This Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in the 26th year as principal. He attended SUNY Potsdam, and graduated with a BA in mathematics and education (1976) and a MA in mathematic (1983). Dr. Moore received his MEd. in ed. administration from St. Lawrence University in 1986 and his PhD. in ed. admin. and policy studies from the University at Albany in 1993.
School years end – which is a good thing for students and adults. Courses are developed in yearly format, so there is a defined beginning and a defined end. We finish off one year and look forward to the next. We end the school year, everybody takes a break, we start another one.
At least that’s what it looks like to people outside of education.
Those of us who work in schools, however, know that is not the case.
Within individual school districts there is a lot of work that goes into transitioning students from one grade level to the next. Some considerations for doing so include determining course of level placement for each student, meeting the new year’s teachers, recognizing the accomplishments of the year ending, working with parents as needed to clarify what’s taking place, planning students’ inclusion in summer programs, and several other annual tasks that are geared to help students be prepared for the coming year.
The transition process it even more involved when you consider students who are entering your school for the first time. In my school’s case, we have students entering from six different district elementary schools, in addition to several new entrants from area private schools. Transitioning these students is an important task, as each year our entire seventh grade is new to our school. In addition, working to transition parents is almost as important, as there is a fairly high level of anxiety with many parents, mostly those with their first child entering the junior high. The move from the neighborhood elementary school, which the student has been a part of for the past seven years, to a much larger, differently structured secondary school creates angst.
Schools should not wait until the end of one school year to begin the transition process to the next. Schools need to demonstrate to parents that that they understand their unease and will be working to help them and their incoming kids to get a little more comfortable with their new environment. Kids’ feelings are different; they’re nervous but in an excited, eager to move on to the next level way. Parents are just plain nervous.
One way to begin easing parents into your school is to reach out to them about courses offered. In most middle schools, there aren’t many options for 6th and 7th grade students, but providing a description of all the courses offered in the initial school year is informative and helpful. It’s a plus if your guidance counselors visit each of the elementary schools to meet with the fifth or sixth grade teachers about the incoming kids.
Another way to inform and transition is to post information about your school on your web page. Most schools hold an evening orientation program for parents in early June, at which parents hear information provided by representatives of each department, each teacher team, guidance counselors, perhaps a PTA rep, and building administrators. Many schools also have the kids visit their school sometime in June during the day. At this program the kids can have lunch, hear from some of their specific teachers, guidance counselor and/or building administrators, and see the school.
Yet another outreach is to mail important information to parents during the summer, early enough for parents and kids to read and understand it. It’s very helpful if this mailing includes each child’s class schedule for the year. You may even consider holding an Open School Day before school starts. Such a day is very helpful to students because you can provide students with their schedules and have them try out their lockers to insure they open. Kids also get to see a lot of their future classmates on this day.
A final step in the transition can be a school’s Back to School Night. At this program, parents can walk through their kids’ schedule and hear specific information about each class from their child’s teachers. The information provided during this evening program can be much more content and class focused than the information given at the orientation program in June.
These are just some ideas that can help transition students and parents to a new school. Much of the communication should take place between individual parents and counselors as well, probably in June and July. Some of these conversations would be about specific course options, while others more general in content. Schools should work to insure that parents have a better understanding of the school, how it is structured, how issues are addressed (which may or may not be done differently than was experienced in elementary school), and what they can expect from building leaders.
Parents won’t be completely comfortable until their kids have been at their new school for a period of time and they have experienced how the building regularly functions. Effective transitions do not happen overnight. They take planning, evaluation, revision as needed and adequate attention to all involved parties. Done right, transitioning between schools can work quite well.
You can read more from Dr. Moore by visiting his blog: Moore Perspective.