With the school year coming to an end for many districts, schools and families are preparing their eighth graders for transition into high school. The move from middle to high school marks a significant change for students. High school can be an isolating environment compared to middle school, marked with more challenging academic standards, less personalized learning environments, and limited social-emotional support. At the same time, ninth grade is often considered a “make-or-break” academic year, counted as one of the most challenging in a student’s educational career. Students who fail a single freshman year course are significantly less likely to graduate than their peers who pass all their courses.
Engagement from parents and family members is one of the best ways to ensure students can tackle the challenges that ninth grade brings. School districts and high schools can use the following seven strategies to connect with middle school families and help them maximize their chances for a successful high school transition:
1. Plan Counselor Conferences
Course choice can be an overwhelming process for many students. One way to alleviate the stress associated with schedules is to invite parents to participate in a conference with their child and high school counselor. Including parents in these decisions can also prompt a discussion around course paths of interest and encourage whole family buy-in and support.
2. Clarify Academic Success
Setting students up for success often means clarifying expectations at the onset. Schools and districts can ensure expectations for students are realistic and appropriate by defining what academic success looks like in high school.
3. Identify School Resources
Despite all the materials high schools can curate to prepare parents for the transition from middle school, parents will undoubtedly have unanswered questions and concerns. Districts can close the high school preparedness gap by providing names and contact information for whom to contact if parents have additional unanswered questions.
4. Encourage School Visits
Encouraging parents to engage with the transition can be as simple as inviting them to visit the high school with their children in the spring of their eighth-grade year and again in the fall as they begin their high school experience. These visits allow the entire family to better visualize what the transition will look like and are especially important for relatively unengaged parents.
5. Host a Parents Day
Beyond visiting the high school campus, schools can best engage parents in the transition process by hosting parents for an entire school day. A “parents day” helps parents better understand their child’s upcoming routine, experience their new high school responsibilities, and provide an opportunity to meet their child’s teachers.
6. Involve Parents in Activity Planning
One of the most direct ways to encourage parental engagement in the high school transition process is to include parents in the planning process for transition activities. Having parents on the transition team gives them an outlet to express what parts of the transition need the most focus. They can also bring insight as to the expectations and needs of other parents to best support their child through the transition process.
7. Connect Middle School Parents with High School Parents
High school parents can be an invaluable resource for middle school parents looking to better prepare their family for the high school transition. Schools can proactively address family and student concerns and anxieties about the upcoming transition by connecting middle school parents with high school parents. Not only can high school parents offer advice from their personal experience, they can also alleviate stress on the high school’s administration in addressing various concerns and questions from middle school parents.
Using these seven strategies, high schools can develop a system of support during the ninth-grade transition process. This support system will not only foster communication with families, but can also promote improved graduation rates and academic outcomes.
For more tips on supporting successful high school transitions, download the research brief “Supporting Successful High School Transitions”.