Transitioning from Middle School to High School
As discussed in a previous article, many students find the transition from elementary school to middle school stressful. Middle school presents many challenges, not the least of which are the physical and emotional changes students experience. By the time most students transition from middle school to high school, however, these changes are in full force. Coupled with tougher classes, more intense schedules, and greater social pressures, the transition from middle school to high school can be more stressful and fraught with anxiety.
Once again, education theorists, psychologists, and social workers around the country and the internet have debated the obstacles facing students during this transition and many other them have published tips for successfully managing the transition.
- Bigger on the Inside: If your student thought the middle school was big compared the elementary school, wait until she sees the high school! Whether a student is enrolled in a large urban district, a suburban district, or a regional rural district, a high school can often combine the student bodies of two or more middle schools. Even in a district with one middle school and one high school, high schools are often noticeably larger than middle schools. This is usually because high schools offer more programs, academic, athletic, and extracurricular, than middle schools. Most modern high schools will have large sports centers, enormous auditoriums for music and theatre events, and extra classrooms for technical programs. Once again, students making the transition must learn to navigate what can seem like a maze of hallways and classrooms. Take the tour offered by the administration. Explore the space before the rush of finding the first class on the first day of school
- Rotating Blocks: In order to accommodate the large number of options offered by high schools, many districts have begun to utilize rotating block schedules. This may merely mean that a course rotates through the students’ schedules such that math class is at 8:30am on Monday but at 9:20am on Tuesday, and may go so far as to mean that a student drops a different class each day. Getting to know the schedule is the first step in having a successful freshman year.
- Social Complexity: Social relationships are more complex in middle school than in elementary school, due to multiple factors, including the combination of several elementary school classes into one middle school class, the possible stratification of middle school classes due to academic performance, and, of course, puberty. This complexity can intensify during the transition to high school. Students are often sorted into college prep and honors classes freshman year, and this can strain friendships, while offering further opportunities for students to meet new people and make new friends. Navigating this change can be stressful, but can also be exciting to freshmen.
- Physical Changes: Freshman share space with seniors in high school, and this means that students transitioning into high school are exposed to conversations and relationships that seem far more adult than they may be ready to experience. A large number of seniors turn eighteen during the school year, and are technically adults. This means their interests and awareness of the world are far different from freshman, some of whom are still only fourteen years old, just barely into their teen years. It is important to guide students through this experience with gentle kindness, since they are as uncomfortable as their parents are with these topics, even if they don’t show it.
- The Workload: Once again, the amount of homework and the level of difficulty of the material increase at the high school level. For students, this may mean almost four hours of homework each night, according to EdWeek Magazine, when only a few years earlier, in elementary school, students could complete the day’s homework in mere minutes. For parents, this means their students are now studying material that they themselves haven’t seen since they were high school students. The inability to help one’s own child can be extremely frustrating. Many high schools have learning centers and peer tutors that can help with day to day homework, and there are outside resources also available should the work load become too intense.
- The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Despite the fact that a student transitioning from middle school to high school has only begun the high school experience, parents and students should never forget that college is on the horizon. Even though students have several years before they need to apply to college, they, and their parents, should begin to think about planning out the high school experience to make the college application process less painful and more successful. This means thinking actively about after school activities, including focusing on the few that means the most to the student instead of spreading the student too thin. This also means thinking about summer activities, such as camp, jobs, internships, and academic programs. Long-term planning is a study skill that both students and parents should develop to ensure long-term success.
While high school can seem intimidating to middle school students and their parents, there are so many opportunities for exploring classes, concepts, and ideas that can set a student onto a path of success that all most students need is a little forethought and guidance. Luckily, most schools have experts on hand in the guidance department and the administration to help families get started. Additionally, there are always outside organizations waiting and willing to lend a helping hand.