October 7, 2004
Tossed from the cozy confines of elementary school, thousands of hormoneraging adolescents stumbled onto East Valley middle school and junior high campuses this year with a backpack full of expectations and responsibilities.
A new teacher for every class, so many choices in the cafeteria, figuring out gym lockers and finding their place in the social scene. It’s a wonder any homework gets done.
At Gilbert Junior High, Dave Montgomery helps ease the transition from elementary school, as well as for students who are new arrivals to the district.
"My job is to make sure kids are successful," said Montgomery, the school’s transition and truancy director. He’s aided by a posse of seventh and eighth-grade "ambassadors," who are shadowed by new students and plan welcoming events for elementary school graduates.
For most kids, he said, the biggest hurdles are learning to deal with multiple teachers, increased amounts of homework and finding their way around campus.
Equally challenging are the emotional and physical changes bombarding young minds and bodies.
Even as children are becoming more independent and pushing their parents away, they need them more than ever, school counselors say.
"The peer group is really important, but not as important as they make it out to be," said Sue Henderson, a counselor at Horizon Charter School in Ahwatukee Foothills and the parent of three, the youngest an eighth-grader.
"They still really look to their parents . . . but they act like they don’t," she said. "It’s harder to be involved in middle school, but it’s really important for parents to be involved."
With so many choices and responsibilities, middle school students can easily head down the wrong path. Or they can develop study habits and sharpen coping skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
"It’s a tremendous transition for the seventhgraders," said Kathy Horlacher, parent education coordinator for the Gilbert Unified School District. "I think having the support that they need at that age is really essential."
That’s why school districts offer classes for the parents of tweens and teens. Information is available through most school or district offices.
The key to steering your children through the bumpy transition into middle school or junior high may lie in your own expectations.
"Growing pains are real things," Henderson said. "Sometimes kids just need to come home and lie on the couch and grow."
For more information about school district parenting programs:
• In Gilbert, call Kathy Horlacher, (480) 497-3300, Ext. 275.
• In Scottsdale, call Scottsdale Prevention Institute, (480) 443-3100.
• In Mesa, call Parent University, (480) 472-7278, or visit