If sixth grade is the first year in a new building, it can be one of the most difficult years in a child's school career. The move from being the oldest kids in elementary school to being the youngest in a middle school can be traumatic, more so if several elementary schools feed into the middle school. Boys who haven't yet gone through a growth spurt may feel especially awkward and somewhat intimidated by older boys.
Middle school fears
Prior to entering middle school, most students will share with you that their greatest fear is having a locker and being able to open a combination lock. "It can help to ease your child's anxiety if you purchase a combination lock prior to the start of the school year, so your child can get the hang of opening the lock," said Allison Glickman-Rogers, principal of Oceanside Middle School. This helps even if your school provides a combination lock to your child in September.
Many students' primary concern is usually fitting in. "Students are developing their own identity and are likely to 'try on' several different faces, which usually means their groups of friends tend to change from time to time," said Glickman-Rogers. At this age, children are on a roller coaster emotionally. They get stressed about who is popular, who sits with whom in the cafeteria, whom they talk to in the hallway. Boys and girls notice each other; they go to school dances.
The number of classes, teachers and responsibilities at the middle school level can be overwhelming at first for students and their families. One thing that is sure to promote success is keen organizational skills. "Most schools distribute student agenda books on the first day of school," said Glickman-Rogers. "The agenda often contains student resources as well as school and district policies. Parents should also review the student or parent handbook, to learn about resources and support available for students such as extra help, on-line resources, teacher Webpages, mentoring programs, homework clubs, and more," said Glickman-Rogers.
An abundance of school work
While it may seem amazing that any academic work could get accomplished with all these emotional changes, this is the year students change from one teacher for all academic subjects to multiple teachers. Many middle schools use the team teaching method in sixth grade, moving students in blocks to several classrooms throughout a day.
But the move toward independence continues in seventh and eighth grades, as the number of different teachers increases and classmates also change throughout the day. There is an emphasis on competition rather than the cooperation encouraged in elementary school.
The multiplicity of teachers in middle school can be a major adjustment for parents. In the elementary school, if there were a problem, you could make an appointment with one teacher, and that teacher would be responsible for the child's entire academic and social adjustment.
The home/school connection is essential for students' success in middle school, said Glickman-Rogers. "Although parents may feel that their adolescent child is pushing them further and further away during the middle school years, the truth is they need them and them now more than ever," she said. Take advantage of the many opportunities within you district, such as participating in your PTA or HSA, attending parent workshops or other learning sessions that keep you connected to the school.
Facts on bullying
Bullying is also a concern for both parents and students. The most important thing a parent can do with their child is to identify their network of support both in and out of school. "Students should know that they are identified adults in the school building that can assist them with a vareity of issues or concerns, including bullying situations," said Glickman-Rogers. Remind your children that they play a major role in setting the tone and climate of their school environment. Never dismiss bullying behaviors as a normal part of growing up. "Bullying is never okay," she said. "Always contact school personal if your child is victimized or has concerns about another student being victimized."