Parent Connection

Guest Columnist - Tracy L. Jackson, Coordinator

Middle School Transition


“I can’t believe my child is going into sixth grade!” a friend and fellow school counselor exclaimed. It’s true…and if you are a parent of one of the 5,300 rising sixth-graders in Virginia Beach City Public Schools then I am sure you are repeating the exact same thing. Well, hold on parents, it’s about to be an interesting three year ride!

Here are some things that you can do to help make the move to middle school a smooth transition for your former fifth-grader.

How Middle School is Different from Elementary School

  1. Lockers – All students have lockers in middle school. Most schools will require students to provide their own locks. Combination locks are the best choice. Also, be sure to have your student practice opening and closing the lock before school begins. Students are expected to place their personal belongings and books within their lockers. It is also best if students do not share lockers with friends. Remember, students only have so many minutes to go to their lockers and get to class before the bell rings. Periodically, schools have locker clean out days and lockers can be randomly inspected if administrators feel there is a safety concern.
  2. No Recess – Due to the structure of the middle school curriculum, students have plenty of time to socialize as they walk to class and at lunch.
  3. Switching Classes – Middle school students can have anywhere from six to nine teachers in one year, including elective teachers. Also, due to the cluster system, students may have several different students in each class, so their classes may not have the same 30 students in all of them.
  4. Increased Homework – With more classes comes more homework. The first nine weeks of sixth grade are based off the last nine weeks of fifth grade. So the content may be relatively easy for most students. By the second nine weeks, your child is in the midst of learning state certified sixth grade curriculum. Homework is a way of ensuring that your child gets the practice they need regarding the content and to help the teacher assess if your child needs more assistance with the curriculum. That is why it is imperative that your child turn in homework and that is why some teachers give a grade for homework.
  5. PE Uniform – All students are expected to take Health and PE as part of the middle school curriculum and to purchase a PE uniform and change clothes. Remember…these are the developmental years. Body changes and hormones produce odors (smile).
  6. Planners – All students should have a planner and get into the habit of using it. Teachers will constantly and consistently remind students. They also put the assignments on the board for students to write down in their planners. Some schools use planners as bathroom and hall passes, too. Remember, responsibility is a principle of American Citizenship!
  7. Grading – Gone are the days of check marks, pluses and minuses, S’s, O’s and U’s. The middle school grading scale aligns with the high school grading scale; A – E.
  8. Selection of classes – One of the best things about middle school is that students, with the assistance of their school counselor and parents, are able to select their elective courses. This helps students find their interests and passions. Academic and Career Plans assist in this endeavor.
  9. Larger Residential Area of Students Attending the Same School – Remember that there can be up to five or six elementary schools feeding into one middle school. While this may be a little scary, this also makes for a great mix of all kinds of students.
  10. Expectations – Teachers and administrators have high expectations for middle school students — they are no longer in elementary school. Completing homework, good classroom behavior, getting along with others and regular attendance are important factors of ensuring a successful middle school experience.

Helping Your Child Manage Stress

The fear of the unknown and Urban Myths, like getting shoved into a locker, are sure to loom in the head of your soon-to-be sixth-grader. Helping to dispel myths be having a candid conversation about what they think middle school will be like will help to alleviate some of the stress that your student has. Ensuring that your student gets plenty of sleep, eats well and carves out time for homework and other social activities will also help with organizational skills. Encourage your child to make plans with a friend to connect with before or after school, if they are not in any of the same classes. That way, they can share and compare and contrast stories and experiences during that first week of school. And don’t forget that planner!

How to Foster a Sense of Belonging

Middle school is a great time to develop social skills. There are all kinds of clubs, sports and activities for your student to become involved in and explore interests. This is also an excellent time for your child to meet new people and make friends that can carry them into high school and beyond.

Role of the Middle School Counselor

In middle school the school counselor functions pretty much the same way as they did in elementary school. However, the school counselor plays a bigger role in the academic and career development of your child, while still tending to the social/emotional needs. Middle school counselors assist with classroom guidance lessons, career exploration activities, course selection, academic and career planning for high school, explanation of credit bearing courses, parent/teacher conferences, etc. More importantly, it is vital that as a parent you know your child’s school counselor. Middle school can be a developmentally difficult and awkward time for children and parents alike; added family stressors like divorce, death, deployment and job loss can be overwhelming to the middle school student. A quick call to your child’s school counselor is all that is needed to make sure your child has someone to talk to during difficult times.

For more information on the middle school experience, be sure to check out these sites:

Middle School Life by PBS

Why Middle School Counselors?

About the Author

Tracy L. Jackson

Tracy L. Jackson is the Coordinator of Guidance Services in the Office of Guidance Services and Student Records. Tracy is a former elementary, middle and high school counselor, as well as a former high school department chair. She is the Recipient of the 2011-2012 Counselor of the Year Award by the Hampton Roads Counseling Association and the 2012 Counselor of the Year Award by the Virginia Counseling Association. She serves as the Regional Area 2 School Counselor Representative for the Virginia Department of Education and is the current president of the Virginia School Counselor Association.