Transitioning from Fifth to Sixth Grade

This year we welcomed 78 new students to the middle campus. They make up a third of our population, so it is a team effort across grades to help guide our new family members. I saw the seventh and eighth graders walking the new sixth graders to class, advisors learning new names in fun ways so everyone felt welcome, administration giving reminders instead of warnings on hallway responsibilities, the nutrition staff guiding kids through the lunch process and much more. It was a team effort. It’s something we do every year, as a family.

This is my fifth year as a sixth grade mathematics instructor and over the years I’ve seen many kids transition and adjust to the curriculum and expectations of middle school. What helps is that we are a K-8 school so the transition is less bumpy and more that students are learning to be independent. By the end of August, we expect the sixth graders to know how to organize A Day and B Day assignments, learn the classroom norms of eight different subject areas, and separate the social scene from academics. Some days our kids are great at all of these things and other days the only thing they can pull out of their backpack is one shoe and a game controller. What is important to know is that their intention is well placed and that we are all trying.

One of the most important skills sixth graders will get better at this year is time management. Our kids spend a third of their day at school. Of that third, there are 350 instructional minutes and 115 free minutes. This means that sixth graders are deciding how to manage their own time for a third of their school day. To me these are transition minutes, but to our kids these are social minutes. Often times our kids will use up all 115 of these minutes to socialize and forget to eat, drink, or even use the restroom. They will only remember these important life necessities during the instructional minutes – and exactly when the ‘aha!’ moment is about to happen in the learning process.

I asked a few sixth graders to comment on their transition to middle school and they were full of insights:

  • I didn’t think it was true but doing homework actually helps. So just do it.
  • Don’t be scared to talk to new people.
  • Think a lot before deciding to miss school. Because you’re going to have to make up everything.
  • The best time to use the restroom is during transitions.
  • Never talk when the teacher is talking.
  • If you use your agenda, actually read it at home.
  • Create a homework club with classmates so you can keep up with assignments.
  • Attend study hall if you need help or just need a quiet place to work.
  • If you’re stuck, message the teacher on Google Classroom. They actually reply.
  • Never say you’re not good at math. You don’t want to have that conversation with Ms. Afzal.

In conclusion, the transition to middle school is just a change of address. Academically, emotionally, and behaviorally, our kids still need all of our support. It may seem like it’s a good idea to step back and let a middle schooler just be – but we also sometimes need to step in and remind them we are here. All of us. As a family.