“Wow!” was all that slipped from our lips, as my kids and I watched in wonder as a sizable garter snake slithered away from its skin. It left behind a scaly sheath; a powerful symbol of death and rebirth, of transmutation and shifting perspective.
I couldn’t help but think how appropriate this symbol was, since we’re about to start a new school year.
For students who have just completed eighth grade, the transition into high school is entirely about the shedding of one life and the birthing of a new one. New ninth graders leave behind typically smaller, more supportive middle schools and enter large, more impersonal high schools. There’s a change in the numbers of classes they take and the learning expectations that come with them.
Socially, kids will see a shift as some friendships fall away and new ones are formed. Add to this the independence that is derived as kids learn to drive, start to date and begin to focus on their post-high school future and it’s understandable why some freshmen are upset or unsettled by this birthing experience.
How hard is the high school transition for new-born ninth graders? According to the National High School Center, freshman across the USA “have the lowest grade point average, the most missed classes, the majority of failing grades, and more misbehavior referrals than any other high school grade level.” Moreover, the 9th grade has the highest enrollment rate in high schools, mainly due to the fact that “approximately 22 percent of students repeat 9th-grade classes.”
Overall, research concludes that the transition into high school is marked by increased disengagement and declining motivation among students, which ultimately contributes to high dropout rates, low on-time graduation rates, and low achievement in American high schools.
That’s why it’s important for parents to step up and help make the move to high school a successful one for every student. So, how do we do that?
• Help ground 8th-grade kids with practical help — First, field eighth grade worries by grounding your child in the practical. Once you’ve decided which high school your child will attend, take time to read the parent-student handbook, tour the school and meet with your child’s future high school counselor, together. Helping to familiarize your teen with the school’s layout will ensure her first day feels a little less overwhelming, while acquainting your kid with her counselor will mean there’s one friendly face when she starts — and that’s a blessing for the both of you.
In the spring semester, your high school will host a registration period where your child will complete a four-year plan of coursework. Help your child through this process and ensure she’s signed up for extra-curricular activities that will make school, if not heavenly, a place where she can stretch her wings and fly.
• Uplift kids by developing their can-do attitude — Winston Churchill said, “Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential!” And he was right! If you can foster that can-do, will-do mentality in your child during eighth grade, by rewarding effort rather than intelligence and talent, you’ll uplift your child and inspire her to know that she will find a way over, under or around the social, emotional or educational hurdles that can accompany the high school transition — rather than be bowled over by them.
Research conducted by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck concurs. They found that kids who were consistently praised for their persistence, determination, drive and strategy developed a growth mindset. This mindset ensured that they engaged with their process and learned from errors and achieved in spite of setbacks or difficulties.
In comparison, kids who were praised for their intelligence and natural talents were more competitive with peers, preferred easy tasks and were more likely to run from challenges. That’s because these kids viewed success as fixed (part of their identity) and unchangeable. They feared failure and when they did fail, they also viewed their failure as fixed and constant too and something that they were unable to change.
How important is a growth mindset for success in high school? As Dweck notes in her Ted Talk, “Students who were NOT taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades through (the) difficult school transition.” So start praising your child’s effort in eighth grade and watch your kid succeed in ninth!
• Inspire your new ninth grader to let go of the past, embrace today and manifest a great tomorrow — As your newly hatched ninth grader begins to adjust to high school she’ll have joyful days and occasional “mourning” days, when she looks over her shoulder and grieves past teachers, old friends and prior accomplishments. Learning to let go of the past, and embrace the new and the different of high school is a process. It may take some time for your child to discover the right group of friends, feel a connection with a teacher, or find an extracurricular activity that’s just right. It’s important to be empathic and understanding as your teen navigates this journey and finally feels settled, at peace and even inspired by school.
And if you do notice that your child continues to looking backwards to middle school as the freshman year progresses, step forward and brainstorm an action plan, including a talk with her counselor, to help your child get back on track. And if the counselor recommends an outside referral, take action, as there may be other issues at play.
• Ensuring school days are the best days of their life — Moving to high school is a time of powerful metamorphoses in our children’s life. It’s a magical time of growth, change and rebirth. It’s also challenging. So support your child through it and help ensure their high school days are some of the best days of their life!