As graduation approaches, eighth graders across the country prepare to start the next chapter of their academic journey: high school. The transition from middle school to high school is both exciting and scary. Students will be surrounded by new classmates and teachers, often for the first time since kindergarten, while adjusting to a new schedule and more extracurricular opportunities. It can seem overwhelming, but taking steps to prepare students for what's in store will help ensure a smooth transition.
At St. Thomas School (STS), we start preparing students for high school long before eighth grade graduation. We believe that helping students develop a strong sense of self, teaching them to be independent and giving them opportunities to make a wide range of social connections will set them up for success in any high school structure. We work with students to develop these skills over time so they feel confident and prepared when they leave the halls of STS.
Developing a Strong Sense of Self
Our sense of self is the way we think about and view our traits, beliefs and purpose in the world. A strong sense of self must be carefully cultivated over time, particularly when children enter adolescence and begin to experience physical and emotional changes.
At STS, we encourage students to speak up and voice their opinions from a young age. Teachers actively work to engage students and help them find their voice. By giving students the opportunity to practice advocating for themselves and defending their opinions in a small, familiar environment, they will feel more confident doing so in other situations.
By the time students leave STS, many have developed an inner confidence that helps them maintain a positive self-image and a strong voice in high school. In fact, we have heard from high school teachers and administrators that STS graduates are particularly good at seeking help when they need it and politely yet clearly communicate their needs.
In high school, students have more freedom and less supervision than they did in middle school, which also brings more responsibility. Students are expected to manage their schoolwork and extracurricular activities on their own, which can be challenging because high school academics and extracurricular activities are often more rigorous and time consuming than middle school.
STS helps eighth graders develop their organizational skills by giving them more control over project planning processes. All eighth grade students develop a service learning project, and it is up to them to determine how they will structure and design their project. The students work on their project throughout the year, which helps them learn how to manage a long-term assignment. They also take time to reflect after each step to determine what's working and what isn't. If an aspect of the project isn't successful, they develop a plan to course correct. Being able to critically reflect on their work and identify when something isn't going well is an important skill that will serve them well in high school.
Making Social Connections
For many students, one of their biggest concerns about starting high school is whether they will make friends. The social environment of high school is very different from middle school – transitioning to a bigger school with new social groups and older students can be daunting.
Children who interact with a variety of students outside their usual social circle often feel more confident that they will be able to make new connections in high school. STS emphasizes group projects, mentorship programs and extracurricular activities that push students to engage with a wide variety of students who are in different grades and social circles so they feel more comfortable connecting with new people. Former STS students who stop by after starting high school have reported that they have formed new friendships and are settling in well at their new school.
Starting high school is a big change and can seem overwhelming, but with the right guidance and support we can help all students make a smooth, successful transition.