With all the other changes occurring in puberty and adolescence, having to adjust to a new school can oftentimes add to a young person’s overall stress. Maybe he or she ruled the roost in grammar school and now has to face the prospect of being the “baby” of middle school. The change will likely bring other complications into kids’ lives: getting to know new teachers and peers, navigating the seeming maze of hallways when formerly they did everything in one classroom, being exposed to cliques, and having to undress in the locker room for gym class.
Most young adults will have to make this transition at least once, before they start either junior high (also known as middle school) or high school. This is a time when socialization is very important to them. They’re more conscious then ever before of their physical appearance, their social status (and that of their friends), and their academic and athletic achievements. All of these concerns can breed insecurity when they’re suddenly tested against a new and unknown environment.
For starters, the new building itself can feel intimidating. It may look huge to a young person, a place where they’ll easily get lost. What’s more, they might not be used to floor maps, being attentive to bells, and using lockers (and having to remember their combinations). One way to ease young people’s stress in this area is to call their new school over the summer and arrange for a tour to see its inside. They can note where important places like the cafeteria, the gym, and bathrooms are. If they already have class schedules, they can make a dry run to find all the rooms. This can be even better if other friends, who’ll be attending the school, or higher-grade siblings, come along. Older students can help our kids to navigate around the strange school and also give them the inside scoop on which teachers are “rotten”, which ones are “cool”, and who the bullies are.
Lunchtime can be a potentially alienating experience. Few kids want to spend the year eating alone while everyone else is socializing; they fear sticking out like a sore thumb. If they know beforehand that friends from their old school will be attending the new, they can recruit them ahead of time to be lunch buddies. Otherwise, they might consider kids who they know from other circles: summer camp, swimming lessons, Scouts, etc. Locker combinations might require a little preparation ahead of time, too. They should write theirs out on a card and memorize it like they would a phone number; then, to be safe, carry that card in a wallet or purse at all times.
One of the hardest aspects of making a transition into a new school may be the drastic change in young people’s social status. They go from being the admired elders of one school to the youngest, (often) smallest kids with the most to learn in another. This stigma is hard to avoid; but it does carry a valuable life lesson. They will be dealing with this pattern in many forms for much of their lives. Every time they embark upon a new adventure, whether it’s middle school, high school, college, or a new job, they’ll begin as underdogs who have to learn from experience. Here’s where we can draw upon our own experience, as adults, and remind them about this persistent cycle of life. The time will come when they’ll be sitting at the top of the school once again.