Elementary to Middle School

The transition from elementary school to middle school is a traumatic time for many students and their families. Any child can have difficulty with the transition. However, students with disabilities—even those who have had successful elementary school experiences—often have more difficulty. Middle schools are often larger than elementary schools, and students must adjust to having numerous teachers each day instead of one primary classroom teacher. Planning for successful transition is necessary for these students.

Elias states that middle schools must provide students with experiences that meet essential needs in these four areas:

  • Contributions: While adolescents may appear to be self-centered, what they are experiencing in their teens is more self-discovery than selfishness. Young people actually thrive on contributing to causes like saving the environment, helping senior citizens, teaching younger kids, working in soup kitchens, and helping in political campaigns.
  • Belonging: Adolescents seek to join peer groups where they can have a role and a purpose; find positive relationships with others who have similar interests or abilities; and feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. To keep them from forming or joining gangs, middle schools need to provide a variety of structured outlets—especially for those who don’t seem able to “fit in.”
  • Talents: Educators may not be aware of adolescents’ talents that are not readily visible in the classroom. Those talents might include anything from writing and computers to dancing or simply getting along with people. By helping young adolescents discover and develop their talents, and getting to know them beyond their academic abilities, educators can build positive relationships that can lead to positive growth.
  • Life Skills: Middle school students need to develop life skills to deal with a wide range of possibilities in and out of school. Educators need to look for opportunities that allow students to learn more about their feelings and those of others; how to set goals and plan for the long and short term; how to work in groups as team players and as leaders; how to be thoughtful problem solvers and decision makers; and how to bounce back from reverses.

From Elias, Maurice J. Middle School Transition: It’s Harder Than You Think: Making the Transition to Middle School Successful; Middle Matters, Winter 2001, page(s) 1-2, www.naesp.com