making new friends: students from other middle schools, kids in other grades, and classmates from their children's middle school who were in a different social group.
Above all, parents can acknowledge that moving from middle school to high school is a major step from childhood to adulthood. Young teens need to know that their parents love them, understand them, and support them during this challenging time. Parents can provide their middle school students with a foundation of confidence by telling their kids that they are proud of them and excited to find out what they will achieve in the coming year.
Elizabeth Johnson is a freelance writer in Lansing, Michigan, whose middle schooler will benefit from these ideas next year when he heads to high school.