The middle-school experience is different from what a student faces in high school.
Because of this, Kimberly Favor, director of middle school at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood; Mike Griffith, head of school at The Lillian and Betty Ratner School in Pepper Pike; and Lauren Henkin, eighth-grade adviser and middle school language arts teacher at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike, said the transition can be stressful.
“The transition from middle school to high school is often filled with both excitement and apprehension,” Griffith said. “No matter what, change can be hard. Students who have been in a school setting for many years have learned to trust those around them. Suddenly, they are about to move away from that trusted base.”
As both Gross Schechter and Mandel JDS are Jewish day schools, much of the student body has never attended school elsewhere.
“From a day-school perspective, the kids are often leaving the only academic home they have ever known, so it can be a bit daunting especially from an academic standpoint,” Henkin said. “From student to student, it differs.”
To combat that, Favor suggests students shadow and explore many different high schools before middle-school graduation.
“All our students are encouraged to shadow different schools,” Favor explained. “It’s about determining the best fit for students. Coming from a small Jewish day school, there is definitely a difference in student numbers, diversity, staff-to-student ratio and course offerings. It’s about helping students be prepared, no matter what school they attend.”
Griffith said students should be reminded change is a process. At Ratner School, students are introduced to change as they prepare for graduation.
“Support the students holistically in academics, social and emotional strength, executive functioning, coping skills and resiliency,” he stated. “All these tools will help them be prepared, regardless of the setting they enter to navigate the early stages and get a solid footing. We work in all these areas in the classroom. ... Also, we support students throughout the entire high school process.”
In preparation for high school, Favor said Mandel JDS students are taught to develop a strong sense of identity, specifically within Judaism.
“We encourage our students to get involved in Jewish youth groups and that helps them stay connected to their Jewish community,” she said. “We help them build resiliency because they’re going to encounter obstacles in high school. We want them to face them and bounce back stronger.”
Henkin added Gross Schechter classes “spend a lot of time” discussing the transition to high school.
“I have worked in the high school setting before, so for me, it’s about making students feel as though they are competent and ready,” she explained. “We talk a lot about the different opportunities that will present themselves in high school. Also, a lot of eighth grade is focused on taking ownership, whether that is academics or personal needs. It’s about teaching students how to handle things in a mature setting.”
Though high school is about independence, the educators said parents should also be involved in the transition.
“Make the unfamiliar become familiar,” Griffith suggested. “But all this said, you know your child. If it creates too much greater anxiety, back off and don’t make it a big pressure cooker. Be a cheerleader, push if needed and deescalate if required. A parent’s job is to help maintain the appropriate balance.”
Favor added parents should be “calm and supportive.”
“High school is the opportunity to give (students) more independence and make their own decisions,” she said. “They have to learn how to learn from their mistakes. It’s about advocating from the sidelines and allowing students to take the reins a little bit.”
Henkin said, “Parents should remain in a coaching position. They’re there to observe what is going on and intervene when needed. But, they become less of a pilot. It is making sure kids are self-sufficient, which is a big transition in itself.”