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Transitioning to Middle School
By Monica A. Consalvo

The move to middle school can be tough even for the best of students. Their educational environment will change dramatically. Students will have more teachers and they are expected to take far more responsibility for their schoolwork. Students also face changing classes, operating lockers, dealing with older students, and handling new grading standards and procedures.

Nancy Bachety, mother of sixth grade boy at Sayville Middle School, has some helpful advice for the locker situation. "Prepare your child by bringing them to the school before the summer ends and trying out their locker. This will reduce a major source of stress that can be eliminated simply by practicing. If that's not possible, buy a combination lock to practice with at home. The concept is the same."

Colleen Flanagan-Smith, LMSW, School Social Worker at Sagamore Middle School states that in her experiences with children of this age group the transition from elementary to middle school is a different experience for each child. "

For some children they are eager, looking forward to the new found independence while others may be anxious or worried. Most children worry about finding their classrooms, getting to class on time, using lockers, keeping up with the academic workload and making new friends." At the same time, they are going through the physical and emotional changes of puberty and striving to become more independent.

The first few weeks of middle school are the most challenging. The entire "team" needs to be supportive to ensure a successful transition. Most schools provide students and parents with an orientation program. At Port Jefferson, we have a welcoming barbeque; while at Sachem, Ms. Flanagan-Smith states they conduct tours and provide students with a questions/answer period with current middle school teachers. These events help all students, especially those who are experiencing anxiety and apprehension about what to expect.

As a middle school educator, I believe strongly in establishing a time and place for homework that is free of distractions and is equipped with the appropriate supplies. Children will benefit from the structure, parents will see the benefits too, because their child will have less stress, anxiety and frustration toward school. Mrs. Bachety, says, "A child can display their nervousness like adults in a seemingly unrelated way. Picture yourself starting a new job or preparing for a blind date. You think about it for days, if not weeks, in advance. You might not realize you are nervous but maybe you are easily distracted, or not able to listen as well, or maybe you even snap at something somebody did or say when normally it wouldn't bother you. As a parent you should expect that this might happen and offer your presence, a sense of understanding and just be available. Your presence is often calming in itself."

I encourage you to set up an organizational system that utilizes color. For example, assign each subject a color and have all materials for that subject follow the pattern. If RED is for English then your child should have a red folder and red binder/notebook. When your child is at his/her locker at the end of their busy day and are ready to pull their work to take home it will be easy to remember to pull all their "red" materials if they know they have English homework.

Dr. Charles Russo, superintendent of East Moriches School district states, "The transition from elementary school to middle school can be less stress for students and parents alike by instilling strong organizational skills. The most problematic situation that occurs for entering middle scholars is the transitions between classes and the need to maintain note taking and assignments amongst all the courses. Strong organizational skills will greatly assist the child and make a parent sleep a little better at night!"
Students should also learn how to use an agenda. This skill will help your child during their school years and future careers. The agenda provides a "clear" assigned place to write down assignments, upcoming tests and long-range projects. Each afternoon your child should preview the assignments that they have to do and get the tough tasks out of the way first. Helping your child plan out long-term projects with a monthly calendar is great technique to learn.

On the first day of school, students often ask teachers what should they expect. Dr. Russo says, "Students can expect more freedom from rules, however with the additional relaxing of procedures and rules comes increased personal responsibility. Middle school is all about growing up from being a child to becoming a young adult!" Some worry about not having a friend in class, or worse not having a friend in the cafeteria. " Parents can provide positive support by reassuring their child that they are not alone in their fears. Role playing ways to make new friends can help ease their anxiety," replied Ms. Flanagan-Smith

More academic work will be one of the biggest challenges your child will encounter however, "Parents can reassure students that they will encounter more opportunities for friendships and participation in clubs and activities", states Ms. Flanagan-Smith. These experiences will take the focus away from the academic changes and allow students to see the advantages that middle school can offer them.

As September begins to approach, parents and students alike begin to hit the stores for school supplies. What should I buy?, is the big question. Some schools provide a list of supplies that your child's future teacher would prefer, but others simply send you out to fish in a land full of way too many choices. As I stated before I believe strongly in color-coding your child's supplies to help achieve organizational "nirvana". Here are a list of basic supplies that every child should have, and while you're in the store, pick up some extras for the late Sunday afternoon in March when you child says, " My printer just ran out of ink!"

Colored pocket folders
Pens and pencils (you can never have too much)
1 inch binders (flexible kind, they come in an assortment of colors too)
Loose-leaf paper
Dividers to separate sections of the binder
Supplies for projects (oak tag, colored pencils, construction paper, glue sticks)
Computer printer cartridge and paper
Tip: Do not wait till the first day of school! The stores are way too crowded and run out of the "good" supplies.

Now that your child has the supplies they need the next big issue to tackle is the shifting role of parent involvement. Parents still need to play a large role in the education of their middle school student. You do want your child to develop independence but careful monitoring is still necessary. Make sure you attend Back to School Night, this provides you with the opportunity to meet your child's' teachers face-to-face and gain an understanding of the class requirements and expectations.

So, are you ready? The starting of school will be here before we know it. Remember to ask questions, stay involved and be prepared, not only with the extra school supplies but also for the questions you never expected your middle school student to ask you.

The information presented on this site is intended solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical condition and before starting any new treatment.

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