In the field of education, much like our own lives, there are multiple opportunities for transition. Young students transition into their first school age setting anywhere from ages 3-5, then progress into transitions from elementary to middle or junior high school, and then on to high school and even college for some. These transitional events mark different periods in the life of a student, indicating their growth physically, socially, and academically. Transition years have become increasingly critical to a child’s development and have been linked to crucial changes in their own emotional and social well being.

What is a Transition Year?

When students move through certain educational benchmarks, like one grade to the other, or one school building to another, these are identified as transition years. The most notable years include moving from a daycare or child development type center to Pre-K, 4-year old kindergarten, or 5-year old kindergarten.

The next major transition year is moving from elementary school (typically end of fifth grade) to a middle or junior high school, grades 6-8. This time period reflects great change in a young person’s life, and many educators will tell you that the middle grades are often the hardest to teach, due to the tremendous amount of change that students experience.

The final major transition includes the move from middle or junior high to high school. This move is one that students look forward to the most, with the hope of more freedom and ability to choose classes and create a track for their post-secondary plans.

Teaching Strategies for Transition Years

For high school administrators, the transition for students from their eighth grade year to ninth grade year is extremely important. Over the last several years, initiatives and strategies have been put in place to help ensure that incoming freshman students are as prepared as they can be for their first day of high school. This level of preparedness sets the tone for their years as a high school student.

The most important strategy for a successful transition is getting to know the students. For high school administrators, this means intentionally scheduling time with middle or junior high school students and establishing a support system and structure of trust.

One way to do this is by scheduling specific events for rising freshmen students and their parents/guardians. For students, many schools host in-person events such as Rising 9th Grade Day, where students come to the high school campus and visit classrooms, eat lunch, take tours, and get an idea of the daily life of a high school student. This strategy allows students to see and feel what it is like in high school and provides motivation for students to continue to work hard in their current classes.

Conversely, for parents of rising ninth grade students, hosting evening events specifically targeted to parents can help ease any fears or answer any questions they may have about their child transitioning into high school. These events allow for parents to connect with key staff members, teachers, and administrators that will help facilitate their child’s education over the course of their high school career.

These type events also allow for parents to express any concerns they may have or clear up any questions. Personally, as a high school administrator, we have had great success in hosting these informational nights, as it allows us the opportunity to connect and plug-in with our upcoming students and parents, eliminating first day frustrations or new school challenges.

Secondary to in-person events is the utilization of technology to specifically target students in transition years. This practice has become increasingly commonplace, particularly with the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the safety protocols, precautions, and guidelines being followed during the pandemic.

With technology, schools can create areas for students during their transition years, such as specific websites or other tools such as Google Classroom, where students and parents can join and see information pertinent to them. Additionally, social media tools can be used to share out information and increase parent engagement and support, and oftentimes reach a bigger audience.

Finally, the implementation of one specific event has proven to be extremely beneficial for my school, and could help others. Several years ago, after identifying a need for targeted, intentional support for rising ninth graders and their families, we created ‘Mission Transition,’ a one-day, all-inclusive event held on the eve of the first day of school.

This event encompasses a one-stop shop for students and their families. Students are able to check-in and receive their class schedule and go on tours provided by current students to understand the building layout of where their classes will be located. During this tour time, new students are able to connect with current students and typically feel more comfortable asking questions as peer to peer than in a more formal setting.

While students are taking advantage of that, families are guided by school administration on a tour of campus, hitting the highlights that parents are most concerned about. This often includes drop-off and dismissal procedures and other logistical questions that parents may have. We often forget that parents and family members are just as nervous during this transition time as their student is.

Additionally, during ‘Mission Transition,’ student groups and teacher leaders are available to answer any questions and also showcase clubs, groups, sports teams, and other activities students can begin to be involved in immediately. This further helps students plug-in to their high school career. Additionally, this all-day event has three specific time periods to accommodate the various schedules of both student and working parents/family members.

Transitional years in education are extremely important for both student and parent alike. The change in grade levels or school buildings represent important time periods in a student’s life, and our goal as educators is to make sure these transitions are handled as smoothly as possible, with student success being our ultimate goal. Transitions are critically important and even more so with the current global pandemic, which has caused even more concern for transition as students experienced a disruption in normal school activity during the 2020-21 school year.

*Updated March 2021