Helping Middle School Students Make the Transition
into High School. ERIC Digest.
by Mizelle, Nancy B.
Young adolescents entering high school look forward to having more choices
and making new and more friends; however, they also are concerned about
being picked on and teased by older students, having harder work, making
lower grades, and getting lost in a larger, unfamiliar school (Mizelle,
1995; Phelan, Yu, & Davidson, 1994).
As young adolescents make the transition into high school, many experience
a decline in grades and attendance (Barone, Aguirre-Deandreis, & Trickett,
1991); they view themselves more negatively and experience an increased
need for friendships (Hertzog et al., 1996); and by the end of 10th grade,
as many as 6% drop out of school (Owings & Peng, 1992). For middle
school students, including those who have been labeled "gifted" or "high-achieving,"
the transition into high school can be an unpleasant experience (Phelan,
Yu, & Davidson, 1994).
Research has found, however, that when middle school students took part
in a high school transition program with several diverse articulation activities,
fewer students were retained in the transition grade (Mac Iver, 1990).
Furthermore, middle school principals indicated that they expected fewer
of their students to drop out before graduation when the school provided
supportive advisory group activities or responsive remediation programs
(Mac Iver & Epstein, 1991).
This Digest discusses how educators can ease students' transition into
high school by providing challenging and supportive middle school environments
and by designing transition programs that address the needs of students
and their parents and that facilitate communication between middle school
and high school educators.
MIDDLE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT
Providing young adolescents with activities that relate directly to
their transition into high school certainly is important; however, providing
young adolescents with a challenging and supportive middle school experience
is an equally important factor in their making a successful transition
into high school (Belcher & Hatley, 1994; Mizelle, 1995; Oates, Flores,
& Weishew, 1998). For example, Mizelle (1995) found that students who
stayed together with the same teachers through sixth, seventh, and eighth
grades and experienced more hands-on, life-related learning activities,
integrated instruction, and cooperative learning groups were more successful
in their transition to high school than were students from the same school
who had a more traditional middle school experience.
Students also indicated that if their middle school teachers had held
students more responsible for their learning, taught them more about strategies
for learning on their own, and provided them a more challenging curriculum,
their transition to high school would have been eased.
Similarly, in a comprehensive program at Sunrise Middle School in inner-city
Philadelphia, Oates and her colleagues (1998) found that students who participated
in a Community for Learning Program (CFL) were more successful in their
transition into high school than students who had not participated in the
CFL program. Key components of the CFL program were support and training
for teachers, a learning management system designed to help middle school
students develop a sense of responsibility for their own learning and behavior,
and an emphasis on community and family involvement.
According to Mac Iver (1990), a high school transition program includes
a variety of activities that (1) provide students and parents with information
about the new school, (2) provide students with social support during the
transition, and (3) bring middle school and high school personnel together
to learn about one another's curriculum and requirements.
ACTIVITIES THAT PROVIDE INFORMATION TO STUDENTS AND PARENTS.
Middle school students want to know what high school is going to be
like, and they and their parents need to know about and understand high
school programs and procedures (Phelan, Yu, & Davidson, 1994). In particular,
parents need to be actively involved in the decisions their eighth-graders
are asked to make about classes they will take in ninth grade and understand
the long-term effects of the course decisions (Paulson, 1994).
Some of the ways students can learn about high school include visiting
the high school in the spring, perhaps to "shadow" a high school student;
attending a presentation by a high school student or panel of students;
visiting the high school in the fall for schedule information; attending
a fall orientation assembly (preferably before school starts); and discussing
high school regulations and procedures with eighth-grade teachers and counselors.
In addition to face-to-face activities, another possible source of information
is the Internet. High school students might, either as a class or club
project, set up a Web page that would provide incoming students information
on different high school activities and clubs and offer them an opportunity
to get answers to any questions they may have from the "experts."
ACTIVITIES THAT PROVIDE SOCIAL SUPPORT.
At a time when friendships and social interaction are particularly important
for young adolescents, the normative transition into high school often
serves to disrupt friendship networks and, thereby, interferes with students'
success in high school (Barone et al., 1991). Thus, it is vital for a transition
program to include activities that will provide incoming students social
support activities that give students the opportunity to get to know and
develop positive relationships with older students and other incoming students
(Hertzog et al., 1996; Mac Iver, 1990). A "Big Sister/Brother" Program
that begins in eighth grade and continues through ninth grade, a spring
social event for current and incoming high school students, and writing
programs where eighth-graders correspond with high school students are
just a few ways that transition programs can provide students social support.
Middle and high school educators should also look for opportunities to
develop more long-term activities such as peer mentoring or tutoring programs.
ACTIVITIES THAT BRING MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATORS
Underlying successful high school transition programs are activities
that bring middle school and high school administrators, counselors, and
teachers together to learn about the programs, courses, curriculum, and
requirements of their respective schools (Hertzog et al., 1996; Vars, 1998).
Activities that create a mutual understanding of curriculum requirements
at both levels and of the young adolescent learner will help educators
at both levels to develop a high school transition program to meet the
particular needs of their students. In addition to the more typical committee
or team meetings with representatives from each level, these activities
may include K-12 curriculum planning meetings, and teacher or administrator
visitations, observations, and teaching exchanges.
The importance of parents being involved in their young adolescent students'
transition from middle to high school can hardly be overestimated. When
parents are involved in their student's transition to high school, they
tend to stay involved in their child's school experiences (Mac Iver, 1990);
and when parents are involved in their child's high school experiences,
students have higher achievement (Linver & Silverberg, 1997; Paulson,
1994), are better adjusted (Hartos & Power, 1997), and are less likely
to drop out of school (Horn & West, 1992).
Parent involvement in the transition process to high school can be encouraged
through a variety of activities. Parents may be invited to participate
in a conference (preferably at the middle school) with their child and
the high school counselor to discuss course work and schedules, visit the
high school with their child in the spring or in the fall, spend a day
at the high school to help them understand what their child's life will
be like, and help design and facilitate some of the articulation activities
for students. In planning activities for parents, high school educators
will want to remember that parents of students who are already in high
school are an excellent resource for other parents and may also help to
encourage new parents to be more involved in school activities. At the
middle school level, teachers and administrators can inform parents about
transition activities and encourage them to participate. Perhaps more importantly,
they can work to keep parents involved in their child's education and school
activities during the middle school years so that they are comfortable
"coming to school" and confident that their involvement makes a difference
in their child's academic success.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Barone, C., Aguirre-Deandreis, A. I., & Trickett, E. J. (1991).
Mean-ends problem-solving skills, life stress, and social support as mediators
of adjustment in the normative transition to high school. AMERICAN JOURNAL
OF COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY 19(2), 207-225.
Belcher, D. C., & Hatley, R. V. (1994). A dropout prediction model
that highlights middle level variables. RESEARCH IN MIDDLE LEVEL EDUCATION,
Hartos, J. L., & Power, T. G. (1997). Mothers' awareness of their
early adolescents' stressors: Relation between awareness and adolescent
adjustment. JOURNAL OF EARLY ADOLESCENCE, 17(4), 371-389.
Hertzog, C. J., Morgan, P. L., Diamond, P. A., & Walker, M. J. (1996).
Transition to high school: A look at student perceptions. BECOMING, 7(2),
Horn, L., & West J. (1992). NATIONAL EDUCATION LONGITUDINAL STUDY
OF 1988: A PROFILE OF PARENTS OF EIGHTH GRADERS. Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Printing Office. ED 350 341.
Linver, M. R., & Silverberg, S. B. (1997). Maternal predictors of
early adolescent achievement-related outcomes: Adolescent gender as moderator.
JOURNAL OF EARLY ADOLESCENCE, 17(3), 294-318.
Mac Iver, D. J. (1990). Meeting the needs of young adolescents: Advisory
groups, interdisciplinary teaching teams, and school transition programs.
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Mac Iver, D. J., & Epstein, J. L. (1991). Responsive practices in
the middle grades: Teacher teams, advisory groups, remedial instruction,
and school transition programs. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EDUCATION, 99(4), 587-622.
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Mizelle, N. B. (1995, April). TRANSITION FROM MIDDLE SCHOOL INTO HIGH
SCHOOL: THE STUDENT PERSPECTIVE. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting
of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.
Oates, J., Flores, R., & Weishew, N. (1998). Achieving student success
in inner-city schools is possible, provided.... RESEARCH IN MIDDLE LEVEL
EDUCATION QUARTERLY, 21(3), 51-62.
Owings, J., & Peng, S. (1992). TRANSITIONS EXPERIENCED BY 1988 EIGHTH
GRADERS. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. ED 343
Paulson, S. E. (1994). Relations of parenting style and parental involvement
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Phelan, P., Yu, H. C., & Davidson, A. L. (1994). Navigating the
psychosocial pressures of adolescence: The voices and experiences of high
school youth. AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, 31(2), 415-447.
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of school adjustment in urban, minority adolescents: Effects of a high
school transition program. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY, 22(3),
Vars, G. F. (1998). "You've come a long way, baby!" In R. David (ed.),
MOVING FORWARD FROM THE PAST: EARLY WRITINGS AND CURRENT REFLECTIONS OF
MIDDLE SCHOOL FOUNDERS (pp. 222-233). Columbus, OH: National Middle School
Association; Pittsburgh: Pennsylvania Middle School Association.