The final weeks of the school year are full of bittersweet reflection on special memories and mixed feelings about the year to come. Students come together to say goodbye to their classmates for the summer, the first step in preparing themselves to come back to new teachers in the fall. For those beginning and ending middle school, it’s the start of an important transition and entirely new school experience. Underneath the outward excitement about warm weather, free time, and family vacations, the students process their hopes and fears for the coming months together, building strong friendships and opening up to new experiences.
Students making the transition into and out of middle school face the reality that they are leaving behind many of their friends and familiar routines and expectations. Things are going to be different, but they don’t entirely understand how. End-of-year celebrations and gestures of recognition usually provide some closure and give students an extra nudge forward into their next phase of education—but not this year. Some students will end their elementary school journeys, and eighth graders will finish middle school at home in front of a computer, if they have access.
As we wrap up our final units and communicate with students and their families about our schools’ plans for ending the academic year, we must take extra care to recognize the big transitions our students are making and express an understanding that they will need extra guidance and support. In AMLE’s position paper on the transition into and out of middle school, we emphasize that the transition to a new school is a process that takes place over time, not all at once during a ceremony or the first and last days of school. While some of the activities that make up your normal transition program will be more difficult to facilitate as a large group, the key factors at work are still there and still need to be addressed. It’s a good idea to review the procedural, social, and academic changes your students will be going through and work with other staff to share the responsibility of preparing students to transition while learning from home.
The biggest challenge of ending the middle school year remotely will be to establish relationships with incoming middle schoolers–who ended the year under traumatic circumstances and without typical preparation for middle school–and make more space for eighth graders to prepare for the transition to high school. They will need extra support with navigating their new school and space to voice their feelings about the upcoming transition to teachers, mentors, and each other. With communication and teamwork, school leaders, teachers, staff, parents, and students themselves can work together to ensure transitioning students build relationships at their new schools that will connect them with the knowledge and resources they need to thrive.
Here are some strategies your school can use now to ease your students’ transitions under shelter-in-place orders:
- Reach out to high schoolers to speak to your eighth grade class and prepare incoming sixth graders by reaching out to elementary schools to see what was covered and how class was conducted during the pandemic.
- Match incoming students with mentors to connect virtually or become email pen pals over the summer.
- Give your current students the opportunity to write a message or make a video for students in the incoming grade, and ask freshman classes at your high school to do the same for your eighth graders.
- Dedicate some class time to talking about the soft skills students will need to thrive in their new school. The Bridges Course at Graded, the American School of São Paulo, Brazil covers community, diversity, resiliency, and responsibility.
- Create a vertical team of middle and high school teachers in your district to focus on adapting the transition process for your current circumstances.
- Plan plenty of opportunities for peer and student mentor interaction early next school year for social and academic success.
Of course, whatever support you are able to organize at school will be greatly affected by the way each student’s family handles this transition at home. After weeks of remote learning, we know just how different each student’s home life is and how varied their parents’ ability to support and attitudes are towards schooling at home. It’s incredibly important now to show parents that teachers and school leadership are in their corner and support them with insights on how to motivate their middle schoolers at home. A strong home-to-school connection may be the most important lifeline for students in transition this year.
Ask parents to stay alert to signs of depression or anxiety in their child and seek help for students who are struggling. Whenever they identify anxieties related to their child’s new school, encourage parents to turn them into positive action by learning about those things that are anxiety-provoking (e.g., school rules, schedules, locker procedures). Encourage older siblings to connect with younger siblings to talk about their school experience and answer questions.
In order to create a moment of solidarity between students and families and raise funds for families battling cancer and at highest risk for COVID-19, AMLE has partnered with the HEADstrong Foundation on our #Family1st campaign. Friday, May 15 marks International Day of Families, and this campaign encourages families of middle schoolers to do something fun together for 27 minutes on that day or in the week following: HEADstrong will be sponsoring a TikTok Dance Challenge and awarding the family with the most creative video with gear, prizes, and recognition on social media.
Share these details with your students’ families and encourage them to participate!