Student transition coaches bolster success in Wisconsin middle school
- Bullen Middle School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has created a formal system of drafting 8th graders as "transition coaches" to make incoming 6th graders feel comfortable and confident.
- The older students lined the hallway and cheered the newcomers as they entered the school on the first day this year, red-carpet style. It's a win for the school community, with the student ambassadors garnering valuable leadership experience, 6th graders making a smoother adjustment — and 7th graders having something to aspire to the following year. Transition coaches must be accepted and attend a summer training camp. They get a celebratory ice cream party at the end.
- Coaches are charged with taking the new students on an extensive personal tour of the campus, with special attention given to anxiety-inducing touchpoints, such as getting lockers open.
The middle school transition can be a tricky one. Changing classes, having to get used to multiple teachers and multiple sets of classmates instead of just one, changing for gym — and, yes, remembering locker combinations — can all be anxiety-provoking. While traditionally middle schools host orientation days over the summer when incoming students tour the campus with parents, having a formal system of peer mentoring in place once school starts can do much more to put students at ease.
Feeling a sense of belonging is also linked to better academic performance. But school leaders, educators, and staff members might also consider that students can experience stress throughout the year. This can result in sudden irresponsibility or forgetfulness, change in eating habits (either noticeably more or less), ongoing minor health complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches, and a withdrawal from friends.
These might be noticed either in students who are still having trouble adjusting as well as those who experience tough transitions outside of school. Causes can range from parents' divorce, a close sibling going off to college, a grandparent's death, and more. Having systems in place that can serve as a safety net for those students, keeping them on track to academic success, can make all the difference. Structures like student success teams or advisory programs are two ideas. Others can include extracurricular activities that both tap into student talents and allow them to express their creative side and build a connection to fellow students, all while boosting confidence.
A total approach that involves all stakeholders can include middle school teachers visiting elementary schools the previous spring to introduce themselves and take questions (emphasizing that there is no such thing as a stupid one), Administrators should also encourage parents, perhaps in formal parents-only workshops run by school support staff members or community family therapists, to learn about typical adolescent development and common problems that can crop up at this stage. Parents and caregivers being better equipped to interact and support students at home can only help any transition go more smoothly.
- The 74 Million 8th-Grade Coaches at Wisconsin Middle School Help Ease a ‘Scary’ Transition, Make Incoming 6th-Graders Feel Like They Belong
- National Education Association Transition to Middle School