From Middle School to High School – A Small Step, a Giant Leap

From Middle School to High School – A Small Step, a Giant Leap

Moving from middle school to high school

Current 8th-graders are preparing for that rapidly approaching first day of high school, and their emotions likely range from excitement and joy to trepidation starting high schooland confusion.  They relish the thought of moving freely around the school while simultaneously fretting about getting lost and being tardy for class.  Clubs, varsity sports, and visual/performing arts spell cool and the opportunity for a fresh start, even as students nervously wonder if they will find a niche group.  Some students are anxious about the academic workload but also feel pressure to keep up with their friends who register for the highest level classes in every subject.  The anticipated independence of high school is both exhilarating and terrifying, although most students are loath to admit the latter.

Parents recognize the magnitude of the transition from middle to high school and are understandably concerned as well.  Fortunately, there is much they can do to help their children enjoy a strong freshman year, thus establishing a solid foundation for a successful journey through high school.

First, make sure that your children select challenging courses in which they can be successful.  If they choose only advanced-level courses when regular level is the more optimal placement, it might be difficult (or impossible) to make schedule adjustments.  Even if it’s possible to move down to the appropriate level, doing so can be a big blow to students’ esteem.  Higher-level classes in one or two areas in which they are strong academically can be a good compromise.  It is better to start conservatively and build a solid transcript that to overshoot and produce a poor record that is less a reflection of ability and more one of unrealistic planning.

Second, if children are intimidated by the size of their high school, don’t hesitate to make a couple of trips to the school over the summer just to walk around and become familiar with the layout.  This is a simple way to allay fears about navigating the campus, and there are likely to be one or two friends who want to tag along!  When you receive your child’s schedule, walk from class to class locating specific rooms as an additional confidence builder.

Third, encourage your children to explore a variety of clubs and organizations.  Ninth grade is the time to investigate the choices available before they settle on two or three for long-term involvement.  Encourage them to pursue the things that interest them rather than search for the “right” group or club.  Following their true desire is more likely to result in a commitment over time and significant contribution to, as well as leadership within, the group.

Finally, help your children learn self-advocacy.  If they are struggling in a particular course, have them ask the teacher for help before you intervene.  This is good practice in establishing meaningful communication and working relationships with faculty and can lead to a powerful feeling of competence. Make sure to include students in parent-teacher conferences so that conversations are “with”, rather than “about”, them.  It is vital for high school students to appreciate that personal responsibility for their learning will become greater as their educational level advances.  Let them describe difficulties and suggest solutions, and resist the urge to speak for them.

Moving from middle school to high school truly is a giant leap, and there will inevitably be some bumps along the way.  However, these strategies can help parents provide proper guidance and support so that their children begin high school on the right foot.


julie cunningham


Julie Cunningham is a former school counselor in both middle and high school.  Her goal as an independent college consultant is to assist students in finding their best-fit college.  She wants to help students and parents navigate the college admission process with purpose and serenity. You can find more information at her website,  Facebook  Twitter and Pinterest

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