Mauretta Hurst

(left to right) 2004 Principal Fellows Patricia Welch, Les Potter, and Merian Stewart meet with Scholastic Senior Vice President Ernest Fleishman

In collaboration with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), Scholastic recently hosted the first annual Principal Fellows Program. While at Scholastic, the Principal Fellows reflected on trends affecting all grade levels and discussed issues that impact the principal's role. Below are their thoughts on one issue that principals at all levels face as they deal with parental concerns at critical transition times.

There are many concerns that come to mind in regards to students transitioning from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school. It is our perspective that those having the most difficulty transitioning from elementary school to middle school and then to high school are parents!

Year after year, we patiently watch parents leave the kindergarten room, grasping hands, crying, and begging for just five more minutes to remain in the kindergarten classroom. But separation anxiety does not end at the kindergarten door or when parents familiarize themselves with the teacher, program, or school. With the first conversation about elementary school students transitioning into middle school, all of those feelings of fear and anxiety arise again.

Students look forward to changing classes, participating in sports, more freedom in the halls, and the chance to hang around older kids. Parents don't necessarily like middle school for the same reasons their children like it.

Middle schools have an obligation to the students and parents to make the journey as painless as possible. They need to work with the students and adults to familiarize them to the new school, transportation, schedules, rules, etc. Many middle schools use an orientation program that introduces incoming students to their new experiences. All incoming students meet with trained older middle schoolers and teachers in an all-day get-acquainted program. Food and fun are part of the process. Let the parents know what is going on through meetings and booklets, so they can reinforce these new concepts and ideas with their children.

Parents must understand that their middle-schoolers will be going through many emotional, physical and intellectual spurts. Not all are always appreciated by the adults. Children will start 'pushing the envelope' to see what boundaries the school and the parent will set. Remind parents that this is natural. Peers will have as much, if not more, impact on youngsters' social lives as they will. Although the parents may be new at this, school officials are not! They have seen thousands of middle schoolers come and go and 99.9% came through the experience in one piece!

Keep an open door policy before school starts, as well as after school begins, since the confusion will not stop once school starts. School officials need to let the students and parents know whom they can go to if they have questions or concerns after the start of school. Normally, this might be the principal, assistant principal, or counselor. It is very important that an early line of communication is established between the home and school. Parents should meet with and know the expectations, standards, homework and grading policies, etc. of their child's teachers. Transitioning to middle school can be a formidable challenge, but with planning and patience, every child should be successful.

Transitioning from junior high or middle school to high school may provide additional stress and reluctance on the part of parents. In addition to becoming acclimated to a new school setting, incoming freshmen may embrace the misguided philosophy that because of their "young adult" status, they do not need as much parental guidance. This is quite the contrary. Students, at this stage in their education, need parental support even more. Students need to understand high academic standards from parents, as well as teachers. They need to envision how they fit in within the scheme of things. They need to satisfy their natural urges to become a part of the school climate, in general, while signing on to clubs, athletics, and student government.

Parents and teachers need to be a part of that decision-making process, so that the young adults do not rely solely on their peers. Additionally, it is imperative that parents stand firm on their rules and regulations for their students, even if other parents are allowing other students to do other things. That firm foundation will make the frightening high school years less stressful for both the parents and the students!

Once incoming freshmen recognize that they must "start out the way they can hold out," they will make the necessary decisions to prepare for a successful and fulfilling future. It is necessary for the parents to set the stage: high school is demanding! There are no social promotions; you are expected to complete assignments, submit homework, take part in cooperative group activities, become a leader in student government and express your creativity within clubs, activities, and athletics. More importantly, parents must direct students to begin to think along the lines of future goals! Where will they go after high school and how do they prepare for that leg of their future travels?

If parents can keep these pointers in mind, transition becomes a very natural part of students' growth. It becomes a period where students will become excited and eager to embark upon the future transitions into adulthood.



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