For parents of students transitioning from middle school to high school, you may want to prepare your adolescents for the specific differences they’ll encounter. High school offers students a wider variety of classes, which can be more rewarding and enjoyable for students, but this also means students have more on their plate and more responsibility. Likewise, students are given much more independence in high school, and it’s expected that they take the reins of their academic experience. Additionally, students’ decisions and actions in high school can have more impactful consequences on their future than their middle school decisions, and it’s important that students approach this period with eyes wide open, prepared to succeed.

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School Structure and Focus

Middle School

While the structure may vary from school to school, most middle schools are set up in a team structure. Students in each grade are grouped into teams, and they are assigned the group of core teachers that serves that respective team. This team structure means that teachers on the same team work together to coordinate their schedules, tests, projects, and field trips to accommodate the schedules of the other students on their team. In this way, teachers help ensure that students aren’t overwhelmed and aid in managing their schedules. While grades are a factor in middle school, the overarching focus is more on students’ efforts and progress, and grades are not meant to put overwhelming pressure on students. 

High School

High school is a whole new world when it comes to teachers and classes, and for the first time, students may experience having six, seven, or eight (or more) teachers, all for different subjects, all in one day. These teachers typically do not coordinate with teachers from other subject departments, so teachers are not tailoring their class rubrics and schedules to accommodate or consider the schedules of other classes. This means that it’s up to the student to manage their time and schedule, and based on the classes a student is taking at any one time, they may find themselves with a heavy week of multiple tests or projects all due at once. This is meant to give students a taste of managing their own schedules and priorities, as they will when they enter college and the real world. Along those lines, the focus in high school is largely on preparing for the future, which often means getting students ready for college. Therefore, there is more of a focus on grades, testing, and class rank, as all of this may impact future college admission decisions. Students in high school are often much more preoccupied with their GPA, while you may never have even calculated your middle school GPA. 

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Attendance

Middle School

Attendance is always important, since missing school days can leave students falling behind, but the stakes are much lower for absences in middle school. In most cases, you could miss a couple hours of the day for a doctor’s appointment (or other commitment) and resume the rest of the day, without the time away counted as a full-day’s absence. Additionally, since your teachers work as a team, they’re often more understanding and willing to help students catch up after an absence. Finally, in middle school, the curriculum doesn’t move at an overwhelmingly fast pace, so if you put in a few hours after school, on a weekend, or at lunch with your teacher, you should be able to get back up to speed and on track in all your classes.

High School

Absences in high school are very different from middle school, largely due to the number of different classes students take. In high school, missing any class period is considered an absence, and students may find that missing multiple class periods over a few days can leave them feeling very behind and overwhelmed with rapidly-piling work to catch up on. Since classes do move at a more rapid pace, it’s best to have a few peers or study buddies in your classes whose notes you can borrow if you must miss a class. If you must be absent for a personal appointment, it may be best to choose a time that coincides with one of your easier classes (if not during your lunch or study hall), since that would alleviate the stress of missing one of your more difficult classes.

Scheduling

Middle School

Classes in middle school are typically on a year-long schedule, especially core classes, like math, science, literature, and social studies. While students might have some semester-long or block-scheduled electives, those classes will likely be less-challenging subjects and will cover a shorter curriculum, coinciding with the shorter class term. The core classes that span the entire year will move at a reasonable pace, so even the more challenging subjects will allow students adequate time to fully grasp the material.

High School

Though it varies from school to school, many high schools incorporate semester-long scheduling or block-scheduling, so students’ Fall classes end before their Winter Break, and when they resume, they begin an entirely new Spring semester schedule. With block scheduling, students may experience longer classes of two or more hours, and they may also only have certain classes every other day. The longer block-scheduling classes require students to both have a longer attention span and to retain the information that they will pick back up on two days later, which is more challenging than the middle school schedule. For classes that span just one semester, the curriculum may move at a very rapid pace, especially for honors and AP classes, so students should be prepared for a quicker pace of learning in high school.

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Daily Transitions

Middle School

Class transitions in middle school are often facilitated by teachers, especially among students and teachers all on one team. It’s not uncommon for all the teachers and students on a team to be located on one hall or in one wing of the school, so transitions may be as simple as walking across the hallway. Students in middle school also usually have fewer class periods than in high school, so you may still have a homeroom and be expected to transition to classes only four or five times.

High School

Since students in high school may have eight or more class periods a day, transitions between classes are a constant and something students need to get used to early on. The big issue in high school is that the building may be large and split up over multiple floors and wings, so it may take some jogging to get from class to class in the allotted time. The best way to deal with this is to walk your class schedule before the semester starts to ensure you know the most direct route from class to class and you determine exactly how long it takes you in between each class. You’ll likely be allotted five minutes for the transition, so you’ll want to plan which transitions require a slight sprint and which allow for a quick bathroom or locker break. This goes without saying, but in high school, each student is responsible for his or her own schedule, so they’re also responsible for getting from class to class on their own, so there won’t be teachers guiding or corralling you from class to class.

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Goals

Middle School

Each student may have individual goals, but the main focus in middle school is on guiding students through the process of learning and encouraging their efforts. Teachers are there to help nurture students with positive reinforcement, and the goal is to mold these middle schoolers into dedicated, focused students who enjoy and care about their academics. Middle school is also a time for students to explore their interests through electives and outside activities, and students are encouraged to participate in these activities without the pressure of a future resume or college application.

High School

Come high school, the goal for students becomes much more long-term, and the stakes are higher. Students in high school are expected to think about their four-year-plan and how that will lead into their post-graduation plan. Preparing for college and the college application process is also a big focus for students once they reach their junior year. However, this college preparation really starts freshman year, as students begin making scheduling decisions that will impact their four-year journey and the opportunities they may have going forward, such as honors and AP courses. High school is the first time that students are really expected to think about their future and consider their interests, strengths, passions, and potential future career path, so they can plan accordingly in their studies and extracurricular involvement.

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Conclusion

High school and middle school are only a year apart, but the student experience and the purpose of their journeys are very different. While the stakes may be higher in high school, the classes and opportunities can be more rewarding, and it’s a time for students to truly find themselves and begin planning their futures. The best way to begin high school on the right foot is to come out of middle school prepared for what to expect. There’s no need to be intimidated by the transition or the new classes, but rather, it’s a time to get excited about the greater independence students in high school will have towards building their futures.

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