Moving in the middle years: starting secondary school

Photo: iStock.

Photo: iStock.

The middle years of school (traditionally years 5-8) is a time of great transition in students’ lives. Not only are they taking on more responsibility and independence, they’re also entering their teenage years and making the important transition from primary to secondary school.

University of Melbourne graduate school of education Associate Professor Kay Margetts says it is a significant time of change in students’ lives that requires the support of parents and schools.

“Neuroscience research is now showing that adolescence is a time of significant changes in the brain, just like birth to age eight,” Kay says.

“It’s very important to recognise the middle years as a significant period and to support positive developmental outcomes.”

Part of supporting the positive development of students as they move through the middle years is ensuring a smooth transition to year 7. Kay says the experience of starting secondary school is similar to starting primary school. As with the initial transition into education, being familiar with the new environment helps for a more stress-free start to life in year 7.

“Their adjustment is supported when students have some familiarity with the new environment through opportunities to visit the new school a number of times … to become familiar with the school and peer group,” Kay says. “Some schools even have buddy programs … as part of more comprehensive middle school programs.”

Mentone Grammar, in Melbourne’s south-east, has a buddy system. It also offers a week-long transition for grade 6 students at the end of the school year.

Mentone Grammar year 5 and 6 co-ordinator Jacqui Cartwright says the program helps students become more confident in their new surroundings.

“This particular week is very beneficial for incoming students as they get to meet every one of their subject teachers and they also get to work closely with the peers who make up their mentor (home) group,” Jacqui says.

Along with the school’s support, help from parents is equally important for great start to year 7, Jacqui says.

“Parents can assist with the preparation of their children for the transition to secondary school by taking the opportunity to attend a school tour, together with their child,” she says.

“There are numerous open days conducted throughout any given year, providing students with an opportunity to walk through their new school surrounds and become familiar with the layout of buildings and the general basics of what to expect at the year 7 level.”

Many schools, including Mentone Grammar, also holds information nights to help parents with their children’s transition children from primary to secondary school. “Pertinent information is presented and staff members are present, which assists to build familiarity,” Jacqui says.

At the information nights, parents can get to know the teachers and other staff who will be involved in their children’s school lives.

Parents can also help by encouraging their children to be organised with timetables and completing homework, she says. “Encouraging students to map out and adhere to a timetable that assists them with the completion of school tasks and expectations from year 5 into year 6 enables the development of good time management,” she says.

“It assists with organisational skills into year 7 and secondary school years.”

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