Making the transition to middle school more managable

June 14, 2017 | Posted in: Elementary, Middle Years

Middle School.

A bigger building. New faces. A bell schedule?!

Students of all ages go through transitions during their academic career. For children and parents alike, it can be overwhelming moving up to a new school. Being a “little fish in a big pond” can be intimidating, but according to researchers, of all the academic grade transitions, it’s the jump from elementary to middle school that can prove to be the most challenging.

Why it’s challenging to be “in the middle”

When you think back to middle school what stands out in your mind? Braces? Awkward social encounters? Friendship cliques?

In a 2015 study conducted by the University of South Alabama at Mobile, researchers said that for young adolescents entering middle school, this life change is particularly challenging because children are in the thick of facing many cognitive, physical, social, and emotional changes.

A quintuple whammy.

Middle school pre-teens, or “tweens” as they’re more commonly known, are making big leaps in the way they think, reason and learn. Their bodies are going through physical changes caused by a surge in hormones and their small social circles begin to shift.

Salvatore Curella, an assistant principal at Queensbury Middle School in Queensbury, NY, agrees that it can be challenging time because it comes at a time of transformation.

“I think what poses a challenge for many middle school students is that it’s a major learning environment shift during a time of inner change,” he said.

What’s there to be concerned about?

Middle schools are expected to be more academically rigorous, are generally larger in size, and as the students mature, the school naturally has more rigid behavior standards than an elementary school.

Students also go from having one teacher to multiple teachers, across numerous subject areas, and they need to learn to manage each of those teachers’ expectations, all the while managing a schedule to be at the right place, at the right time.

“It can seem intimidating at first,” Curella said.

The 2015 University of South Alabama study sought out to identify the top concerns of incoming sixth graders. Of the 225 students surveyed, their main concerns included getting lost, peer pressure, academic performance, making friends and acclimating to new school rules.

Inline with the study, Curella cited similar concerns he’s heard from students.

“In my experience, the top concerns for incoming middle schoolers are learning a new schedule, getting lost, fitting in, and academic rigor,” he said.

“Academic concerns are always valid. Classes will increase in difficulty each year, and each teacher will have a different set of expectations. Students will have to build skills in time management, organization, responsibility, and self-advocacy.”

“Students will encounter social challenges along the way as well. These include emotional vulnerability and physical insecurities. This is an age where students begin to develop independence, change physically, and strive for social acceptance. This is all the while balancing academics and extra-curricular activities.”

Tips for Parents

According to Curella, there are a few things parents can do to help make the transition to middle school easier for students.

Help to encourage your child to get involved in something, whether it be a club, sport, activity, and/or fine arts.
Being involved in an afterschool activities is positively associated with higher rates of success, both socially and academically. Curella also encourages parents to get involved as well by attending the school events such as orientation or Open House, or by being a part of the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO), or other organized committees.

Help your child become a self-advocate

Curella says it’s crucial that students advocate for themselves when they need help with social and/or academic issues. School counselors are an important resource for any student at the middle school level, but especially incoming sixth graders. Building relationships is key to student success, so it’s important that students know where they can go for help and understand that the teachers, counselors and administrators are there to help them with any problem that may arise.

Keep it organized

Unclutter the chaos! Mail coming home from school doesn’t stop in middle school. Curella recommends parents work with their child to set up an organizational system and routine at home to keep up with the new academic load, and all the papers that get sent home.

Never be afraid to ask for help

While this can fall under the self-advocacy tip, parents should empower their children to ask for help. And just like these all of these tips – this one goes for parents, too. For first-time parents, navigating the middle school years is new for you, too. Rely on your school. They’re the experts. If you have any questions or need help resolving an issue, go to them. For the next three years, this is your school community.

“Although there are challenges at the middle school level, the amount of growth and independence gained through these middle years will help shape a positive outlook and vision for their future,” Currella said.


Aubree Kammler is a new mom, and while grateful for this middle school transition knowledge, is happy that she won’t have to use it for a a few years!

Copyright ©2017 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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