Middle School. Two little words that ignite panic in the hearts of kids and parents alike, right? I remember feeling a nervous energy around our house as our daughter prepared to walk through the doors of her new school as a 6th grader.
I’m blessed with a kid who loves school, so she was mostly excited, but there were definitely some intimidating aspects of going to middle school as well. And, I tried not to show it, but there were aspects of the transition that had me anxious for her as well.
Fast forward to today and I hear a lot of the same concerns and anxieties coming from my friends that have kiddos about to make the leap from the security of elementary school into middle school. This caused me to think back through how my daughter’s 6th grade year actually turned out… Sure, there were challenges along the way, but overall it was a great year.
I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts and advice from others who have “been there, done that” to ease the worried minds of parents and kiddos who are preparing for the first day of middle school soon.
It’s like the first day of Kindergarten all over again…
First, it’s important to understand that the anxiety surrounding middle school is usually centered around two very different aspects of middle school.
There’s the academic anxiety… How will my kid keep up with the bigger workload? Will he be able to manage homework alongside his other sports and activities? Did she take on too many Pre-AP classes?
If that weren’t enough, there’s a less-intense, yet still intimidating third source of anxiety… the logistics of navigating the school itself! When chatting with my daughter and other students, this actually seemed to be weighing heavily on their minds at the beginning of the year. How on earth am I going to get from class to class in only 4 minutes? Will I EVER get my locker open?
On the Academic Front
When we went to 6th grade orientation with our daughter, the principal of Trent Middle School, Shawn Perry, gave a great talk to parents. The overarching theme of his message?
Middle school is a great place to fail.
Odd, right? But it made so much sense and it stuck with me throughout the year. There’s no “permanent record” here. This is our kids’ last chance to make their own mistakes…and then learn from them…without impacting the all-important GPA and class rank. They can learn the consequences of forgetting their gym clothes or putting off studying for a test without it being detrimental to their chances of getting into Harvard!
Since I had thought of Mr. Perry’s words so many times throughout my daughter’s first year of middle school, I sat down with him before writing this article to see what other words of wisdom he could share with us.
He stressed again that the weeds and roadblocks that our kids face are good for them. These challenges are what give our kids the experience to learn and grow, so we should resist the urge to clear these roadblocks for them. He advised parents to think about what’s really going to contribute to their children’s success. He shared,
If you take yourself out of the equation for your kid’s success, will they still be okay? If the answer is ‘No’, you know you need to take a step back and let them start building their own tools for success. Simply put, if you let them be helpless, they will be helpless.
From our experience, and from what other middle school parents have shared with me, this level of independence is the biggest adjustment. According to Pearson Middle School mom, Kelly Walker,
As parents, we had to really get used to the idea of our daughter taking on almost all of the school-related responsibilities. They can handle it! They need to be organized and ready to step up and be responsible for themselves inside their middle school world.
Look for ways at the beginning of the year to help your child set up systems that work for her, but then let her manage this system on her own. For example, set up a routine where your child checks his school email daily and reviews the online calendars for each subject to plan for tests and projects.
The Frisco middle schools all use an agenda with the 6th graders to help them learn to plan for and organize their workload. Encourage your child to review the agenda (maybe even alongside a calendar of their other extra-curricular activities) to plan for deadlines that are coming up.
What could be better than academic advice straight from students in Frisco?
Never give up and ask for help if you don’t understand something. The teachers will help you! – Reese Walker, 7th grader, Pearson Middle School
Do the extra credit! (Even if you don’t think you need it at the time!) – Megan O’Day, 7th grader, Trent Middle School
Don’t put off a big project until the last minute. It will stress you out! – Alex Fish, 7th grader, Trent Middle School
On the Social Front
My daughter had a friend spend the night who will be entering 6th grade at Pearson Middle School. Sitting around the dinner table, we got to talking about middle school and how it’s different from elementary school. This sweet friend asked my daughter,
Alex, is the cafeteria as bad as they make it look in the movies? You know, everyone staring at you and people guarding a table telling you’re not allowed to sit with them?
Our poor kids! This really is the image they have of lunchtime in middle school. No wonder they’re stressed!
As I walked the halls of Trent Middle School with Mr. Perry, he introduced me to a former Trent student, Jada Johnson. Jada is heading to high school this year, but she was a leader at Trent and had returned this summer to help get the school ready for the new year. I asked her how she felt about the social transition to middle school. Jada told me,
The social part really comes naturally. This school becomes your family. It’s like a second home.
Her biggest advice to other kids as they enter middle school is to get involved in clubs and organizations. That will give you them the best opportunity to get to know other kids with the same interest.
Don’t be surprised if your child’s group of friends changes significantly after a few weeks of middle school. When my daughter came home talking about a whole new set of people one day, I worried that there had been a falling out, or that she had been excluded by her old friends.
But after talking more with my daughter (and hearing similar stories from other parents), I realized this is just natural. There were no hard feelings among those “old” friends, but as kids come together from different schools and are given more freedom to mingle in the hallways and cafeteria, they develop new relationships, too.
Other tips from Frisco parents and students…
- Limit or monitor group texting.
- Be prepared to help your child navigate new friendships. Help them distinguish between true friends and fair-weather friends.
- The first couple of weeks of school, it’s easy to sit with people you know in the cafeteria so that you’re comfortable. After that, branch out and sit with different kids so you can get to know other people, too. – Alex Fish
- Be true to yourself. Don’t let anyone else define who you are. – Megan O’Day
On the Logistical Front
Mr. Perry agrees that it can feel a little chaotic the first week. But he stresses that kids are pliable – they get into their new routine quickly. Sure, there are issues with a kid not able to open their locker or not finding their classroom. But the middle school staff knows this is how it goes! The teachers are all in the halls for the first couple of weeks and admins spend a lot of their time in the 6th grade halls in the beginning to give extra support. The kids I spoke with all agreed – the teachers are there to help!
Practical tips for managing the logistics:
- Take advantage of whatever times your school is open before the first day of school and walk your schedule several times to familiarize yourself with where you’re going.
- Go easy on the locker decorations. A shelf can be helpful to divide the space and fit things more easily, but chandeliers and other decor can just get in the way.
- Always keep your schedule and your locker combination handy! As soon as you decide to leave it in your locker, that’s when you’ll suddenly need a refresher on where your next class is or you’ll forget your locker combination!
Overall, Mr. Perry shared an interesting observation with me. He often sees parents going back to their own (maybe miserable) middle school experiences and assuming their kids will have similar experiences. This is often where the anxiety is coming from – and then this anxiety is getting picked up by the kids, as well. Education has changed. Rest assured that the teachers and staff are there to help with this transition, and most importantly, to help prepare the kids for their next adventure…high school!
At the end of the day, communication is everything. Communication between parent and child, between teachers and parents if needed, and taking advantage of the resources the school provides to support and ease the transition.
Take a deep breath and look forward to a great year!