The transition from middle school to high school can be abrupt and stressful for many students.
For military-connected students, this transition can be compounded by a PCS move. Moving to a new community, loss of social support networks and unfamiliar academic expectations will be a heavy burden for budding teens. Planning for the transition is best way to prepared for the unknowns of a new high school.
Jennifer Southerland, a Parent-to-Parent Educator for Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) who has given dozens of workshops on school transition, suggests parents and students often have very different worries.
“Concerns for a newly promoted middle schooler headed to high school are based on social uncertainties such as, Where will my locker be? I don’t know where my classes are? How much time will I have in between classes? Will I stand out because I’m new? Who will I sit with at lunch?”
However, she says parent’s concerns tend to be more academic and extra-curricular based, worrying whether classes will be open to new students transferring in or if high school credits earned in middle school will be recognized at their new high school. Parents are anxious whether their student will be able to continue to play the sports they love or have opportunities for new clubs and hobbies they enjoyed in the past.
The transition from middle to high school can be made easier by preparing for the unfamiliar. We’ve complied a list of ways to help navigate the academic leap from middle school to high school from experts in the field. We’ve also asked seasoned military families how to navigate the tricky social scenes newly minted teens face.
- Never assume. Before the move, check out the state standards on www.ed.gov for the receiving state to ensure you know what’s expected. Many middle schoolers are taking high school credit classes, so knowing what’s actually going to be required for core classes is important for a smoother transition. It’s a must for all military families to be knowledgeable of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Download a copy of the Compact at www.mic3.net.
- Meet with the counselor before you move. Because many new inbound freshmen moving to a new community will miss the opportunity to meet with their high school guidance counselor, eighth graders should meet with their current guidance counselor before the move. Bring a copy of the new high school requirements to your counselor to review and help make suggestions for your freshman year. They can even help decipher credit transfers and make a phone calls for you.
- Don’t take the easy route. According to MCEC, students should look for rigorous courses to take in high school. If students are interested in college, they shouldn’t take the easy way out. Look to build class rigor with programs like AVID or IB programs that will challenge a student. Ask about how the AP program works before school begins to set expectations early in high school.
- Practice standardized tests. Many eighth graders take the PSAT, but consider talking with the student about taking the SAT or ACT for practice multiple times. Students can take the test as many times as desired with only the highest scores submitted for college applications – some colleges even super score (practice of taking the top score in each subsection.) Practice does help improve scores! Duke TIP offers qualifying seventh graders to take the SAT or ACT. Scores from tests can be used for awards, scholarships and recognition. www.tip.duke.edu
- Keep a binder. Build an education binder for the student. The binder should tell the child’s education history such as standardized test results, report cards from multiple years, volunteer jobs, awards and letters of recommendations. The binder will grow with the student and eventually help with college applications and job resumes. Read more about changing schools here.
- Look two years ahead. In the Military Child Education Coalition’s Chart Your Course Workshop, they suggests parents should plan two years in advance and begin developing their four-year high school plan as early as eighth grade. Talking about college or trade school expenses early can also help set expectations. Visit www.militarychild.org for more information.
- Transcripts matter. According to www.collegevine.com, Classes taken during middle school have a strong impact on a teen’s readiness for college. The more classes a child places out of in 9th grade, the more AP and elective options they can choose later. Taking algebra in 8th grade is helpful; this makes more advanced math classes possible later. Studying a foreign language during middle school gives your child a jump on the high school language requirements most colleges set for admission.
Be aware, eighth grade performance could sometimes affect your class rank in high school if you continue to study at the same school, and this is a measurement that colleges take into consideration when they are evaluating your application. In rare cases, a B in middle school could prevent you from being valedictorian even if you receive straight A’s in high school.
- Don’t chase down popularity. Megan B. is a seasoned Navy spouse with four military kids ranging from elementary school to high school. She says the jump from middle to high school is unique for military kids. “Because we are always moving and adjusting to new schools, I tell them not to chase down popularity. It’s important to be who you are and not pretend to be anyone different.”
- Go all in – early. Jen S. is a 26-year Army spouse with high school senior bound for college. She suggests that new high schoolers, “Go all in” their freshman year. “It’s easier to pull back involvement after you realize you don’t like a club or extra curricular than it is to insert yourself later in the year after routines and friends are established. Just go for it freshman year!“
- Parents should volunteer. Holly Vega, AFI’s Marine Corps Military Spouse of the Year 2019 has a high school and middle school boys. She suggests volunteering is key. “Become involved in school. There are always opportunities to volunteer in the school and by increasing parent involvement it helps their transition. It helps everyone become invested in the new community.“
- Get ahead of technology. “Don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand when in comes to technology and social media,“ says Anne C, a Marine spouse with a freshman. She encourages parents to be aware of the way teens communicate and interact. “Snapchat, pictures, Instagram accounts are the way teens talk. They rarely talk on the phone like we did as teens. You have to know what they are doing, be knowledgeable, get ahead of it or you will be left behind.”
- Let them fail in middle school. Denise A, an Air Force spouse with an eighth grader, says middle school is supposed to be messy. “Let them fail and learn from it now when there are no long term consequences. High school is when it counts. Don’t bring their homework to them, let them get the bad grade, let them pick the wrong class and maybe the wrong friends. They need to fail now and learn how to problem solve later.”
- Extra Curricular Activities are social. Nikki B, an Army spouse with her youngest now in middle school, says she worries about her daughter being the new kid. She’s found that getting involved early in extra curricular activities like tennis has allowed her to find her tribe in a new community. “Playing a sport helps my daughter find other kids who are like minded and hopefully they will turned into friends later.”
- They still need you. “Transitioning from middle school to high school doesn’t mean our kids are instantly independent. They still need guidance, but we can’t do it for them. However we can ask questions of them that will help our kids figure out how they feel or what decision to make. It’s the beginning of becoming an adult.” says Jennifer S., Army spouse.