“Moving on Up”

Making the move from middle school to high school is overwhelming for students. Suddenly, teens are immersed in a new school culture with students from multiple middle schools, older students, a bigger building, higher expectations, challenging classes, and new social pressures. Transitioning students often struggle with the following questions:

  • “Will there really be that much more homework?”
  • “What if I cannot find the bathroom in that big school?”
  • “Will I be able to open my locker?”
  • “Do the big kids beat you up?”
  • “What if I get lost?”
  • “What if no one likes me?”
  • “What if the teachers are mean?”
  • “What if I do not know anyone else in my classes?”
  • “Who will I sit with at lunch?”

These transitioning students need extra support to navigate changes and make choices that will set the stage for success in high school, college and beyond. This year is paramount because, how students perform during their freshman year is the best predictor of whether they will graduate or not. So, it is incumbent on schools to develop a transition plan that will set students up for success for years to come.

Creating a positive and effective transition plan will reduce anxiety, set students up for academic success, help them make smart decisions, and enjoy a wide array of new opportunities. The following suggestions are designed to help you create a transition plan that will aid your students in getting the most out of their high school experience, prepare them for rigorous courses, and provide guidance in making wise social and academic choices.

Coach Harwood grills hotdogs for students during a “meet and greet” tailgate party.

For a transition plan to be effective it should:

  1. Take place during the entire transition year  – Start your transition plan early by visiting all of your feeder schools.  Share all of the great happenings at your school, provide information about academic expectations, and answer questions. But, DO NOT STOP THERE. Plan a parent/student night and provide student-guided school tours, a chance to meet the teachers, and an exciting presentation by students and staff.  Carry out the transition plan throughout the summer by sending your new students a postcard and plan an ice cream social or fun competition during preplanning. Do not forget to create a fun and engaging Open House for parents and students. Finally, be strategic in creating opportunities throughout the school year to help your students adjust to your expectations. Teach homeroom lessons on managing homework and/or graduation planning, provide interventions (after school tutoring, lunch study hall, etc.) to help struggling students make up missed assignments, host mixers and team building games during lunch to promote socialization. Be creative in meeting your transitioning students’ needs.
  2. Help address questions and anxieties students have. Be intentional in creating a forum for students to ask questions and get answers. When you visit your feeder schools, provide time for this in your presentation. Use social media, school websites, and a comprehensive student handbook to address frequently asked questions. Communicate with parents through newsletters and emails, and be visible during your parent pick-up at the end of the day. 
  3. Help students form a realistic expectation of the transition year. Take current students with you as you visit feeder schools, and make them part of your presentation and plan for them to speak at your parent/student night. Also, consider creating an ambassador program at your school for training student leaders to represent your school at functions.
  4. Provide a positive and successful first impression. Spend time, money, and effort in making your visit to feeder schools, parent/student nights, and Open House fun and engaging experiences for both parents and students.
  5. Involve all parents and students. Your transition plan should include plenty of events for parents and students, such as information nights, lunch & learns, student recognition activities, open houses, etc. Encourage parents to follow you on social media and send emails frequently.
  6. Include activities that students can be involved in prior to the beginning of school. Preplanning is a great time to host an ice cream social, Ultimate Frisbee Tournament, cook-out, etc.
  7. Utilize a variety of modes of communication including social media, email, newsletters, and face to face conversations.  Also, do not forget that students love to see administrators and teachers in the community, at lunch, attending school events, etc.
  8. Formulate a team approach – Include faculty and staff, current students and parents, and administrators in your plan. 

Most of all, remember who your customers are, your students.  Create a transition plan that sets your students up for success! The extra time, money, and effort will ALL be worth it when you see your students thriving in your school environment.

Do you have other tried and proven transition activities you would like to share with our culturEDleadership community?  If so, please share your ideas in our comments section.  We would love to hear from you.

This blog was written by Dr. Connie Franklin. Dr. Franklin has over 20 years in education with 15 years as a school administrator at the middle school and high school levels. Before moving into administration, Dr. Franklin taught business education and was an instructional technology specialist.

Categories: Uncategorized

4 replies »

  1. Great article! The questions transitioning students ask are the same questions that elementary students ask when they move to middle school.

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Ann, thanks for reading and commenting! You make a great point; school transitions are certainly hard no matter the age. As a parent of a 3rd grader, I wonder if the transition to middle school is harder on the parents than the students as they see the little babies become “not-so-little” anymore!


  2. Thank you for the work you are doing ! As I ask many schools and leaders, how does your school define culture? What is your definition? I would love your thoughts.


    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Nick. We like to think of school culture as the shared habits, expectations, and attitudes that staff and students would have in an ideal school setting; basically the way we think a school should be. We are not a perfect school, far from it. But we strive for our school to be a place where staff, students, and parents are breaking down the doors to get in. Thanks again for reading!


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