The Transition to Middle School
Students make many transitions during their years of schooling: from home to school, elementary to middle school, middle to high school, and high school to college or work. These transitions are usually major events in the lives of students and parents. The stresses created by these transitions can be minimized when the new environment is responsive to each particular age group. This Digest presents a brief overview of some of the issues involved in the transition from elementary to middle school and provides suggestions for transition programs and activities. The term "middle level schools" includes all middle grade and junior high school configurations.
Middle Level Transition Concerns
Student comments and behaviors give insight into their concerns as they move to a new school. Students in Gwinnett County, Georgia, when asked about their concerns in facing a school transition, mentioned the following worries: (1) getting to class on time, (2) finding lockers, (3) keeping up with "materials," (4) finding lunchrooms and bathrooms, (5) getting on the right bus to go home, (6) getting through the crowded halls, and (7) remembering which class to go to next (Weldy, 1991). In addition to these concerns, other studies include personal safety (aggressive and violent behaviors of other students) as a prominent concern of students (Anderman & Kimweli, 1997; Arowosafe & Irvin, 1992; Odegaard & Heath, 1992).
Teachers have also listed specific challenges to students making the transition from a sixth-grade elementary to a middle level school (Weldy, 1991, pp. 84-85): (1) changing classes; (2) reduced parent involvement; (3) more teachers; (4) no recess, no free time; (5) new grading standards and procedures; (6) more peer pressure; (7) developmental differences between boys and girls; (8) cliquishness; (9) fear of new, larger, more impersonal school; (10) accepting more responsibility for their own actions; (11) dealing with older children; (12) merging with students from five elementary schools; (13) unrealistic parental expectations; (14) lack of experience in dealing with extracurricular activities; (15) unfamiliarity with student lockers; (16) following the school schedule; (17) longer-range assignments; (18) coping with adolescent physical development; and, for some, (19) social immaturity; and (20) a lack of basic skills.
Students' perceptions of the quality of school life decline as they progress from elementary to secondary school, with the largest decline occurring during the transition to a middle level school (Diemert, 1992). Meeting social needs during the transition from an elementary to a middle level school is a major consideration because most programs focus more on academics and regulations. In Diemert's survey of 23 fifth-graders in a middle level school, of the top 11 (out of 23 possible) needs identified by boys, 6 were social, 2 were academic, 2 were procedural, and 1 was academic and procedural. Of the top 10 needs identified by girls, 5 were social, 2 were academic, and 3 were procedural.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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