Parents can start now to ease upcoming fall school transitions

Forming our Future
By Bridget Martin
The spring semester generates excitement in our middle school students. The energy in a middle school is electrifying this time of year. End of the year activities keep everyone busy. The group of middle school students producing the greatest amount of energy and excitement is the class embarking on the transition into high school.
Students practice transitions all of the time in school. Some transitions are small like moving from one learning center to another in a classroom. Other transitions are bigger like moving from one grade to the next.
One of the largest transitions for children may be transitioning from middle school into high school. This transition ignites an enthusiasm and strikes a fear in young teens and parents alike. The thought of a new school, new teachers, new friends, and new expectations elicits a range of emotions all at one time.
Interestingly enough, both parents and students feel the same pressure before the transition to high school. I recently asked eighth grade students in my school what concerns them most about transitioning to high school. Then I asked their parents the same question. Students worry whether or not they will make friends. Parents worry about the type of friends they will make in high school. Students worry about the clubs they will join while parents worry about the cost of the clubs. Both were equally concerned about the academic rigor of high school.
Families can be proactive in planning steps to ease the transition to high school. Parents and students need to take steps to prepare for a shift in the types of interactions they have with schools. Researching the programs of a school is important to find the best activities for your child. Parents and students should plan a visit to the high school campus. Some schools require interviews and placement tests while others do not have entrance requirements.
Participation in school orientation sessions provides opportunities to explore the campus and learn expectations. Young teens may appear uninterested in these activities, but only because they are trying to camouflage their nervousness.
Parents and students feel more confident on the first day of class if they know the layout of the campus, expectations of the day, and a familiar face or two. Proper preparation is vital to creating a smooth transition from middle school to high school.
Involvement in high school activities connects students to the school community. One reason high school is exciting is there are so many new opportunities. Activities and clubs provide important academic and social enrichment. Students need a peer group for support during their challenging high school years.
A well-rounded resume that includes participation in various activities and clubs strengthens a student’s applications for college admission and scholarships. Parental encouragement and support promote student participation.
High school brings a new level of academic and social independence for students. This is a difficult adjustment for both parents and students. Parental involvement is still important in high school but the type of involvement is different from elementary and middle school involvement.
Parents more than likely will not continue to assist in classrooms, attend field trips or drive the carpool. Rather, they do need to become a coach for their children on how to appropriately handle situations with teachers independently. Parental support for independence creates a pathway for a student’s success.
Setting expectations for academic progress and social behavior prior to transitioning to high school may alleviate problems in the future. Encouraging students to take responsibility for their own academic growth is important. Students need the self-confidence to take the initiative for seeking help with complicated assignments and in gathering missing assignments. Learning to manage time and accept responsibility is a skill they will use in college and in the work force. While parents should monitor academic progress, it is now time for students to take charge of their own academic affairs.
The transition into high school generates social independence. High school brings together a large cross section of society. Students have more exposure to lifestyle choices. When parents clearly and continually set social expectations by engaging their children in conversations about social responsibility and values, students are more often able to make positive choices.
They must truly understand the value of social justice and responsibility to understand the consequences of their choices.
The promotion from middle school to high school is a milestone for students and parents. This is one of the first transitional moments students clearly understand and remember. The combination of excitement and fear are natural feelings during times of new beginnings. Properly preparing students to handle this transition will be a skill used many times in their lives.
(Bridget Martin is the principal of Southaven Sacred Heart School)