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A Call for Better Middle School Transitions

The move from elementary to middle school, often at grade six, can be stressful and jarring for some youngsters. The National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Middle School Association issued a position paper calling on teachers, parents, counselors, and administrators to make the change a smooth one. Included: Recommendations for middle school transition programs.

Two national administrators organizations have come together to promote programs to ease students' transition from elementary to middle school.

The two groups, the National Middle School Association (NMSA) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), issued a joint position paper, "Supporting Students in Their Transition to Middle School." The statement urges school districts to develop cohesive transition programs that involve school staff and parents. This was the first time the two groups collaborated on a single position paper.

"It's bringing attention to something the two groups think is important," Sue Swaim, executive director of the NMSA, tells Education World. "We're taking this moment in time to focus on it."

"There are just so many changes now in middle school," adds June Million, spokeswoman for NAESP.


"A well-designed transition plan can restore the strong sense of belonging the entering middle school student once felt in elementary school -- a key element associated with the positive motivation to enjoy and succeed in academic tasks," the report states.

Although most schools have some transition programs, including a school visit and/or orientation day, "transition literature as well as transition studies over the past decade call for a more comprehensive approach to this time of change," the report notes. "The more comprehensive approach is built upon a commitment to teamwork and collaboration where educators, parents, and students work together in designing and implementing transition programs."

Among the characteristics of successful transition programs, according to the paper:

  • A sensitivity to the anxieties accompanying a move to a new school setting.
  • The importance of parents and teachers as partners in this effort.
  • The recognition that becoming comfortable in a new school setting is an ongoing process, not a single event.
With about 88 percent of all public school students making the transition to middle school, members of both organizations want to bring attention to it, says Edward Jerome, principal of Edgartown School on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, who helped draft the position paper. "This was an attempt to focus on an important time in youngsters' lives. I think there are so many different structures, not all of which have the best interests of the children in mind," Jerome says. "There needs to be a solid transition from the contained environment, where they were nurtured, to a completely new environment."

Schools have to start thinking of transition programs as lasting a full school year rather than one or two days, Jerome continues. If students are moving to a middle school after fifth grade, fifth-grade teachers should discuss the change all year. "Both schools have to talk."

Orientation and support needs to continue at the middle school. "It's a big transition," Jerome adds. "The first month can be really hard. They need a comfortable approach and a nurturing environment."