As a middle school administrator and having worked closely with administrators at the elementary level, I understand the differences between the two environments and how it affects students (and parents). The first week of school is filled with silence, wide eyes, and multiple questions. No one knows where to sit in the cafeteria because they are not assigned seats and there are six lines available to visit for a variety of types of food. Now, granted, this wonderful silence does not last long and it only takes a few days for students to relish in the thought that they can sit wherever they want and run up their lunch bill by purchasing pizza, breadsticks, ice cream, and Gatorade each day, but the silence does exist in the beginning.
Helping students manage their newfound freedom takes many people. Informing the parents early in the journey is a must. Conducting a parent meeting in the spring prior to students entering the middle school allows staff to fully inform parents of day-to-day operations, scheduling, communication techniques, and what their child will experience when coming to the middle school. We have received great praise from parents following these meetings as their pre-conceived notions or “word on the street” has been clarified with true information. The parents feel more at ease and have had their nagging questions answered which, in turn, can help to calm the nerves of their children as well. Once the parents know what to expect, they are much more likely to ease the minds of the children and prepare them over the summer for the transition.
Another benefit for students is to have them visit the middle school during the last few weeks of their elementary experience. During a school day in May, we invite all of our 6th graders in the district to come to the middle school for a couple of hours. This is treated as a field trip and students and teachers board buses and fill the gymnasium to hear staff speak, students perform, and tour the building. This allows the students to get a feel for the school while in session – a big difference from coming to a parent meeting in the evening! They experience passing period with 800 students crowding the halls, see the cafeteria (and the 6 lines they have to choose from), and meet multiple staff members in hopes of seeing a friendly face on the first day of school in August.
Summer registration is another opportunity for students and their families to, once again, come to the school prior to their first instructional day. This event brings families in to complete all necessary paperwork, order yearbooks, add lunch money to student accounts, provide students with their IDs and laptops, assign students lockers and locks (which they can “try out” to ease nerves on the first day), and pay any necessary textbook rentals and fees. This day tends to be more of a task-oriented experience, but has proven to be greatly beneficial to staff and parents – we are able to get the information we need and families have another chance to visit the building and get their questions answered.
The transition from elementary to middle school is daunting. By providing multiple opportunities for families and students to visit the school and communicate with staff, a comfort level can be reached. So many of us have a fear of the unknown; once we know what to expect, everything seems to be much easier to handle.