Easing into Middle and High School
By Whitney Brennan
The transitions to middle and high school can be daunting for both children and parents. And the stress of those transitions is only compounded when you’re relocating to a new city or a new neighborhood. 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.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
First and foremost is communication. Talk to your child and find out what concerns he or she has about moving up to middle or high school. Some of the most common concerns of new middle school students are being late, getting lost, failing, more challenging schoolwork, being bullied, and taking tests. As these students move into high school, their concerns change to making good grades, taking tests and final exams, difficult classes, turning work in on time, and preparing for college.
However, not all children have the same concerns. Your child may be more worried about what you expect from him or her, as well as making friends, peer pressure, or getting into trouble. Discuss the transition to a new school 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. Many metro Atlanta schools host an orientation or open house, which can be particularly helpful. These events 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, some schools also provide families with information packets that include materials about peer pressure and middle or high school expectations, student handbooks with the school’s guidelines, and an outline about what to expect on the first day of school. Middle and high schools also usually feature more extracurricular activities that allow your child to make friends and explore new interests, so find out as much as possible about what your new 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. 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 are also great resources for students transitioning to new schools.
SCHOOLWORK AND COUNSELING
Part of moving up to middle school and high school means schoolwork will become more challenging. As a parent, your job is to help ensure that your child successfully navigates this new academic landscape. Grading systems might change to a letter grade or a 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 it be assigned? How much time will your child be expected to spend on it? Will the homework be graded for accuracy, or will the teacher just check to make sure it was completed? The more information you and your child have about expectations at the new school, the more at ease you both will feel.
High school students should also be encouraged to think about what they want to do after they graduate. If they plan to attend college, they’ll need to choose college preparatory courses that will help them to achieve their goals, and perhaps advanced placement classes as well. Maintaining good grades is more important than ever for high school students, to increase their chances of attending the school 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. In addition to 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 transferring to middle or high school can be difficult, so if your child is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork, discuss this with their child’s teacher; they may be able to help your child better organize his or her assignments.
A smooth transition to middle and high school is critical to your child’s future academic success. Armed with the information you need to help your child know what to expect – and what’s expected of them – you’re much more likely to help ensure that the transition is as seamless as possible.