At this post, I re-purposed research that colleagues had done at The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, on the issue of transitioning from elementary to middle school, and I want to return to it. My wife and I are in the midst of this transition, as our son gets ready for 6th grade next fall, and I’m impressed with what our middle and elementary schools have been doing to make that transition as easy and thoughtful as possible.
A few highlights: Course selection sheets came out in January, for 5th graders to complete, and that activity corresponded with a visit to the elementary school by the middle school guidance counselor who’s assigned to and will work with the incoming 6th graders. She came with two elementary school alums, who told my son and his peers their middle school stories.
For parents there’ve been two evening meetings with middle school staff – one at a local elementary school, another at the middle school – and in the future our son and his classmates will tour the school in May, will have a half day there during the summer, to meet more folks and sort out scary issues such as the much feared opening of the locker, and will spend another day there the Friday before school opens, as part of a more formal orientation.
I’m impressed. I’m impressed since all this activity hews closely to the research, such as providing multiple opportunities for incoming students to become familiar with the school. I appreciate that the schools and school system have developed a very intentional set of activities to ensure that we and our son feel comfortable with and knowledgeable about the middle school, its programs, and its people. Sure, there’ve been a few glitches – not all middle school staff members, for example, are ideal when it comes to presenting to parents – but overall we’re very satisfied. What will be interesting is to see how this transition evolves once our boy is there. Transition activities should not stop once the opening bell sounds on the first day of school. Is there, for example, a buddy or mentor system for incoming 6th graders? How does the middle school use smaller faculty teams – which work with smaller groups of students – to increase “a sense of belonging,” as the research states? How will the school orient new students to all of the extracurricular activities that happen at the school?
My guess is that the school has already thought through these kinds of issues, given its very systematic work so far, and I look forward to watching these best practices fall into place, as has happened so far this winter and spring.