Help Students Transition to High School Smoothly

The move from middle to high school stirs up many emotions for young adolescents, ranging from excitement and anticipation to fear and anxiety. It is natural for students to have numerous concerns related to the procedural, social, and academic changes associated with the transition. Many concerns will dissipate within the first weeks of school, while others can last into the second semester and beyond. During the last year at the middle level, educators can help prepare students for a successful ninth grade year by addressing their concerns associated with the procedural, social, and academic changes.

Procedural Changes
Procedural changes focus on the daily schedule, rules, and procedures students are expected to follow in high school. Examples of procedural concerns include finding their classes and other important parts of the school, following the bell schedule, learning the lunchtime rules and procedures, opening a locker, locating the bus, and adhering to school policies. Middle grades educators can do the following to help with procedural changes:

  • Have students examine the bell schedule(s) and map of the high school.
  • Make arrangements for students to tour their high school.
  • Have students practice procedural tasks (e.g., adhering to a bell schedule similar to the high school schedule, using a combination lock).
  • Obtain a copy of the high school student handbook and create activities that focus on pertinent information.
  • Host a panel of high school students to talk about how they overcame procedural concerns and to answer questions.

Social Changes
Social changes primarily center on peer and teacher relationships along with extracurricular involvement. Students are concerned about keeping their middle school friends, making new friends, and establishing positive relationships with their high school teachers. They also want to know about the various extracurricular opportunities afforded to them at the high school level and how to get involved. There are many ways middle grades educators can assist with social transition changes:

  • Have students look through high school yearbooks to see the variety of extracurricular activities available and help them learn how to get involved in particular activities (e.g., put them in contact with the sponsor/coach, provide information on tryouts).
  • Arrange a teacher swap day in which middle and high school teachers trade classes for a day.
  • Implement a big brother/big sister mentoring program in which high school students mentor middle grades students.
  • Host an extracurricular day for high school coaches, club sponsors, and other extracurricular representatives to speak with students about their activities and provide information on how to get involved.
  • Plan an end-of-year “rite of passage” activity for students to celebrate their middle level years with their friends (e.g., eighth grade send-off assembly, time capsule activity).

Academic Changes
Academic changes center on the quantity and quality of school work and academic expectations placed on students at the high school level. Research suggests that many incoming high school students are underprepared for the quantity of school work, struggle to meet the academic expectations set by their high school teachers, and are not used to taking responsibility for their schooling. Middle grades educators can do the following to help with academic changes:

  • Have students examine samples of actual high school work (e.g., tests, homework assignments) and textbooks.
  • Teach students academic (e.g., organization, note-taking) and life skills (e.g., proactivity, personal ownership).
  • Organize a high school curriculum/academic fair for teachers to share academic information.
  • Create a vertical team of middle and high school teachers to focus on streamlining the middle and high school curriculums.
  • Have high school students tutor middle school students.

Cheryl R. 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 secondary schools, including the transition in and out of the middle level.

Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education