Easing the Transition to High School
"That's all I was thinking about all summer long, staying up late: What's high school going to be like?"
—Fires in the Middle School Bathroom (2008, p. 120)
"Will I know anyone?" "Where are my classes located?" "Who will I sit with at lunch?" For many eighth grade students, making the move to high school brings about much excitement along with a great deal of worry, stress, and fear, as students are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. While most students are affected in some way by the transition, up to 40% of students may encounter serious problems. One reason this transition is so challenging is the frequent mismatch between students' developmental needs and their school environments. By organizing schools in developmentally responsive ways, developing curriculum and programs that support high academic performance, and establishing a comprehensive transition program, middle school personnel can help ease the middle-to-high-school transition and support student success in school.
A comprehensive yearlong transition program that begins during students' eighth grade year is ideal. Key elements of an effective transition program include
- A transition team made up of middle and high school students, school personnel, and parents. This team meets at the beginning of students' eighth grade year to plan a series of transition-related activities that take place during the year, over the summer, and into the first weeks of high school.
- Middle and high school teachers collaborating and learning from one another (e.g., teacher swap days, vertical planning) in an effort to foster a positive academic transition. Teacher swap days afford eighth and ninth grade teachers the chance to switch teaching duties multiple times throughout the year. Vertical planning requires eighth and ninth grade teachers to work together to align course content in a more seamless manner.
- Transition information for parents (e.g., transition newsletters), opportunities for parent involvement (e.g., transition-related meetings), and available assistance with the transition process (e.g., members of the transition team, middle school team liaisons). Parents who understand the transition are better equipped to talk to their children about the anticipated changes.
- High school visits and information sessions about policies and expectations. Visits may include touring the school, meeting upperclassmen and school personnel, and attending a ninth grade class.
- Support programs during eighth grade and the summer before the transition (e.g., mentoring, shadowing) that allow eighth graders to truly get to know a high school student, faculty member, or school administrator and learn about high school life.
- Extra support during the first weeks of high school for ninth grade students (e.g., first day of school for new students only, welcome assemblies, new student luncheons) and their parents (e.g., open house, school tours, informational sessions).
More Transition Resources:
Cushman, K., & Rogers, L. (2008). Fires in the middle school bathroom: Advice for teachers from middle school students. New York: The New Press.
Hertzog, C. J., & Morgan, P. L. (1999). Making the transition from middle to high school. High School Magazine, 6(4), 26–30.
Queen, J. A. (2002). Student transitions from middle to high school: Improving achievement and creating a safer environment. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education.
Cheryl Ellerbrock is an assistant professor of secondary education at the University of South Florida. Her research primarily focuses on how the developmental needs of young adolescent learners are supported in and across middle and high schools.