February 2008 • Volume 11 • Number 3 • Page 15
Transitions: Smoothing the Way for Students and Parents
Ask elementary schoolers what they worry about the most when they think about going to middle school and you get a long list of concerns, including
- Changing classes
- Having six teachers
- Not having recess
- Standing up to peer pressure
- Making new friends
- Managing lockers and locks
- Finding the bathrooms
- Changing into P.E. clothes.
Ask parents of students who are transitioning to the middle school what they are concerned about and you hear many of the same worries: changing classes, having six teachers, not having recess … . It all boils down to stress about change, about leaving the safety of elementary school to move up to middle school.
As the principal of a 7–8 junior high school, I want sixth graders to feel good about coming to our school. But it's a bit more personal than that. I also want to provide students and their parents with the tools and information that my own sons and I lacked when we went through the transition process.
Meet Your New School
At Brea Junior High School, our goal is to minimize the concerns of incoming seventh graders and their parents and to build student confidence as they embark on this new experience. We want to work together to make the transition to our school a positive one.
During the past five years, we have continually refined our transition program to include elements to help students and parents form realistic expectations of what middle school will be like and to provide a positive first impression.
Visiting sixth graders on their own ground in the spring is a great start for putting students at ease. Brea Junior High School staff members make the visits non-threatening by mixing some skits about life at Brea Junior High School, a message about how awesome seventh grade is, and some group competitions.
Next, we load the sixth graders and their teachers on buses and bring them to our school for a visit. We begin with an assembly that features videos of school events and end with a school tour led by student leaders. These activities help incoming students feel more comfortable with their new school and give them something to take home and share with their parents.
At the end of summer, just before school starts, the new seventh graders are invited to the school to pick up schedules, buy P.E. uniforms, and explore campus on their own.
Reassurance and Recruitment
We want parents to share the joy and anticipation with their students, and this means neutralizing their anxieties. Before our junior high staff begins to visit sixth graders at the elementary school, we invite all parents to the school for several orientation nights.
In about an hour, we give them an exciting and informative look at all the support and help we offer parents, complete with an overview of where to go and what to do to check up on their students. We use PowerPoint slides, skits, and videos to share a preview of campus activities. We offer hints for getting students organized and news about opportunities for involvement. One of the most important messages parents want to hear is, "Brea Junior High is safe and fun!"
A key element for uniting parents with our school community is breaking the myth that parents are no longer welcome at the school. We involve parents throughout the year, but at no time is that message more important than at the first parent orientation meeting, and we convey it loud and clear.
We also make a point to invite parents to back-to-school night, open house, the book fair, sporting events, band concerts, choir shows, academic competitions, and more.
We are always looking for new ways to get school news out and responses back in! Currently, we use monthly postcard calendars of events, principal's newsletters, Web postings, school newspaper announcements, district flyers, and the Web site. And, the district is installing an automated electronic notification system.
We encourage all staff members to remember some key words for building relationships with parents: invite, include, communicate, model. Once again, knowledge is power!
Secrets to Success
How can students and parents thrive during the transition from elementary school to middle school? We can help by opening our arms in welcome, staying positive, inviting students and parents in for hands-on experiences, neutralizing anxieties with lots of information frequently, and keeping out the welcome mat!
As all educators know, the secret to success is to stay positive and enjoy the ride. Would my own sons experience a smoother transition today? I am sure of it. With the support of visits, information, tours, and hands-on experiences before even coming to junior high, the "jump" definitely becomes easier.
Pam Gallarda is principal at Brea Junior High School in Brea, California. E-mail: email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 by National Middle School Association