Transitions Part 2: Middle to High School

In our Transitions series, we’re examining the psychological issues students face in transitioning school levels, and how counselors can help them successfully make the move. Read Parts 1 and 3 here and here.  

Middle to High School

Moving from middle to high school is a daunting moment in the life of a student, causing student anxiety for many of the same reasons as the move from elementary to middle. With high school comes bigger buildings, larger student bodies and more freedom.

An article from the Association for Middle Level Education examined strategies that school staff can employ to mitigate student concerns. The transition to high school often stirs up emotions from excitement to fear or anxiety. Daily procedures, new social circles and harder classes make this transition a significant part of adolescence. As students settle into a routine, some fears will fade, but others may continue to affect them as the year progresses.

To ease these fears, counselors, teachers and administrators can implement initiatives that make incoming students feel more comfortable with their new surroundings and the procedural changes of high school, such as:

  • Giving students maps of the high school to review and bell schedules
  • Providing a copy of the high school handbook to help students acclimate to high school culture
  • Getting students to tour the high school
  • Having a few high school students visit the freshman classroom to answer any questions or concerns

Success in the ninth grade is important in setting up the student for the rest of their high school years. Increased peer influence and the possibility of developing habits like skipping school can affect how students will act during the next four years. Coming into a larger, less personal environment will also influence their behavior, according to an article from Adolescent Literacy.

Social Changes

Eighth graders may also experience anxiety over keeping the same friends as they move into high school, which brings changes in curriculum and extracurricular activities. Oftentimes, this means friends may go separate ways or they may make new friends with new experiences. A 2014 survey conducted by the American School Counselor Association indicated that 18% of students entering high school worried about peer issues and peer pressure, and 13% were concerned with lunch time and the social issues that come along with that. An additional 9% were worried about extracurricular activities and the choices available.

When it comes to extracurricular activities, it can be beneficial to give high school coaches and club sponsors a chance to meet and chat with eighth graders about their activities. By providing information about how to get involved, students are more prepared for what will be expected of them.

“Even the most simple things can create anxiety for the students. Allow them opportunities to ask questions in a comfortable, open environment,” middle school counselor Leon Bunker said in the June 2014 issue of School Counselor.

Additionally, students may have concerns about connecting with their high school teachers. Counselors can help with these concerns by arranging teacher swap days that send high school teachers into the middle school classroom and implementing a mentor program that allows existing high school students to mentor middle school students to allay their fears about what lies ahead.

Meeting the Academic Challenge

According to the AMLE article, research suggests that transitioning eighth graders are not prepared for the amount of school work in high school and struggle to meet the academic expectations set by their teachers.

Counselors at the middle school level can focus on creating groups to improve note-taking and organizational skills, along with providing access to high school textbooks. Help students familiarize themselves with graduation requirements and elective choices. Talk with students about making a plan, and how a good work ethic now will help them succeed in the future, especially in the higher grades as coursework becomes more rigorous.

Along with mentoring programs, counselors can also attempt to get high school students to tutor middle school students. This can show younger students how someone with experience in high school might approach their work and understand how others deal with the workload. If the transition plan is spread throughout the year instead of thrown at them all at once, they’ll feel more comfortable with the process and be more familiar with everything they need to do for high school success.

This transition also presents a great opportunity for counselors, administrators and teachers to work together across grade levels to ensure smooth transitions in the curriculum. Administrators should encourage teachers to work in teams to achieve this, and to create a sense within students that nothing has changed; that their coursework hasn’t skipped a beat.

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