School to School Transitions

Susan Loving
Transition Specialist
Utah State Office of Education

Students are more than half-way through the school year, and many are planning on moving to a different level in the school system; elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school. Each of these transitions includes changes in expectations (about school, student behavior, and parent involvement) that may add to the everyday stress of students with a Specific Learning Disability(SLD) and their families. Following are some concerns that have been identified by these students and families and some strategies that may alleviate those concerns.

Elementary School to Middle School

Elementary school students, who are nearing the transition to middle school; are approaching or experiencing puberty, are increasingly required to think critically and with complexity, may become less interested in school as the curriculum becomes more complex, may be less self-assured about their academic, social, and athletic abilities, are self-conscious about their changing bodies, and are consistently inconsistent. They are concerned about getting to class on time, finding and opening lockers, keeping “materials” from multiple classes and teachers organized, finding lunchrooms and bathrooms, personal safety, and remembering which class to go to next.

Middle school is the time when bullying and other antisocial behaviors tend to peak; girls can be particularly cruel. Parents may be concerned about how to stay involved in a larger school, how to communicate with multiple teachers, how their child will cope with a more structured environment, or how their child will “belong” in the larger school. Parents may, for the first time, face the challenge of dealing with their child’s experimentation with smoking, drinking, drugs, and other dangerous behaviors.

Some strategies parents may consider include:

  • Visit the new school in the spring and again in the fall before school starts.
  • Plan for transition at least one year in advance.
  • Plan extracurricular involvement (e.g., clubs, dances) to help the student meet other students in a social environment.
  • Create a supervised study time for your child.
  • Establish a study area that can be monitored.
  • Encourage your child to ask for extra help when needed.
  • Check in periodically with ALL teachers about academic and behavioral progress.
  • Encourage your child to practice good hygiene.
  • Have your child “pack up” before bedtime to make things easier in the morning.
  • Ask the elementary and middle school teachers to meet with you to share curriculum, strategies that work, etc…
  • Modify the locker for a key lock instead of a combination lock, if your student has difficult remembering the combination or has fine motor challenges.
  • Teach the use of organizer, i.e. a section for each class/teacher according to the class schedule.
  • Help your student understand how his/her learning disability impacts learning and how to identify accommodations that may make learning easier.
  • Include guidance counselor in planning classes, including choosing which teachers would be a good match for your student.
  • Stay in the loop with school discussions about dangerous behaviors and talk to your child about right and wrong, what’s dangerous and why, and what you hope and expect for your child.
  • Remember – your child is young and there will be bumps in the road – mistakes happen and they are part of the learning process.

Middle School to High School

The transition to high school is a significant event for youth; their experiences in the first year of high school often determine their success throughout high school. At this transition point, students move from often smaller and more supportive middle schools to larger high schools. Students moving from middle school to high school may consider themselves “adults” and act accordingly – at least some of the time! This is a difficult time for parents, as students are beginning to separate from parents; developmentally, this is the time when youth need to develop a sense of self and establish their own values. There may be a challenge for parents during parent conferences or school visits; your student may send the message, “Don’t talk to me – my friends are watching!” Students may be concerned about bullying, getting lost in the larger school, making bad grades, not graduating, feeling pressured to decide what they want to do after graduation, dating, sexuality, parents, and the conflict between academics and other activities, such as athletics.

Parents may have many of the same concerns as their students; “Will they graduate?”,“Will they make the team?” or “Will they be accepted into the college of their choice?” Parents are also learning to cope with the child/adult who now lives in their home, the child who wants to snuggle during movie night at home, but doesn’t want to be seen with the same parent at the mall the next day. Parents are also facing the challenge of making sure their child is safe, while allowing the child to make choices that may have less-than-positive consequences.

What are some ways parents can work through this time with their student? If a strategy was successful in middle school, continue implementing that strategy, allowing for modifications based on the maturity of the student. Visit the school prior to school starting to meet with teachers and school counselors; read the student and parent handbooks and ask school staff for clarification of any policies if needed. For students being served under an IEP or Sec. 504 plan, request a meeting late in the school year prior to high school; ask that the high school counselor be invited – better yet, contact the counselor and invite him/her yourself! Students need to learn that having trouble with school is not a bad thing or make him/her a bad person; having trouble means the student needs to ask parents, teachers, or other students for help.

Additional tips for making the move from middle school to high school include*

Become a Time Management Ninja:

  • Students need to be able to balance academics, extracurricular activities and their social life. Help your student by looking through their schedule and helping them map out the first month or two of school.

Big Projects? Start Small:

  • Help your student map out a plan to complete parts of a large assignment so the assignment is completed by the due date.

The freshman GPA will appear on the high school transcript, even if 9th grade is in the middle school, so meet with the school counselor and teachers to make sure the right classes are scheduled and arrange for any needed supports.

Homework Heaven:

  • You and your student need to plan on about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Encourage your student to take breaks during homework time to use the phone, get a snack, etc. This may result in more productive homework time.


  • Celebrate every academic and social success! Come up with something that works with your family and child – it may be as simple as make-your-own-sundaes for dessert.

* Adapted from “5 Tips for Making the Move from Middle School to High School”

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