The leap to middle school can seem daunting to both students and parents. There may be apprehension about the workload and the ability to juggle school work with extracurricular activities. Here, two school administrators share wise thoughts with readers about how to navigate the changes.

How do you address the increased expectations in the middle school classroom?

Jay Parker, Middle School Director, Dawson School: Middle School is best focused on a holistic approach to supporting children as they become young adults. Because academic expectations are rising during this important developmental time in the lives of children, we believe that a team caring adults who are both dedicated teachers and caring, compassionate role models are essential in any middle school program. Students in sixth grade also are transitioning from a homeroom model to a rotating schedule with mixed cohorts of students. This additional freedom is important and continues to increase as they grow older; therefore, middle school students must be supported organizationally and emotionally as they grow to be more independent, responsible self-advocates.

Susan Boyle, Director of Admission, Boulder Country Day School: BCD scaffolds the transition to middle school and the growth through 6th – 8th grade. Because they have a different teacher for each class, middle school requires more transitions and solid executive functioning skills. BCD supports this change with a MIddle School 101 class that all 6th graders take. It introduces them to our culture, the International Baccalaureate Program, our 1:1 computer program, and reinforces executive functioning skills such as time management, project completion, organization, and study skills. This along with our Advisory program (10 students with one teacher every day) that supports the social emotional development and transition to middle school, ensures that the transition to middle school is balanced and supported.

Do you have tips for anxious parents with kids going into middle school?

JP: Beyond the academic expectations, social pressures and an increasing desire for independence is likely to add an element of healthy tension into the family and school dynamics. The ideal middle school environment for students is defined by increased expectations, grounded in an authentic culture of belonging and support. Whether in a classroom, on the soccer field, in the robotics arena, in the mountains, or performing on stage, students must feel known, cared for, and empowered. Parents play an important role in partnering with the school in support of their children. Beyond clear communication, parents can be most helpful by taking a step back, allowing their children to fail, picking them up in their disappointment, and encouraging them to grow stronger and find their voice.

SB: Students are individuals and some need more support and some need their parents to stand back and let them lead. Great parent/guardian and school partnerships are essential during this transition as the individuality of each case should be honored. Generally middle school is a time where students pull away and handle many more of the school and friendship logistics on their own. But doing so skillfully and thoroughly takes practice and a great middle school will support the entire family in this process. BCD offers a Parent Education Series that is open to the public and many of the workshops help parents with the challenges of parenting in the 21st century and in a pandemic.

Do programs or opportunities come to mind that expand kids’ horizons or help them to think globally at middle school age?

JP: Our dedication to helping young people discover their purpose is readily apparent in our programs. We have an industry-leading experiential education program called Winterim that offers local, national, and international trips for our students to explore the world outside our walls, doing deep dives into concepts and cultures and truly gaining a global perspective.

SB: The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IB MYP) is offered at BCD and a few other middle schools in Boulder. The IB MYP encourages students to make practical connections between their studies and the real world and aims to develop active learners and internationally minded young people who can empathize with others and pursue lives of purpose and meaning.

By Darren Thornberry, Raised in the Rockies