Doctor's Orders

Goodbye middle school, hello high school
Aug. 24, 2014 @ 12:00 PM

Surviving the freshman year of high school is a challenging and sometimes frightening new experience for many students.

“Some of the obvious challenges are overcoming the fears the students have themselves,” said Diane Polachek, Associate Professor of Education at Wilkes University. “They realize that most high schools are larger physical facilities. They’re afraid they’re going to get lost. They’re afraid the older kids are going to condescend or bully. They’re fearful of the classes. What do they have to take? Will it be hard? They’re going to have the perception that it will be a lot tougher. And they’re right.”

Parents Can Help

While parents won’t be able to be there to help on that big first day, there are plenty of ways they can help their children navigate this transition.

“It’s really important for parents to talk to their kids about what’s been valuable to them up to this point,” said Cyrene Wells, Professor of Education at the University of Maine at Machias and author of the book, Literacies Lost: When Students Move From a Progressive Middle School to a Traditional High School. “Help your children understand that they do know how to do things and are capable of managing their environment.”

For example, call the high school office and ask if there is a time that the school would be open to “practice” a bit with a new locker combination, finding the classrooms, and practice their schedule.

These experts offer more tips to help make the transition easier:

• Prepare for the first day. Bring a watch to avoid the fear of missing the bus. Write down locker combinations and class schedules, room numbers and teacher names in a notebook. Kids worry about not being able to eat lunch with their friends or having the same classes. Help set up a time before school, during lunch, or after school to meet with friends.

• Know your child. Identify which courses your child is registered for and who the teachers will be. Will he or she need help with math or social studies? The worst thing for a student is to go into ninth grade intimidated and then not succeed. 

• Listen to your child. Ask your child how his or her day went, especially at the beginning of the school year. Ask if there was any trouble getting to art second period, or how the lunchroom was that day. If complaints continue, talk with the principal or guidance counselor to get their perspective and help.

• Help your student prepare for this change. New teachers, new learning environment, new expectations — all scary stuff. Help your child concentrate on what was done well, what has carried over from elementary and middle school, and how that’s prepared him or her for high school.  


1. Interview. Diane Polachek, Associate Professor of Education at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

2. Wells C. Literacies lost: When students move from a progressive middle school to a traditional high school.