Elementary to Middle School

“Every step you take is a step away from where you used to be.” — Brian Chargualaf

The transition from elementary school to middle school is a traumatic time for many students and their families. Any child can have difficulty with the transition. However, students with disabilities—even those who have had successful elementary school experiences—often have more difficulty. Middle schools are often larger than elementary schools, and students must adjust to having numerous teachers each day instead of one primary classroom teacher. Planning for successful transition is necessary for these students.

Elias states that middle schools must provide students with experiences that meet essential needs in these four areas:

  • Contributions: While adolescents may appear to be self-centered, what they are experiencing in their teens is more self-discovery than selfishness. Young people actually thrive on contributing to causes like saving the environment, helping senior citizens, teaching younger kids, working in soup kitchens, and helping in political campaigns.
  • Belonging: Adolescents seek to join peer groups where they can have a role and a purpose; find positive relationships with others who have similar interests or abilities; and feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. To keep them from forming or joining gangs, middle schools need to provide a variety of structured outlets—especially for those who don’t seem able to “fit in.”
  • Talents: Educators may not be aware of adolescents’ talents that are not readily visible in the classroom. Those talents might include anything from writing and computers to dancing or simply getting along with people. By helping young adolescents discover and develop their talents, and getting to know them beyond their academic abilities, educators can build positive relationships that can lead to positive growth.
  • Life Skills: Middle school students need to develop life skills to deal with a wide range of possibilities in and out of school. Educators need to look for opportunities that allow students to learn more about their feelings and those of others; how to set goals and plan for the long and short term; how to work in groups as team players and as leaders; how to be thoughtful problem solvers and decision makers; and how to bounce back from reverses.

From Elias, Maurice J. Middle School Transition: It’s Harder Than You Think: Making the Transition to Middle School Successful; Middle Matters, Winter 2001, page(s) 1-2, www.naesp.com

Family Involvement

Researchers have discovered how important it is for parents to be actively involved in their child’s education. Here are some of the findings of major research into parental involvement:

  • When parents are involved in their children’s education at home, they do better in school. And when parents are involved in school, children go farther in school — and the schools they go to are better.
  • The family makes critical contributions to student achievement from preschool through high school. A home environment that encourages learning is more important to student achievement than income, education level or cultural background.
  • Reading achievement is more dependent on learning activities in the home than is math or science. Reading aloud to children is the most important activity that parents can do to increase their child’s chance of reading success. Talking to children about books and stories read to them also supports reading achievement.
  • When children and parents talk regularly about school, children perform better academically.
  • Three kinds of parental involvement at home are consistently associated with higher student achievement: actively organizing and monitoring a child’s time, helping with homework and discussing school matters.
  • The earlier that parent involvement begins in a child’s educational process, the more powerful the effects.
  • Positive results of parental involvement include improved student achievement, reduced absenteeism, improved behavior, and restored confidence among parents in their children’s schooling.


Individual Planning

In middle school, students often must attend a new school and separate from the friends they’ve been with in elementary school. In middle school, students must often work with a different teacher in every subject. Classes are harder, homework increases, and students must be able to handle many, varied assignments as well as long-range research projects. The hurdles will be higher if a student has trouble staying organized, managing time well, or retaining what is learned.

Some students may need informal individualized planning for instruction, intervention, or transition. Others will require formal individualized planning such as an individual education plan or individual reading assistance plan. For students with severe cognitive or physical disabilities, postsecondary transition planning with adult service providers should start as early as possible.

Health and Development

Middle school students experience a rapid acceleration in growth patterns. For example, the bones lengthen, muscles increase in strength and coordination, glands begin to produce hormones causing sexual changes known as puberty. These changes create a growth spurt in which height increases, body breadth and depth increases, and the heart and lungs grow to adult sizes. Some challenges during this growth spurt are:

  • The changes that occur in adolescence are as rapid as that of early childhood.
  • During this period the child gains about 20% of adult height and 50% of weight.
  • Most of this height will be gained during the 18-24 month “growth spurt.”
  • This “growth spurt” occurs at different ages for different individuals, generally occurring in girls earlier than in boys.

Recommended Visits to Doctor

  • Well-child checkups and immunizations: 10 years, 12 years, 14 years
  • Early identification of problems – Slow or rapid growth, inappropriate weight for height, maltreatment, delays, vision, hearing, scoliosis (abnormal curves in back), blood pressure, language, acute and chronic diseases, mental health issues


Interagency Collaboration

Bruner  states that research about interagency collaboration is important because of the following factors:

  • No one can do it alone
  • Improving the quality of life and the education of children with disabilities and their families requires the collective knowledge, skills, experience and expertise of all family members and professionals
  • It requires that the community and all service systems work together to achieve the goals of the child and family

Bruner, C.; Kunesh, L.G.; Knuth, R.A. “What Does Research Say About Interagency Collaboration?”


  • Kentucky School for the Blind
    • The mission of the Kentucky School for the Blind is to provide comprehensive educational services to all Kentucky students who are blind and visually impaired, birth to 21.
  • Kentucky School for the Deaf
    • Kentucky School for the Deaf makes sure every child is given the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential to become confident, self-supporting, independent, and have a rewarding future upon graduation as a productive member of society.
  • Kentucky Autism Training Center
    • The mission of the Kentucky Autism Training Center is to strengthen Kentucky’s systems of support for persons affected by autism by bridging research to practice and by providing training and resources to families and professionals.
  • Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities
    • The mission of the Department of Behavioral Health, Development and Intellectual Disabilities is to provide leadership, in partnership with others, to prevent disability, build resilience in individuals and their communities, and facilitate recovery for people whose lives have been affected by mental illness, intellectual disability or other developmental disability, or substance abuse.