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Les Potter is currently the director of the American International School West in Cairo, Egypt. Les has over 40 years in educational leadership in the US and Egypt and most recently has been a...
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Transitioning: Elementary to Middle to High School

Often the students are very excited to move from one grade/school to another. As a former middle and high school principal, I found the folks with the biggest concerns often were the parents. In elementary school (at least in the early years) parents are usually very upset with the separation anxiety of their children. Especially if the child is the oldest or the only child. Where I work now, we are a pre-K through 12th grade school and we have the parents of the little ones walk their children into the outside school area and then watch them complete the flag salute. Once that is completed the students file out and then go to classes. A number of parents watch this every day and have for years. They don’t seem to want their children to go.

In middle school many parents are afraid for their children’s safety (bullying), their children’s choice of friends and activities, and normal growing up concerns. Most of the students like middle school as they have more freedom in the halls (changing classes), lunch room, PE, and in the classrooms with different teachers. The middle school students also like the more varied after school activities that many middle schools offer: clubs, sports, music, etc.

I believe that most elementary schools do a very good job of transitioning students to school and interacting with the parents with different programs. Middle schools also have an obligation to the students and parents to make the journey as painless as possible. The staff need to work with the students and adults/parents to familiarize them to the new school: transportation, rules, responsibilities, schedules, standards, expectations, policies, etc. Many middle schools use an orientation program that introduces incoming students to their new experiences. Here, some schools have all incoming students meet with a trained older middle schoolers and teachers in an extended get acquainted program. Food and fun can be part of the process to make the students feel more comfortable in their new surroundings. Also, it is a good idea to let the parents know what is going on in the orientation and the first few days of school through meetings, booklets, emails, phone messages, etc. Hopefully, parents will reinforce the new concepts and ideas with their children at home.

Parents should understand that their middle school children will be going through many emotional, physical and intellectual spurts. Not all of these spurts are appreciated by the parents. These children can and will start to “push the envelope” to see what boundaries the school and the parents will set and tolerate. Remind parents that this is natural. Peers will have as much, if not more, influence on their children’s social life then the parents will.

Although the parents may be new at this, school officials are not new to this age group and most have seen thousands of middle schoolers come and go and 99.9% of the kids come through the experience of middle school in one piece!

Administrators should keep an open-door policy for parents of elementary through high school age students. Have this policy before school begins in the fall and throughout the year as often confusion and questions will not end once school begins. It is important that a coordinated line of communication be established with parents to dispel rumors and anxiety. Parents should know and be familiar with the expectations, standards and policies of the school. Transition to middle school can be a formidable challenge, but with planning and patience, every child hopefully can be successful.

Transitioning from middle to high school may provide additional stress and reluctance on the part of parents. In addition to becoming acclimated to a new school setting, incoming freshmen may embrace the misguided philosophy that because of their “young adult” status, they do not need as much parental or adult guidance. This is not true. Students at this stage of their emotional growth and education may need the most guidance. Students need to see where they fit in at their new school with peers, teachers, clubs, sports, and activities.

High schools must do a good job of orientation for high school as the other schools have in the past. A one-day, one-time activity may not be enough at either secondary orientation.

To me, a good orientation included a lot of involvement of staff, teachers, parents and students---well planned and assessed each year to improve it. Keep communication open with students and parents. It will reduce a lot of stress and anxiety with students and parents as they transition in a new setting.

 

Les Potter, Ed. D.

Director
American International School West
Cairo, Egypt