The Transition to Upper School: How Rivers Helps Students Make the Leap
Transitions can be a challenging part of life. At Rivers, we understand the importance of finishing one stage in a student’s educational journey and purposefully moving on to the start of the next one. This week, I met with eighth-grade parents to share some thoughts about how to make the transition from middle to upper school a little easier. Below are my remarks from the evening.
Welcome. In preparation for tonight, I’ve been thinking about these timeless words from Fred Rogers, “Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.” The space between an ending and a new beginning can be exciting, confusing, and always a little anxiety provoking.
The purpose of this evening is to dispel some of the natural nervousness that accompanies transitions and to introduce you to some very important people who will make a difference in the lives of your children after they leave middle school.
Before I hand the meeting over to my Upper School colleagues, I want to share more about the ways we will help the eighth graders over the next few months.
The eighth graders are both excited and nervous about this new vista called “Upper School.” For a moment, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these young people. What might be on their minds?
In the next few months, they will:
move from the oldest in the division to the youngest
meet new teachers and advisors
inhabit new buildings
encounter a new schedule, report card, and curricular offerings
join new athletic teams and extracurricular activities
get to know new students—and find that social groups will undergo a natural, but sometimes uncomfortable, period of shifting
start to think about their future in new ways
Some of these topics may not even be in their consciousness yet—but they will be.
Transitions are times of growth, and we want to empower students to navigate this season with confidence. So the more we can demystify this normal anxiety about the unknown—and answer some of the typical questions they have—the more the balance tips toward excitement.
Tonight, you will get to meet a few key members of the amazing Upper School team that will support your child over the next four years. They will share their thoughts about how Rivers guides students beyond middle school, and you will get to ask questions.
Over the course of the spring, the eighth graders will take part in what we affectionately call “The Transition Toolkit,” a series of experiences designed to help students visualize their next steps in the Upper School.
The Transition Toolkit is designed to help students think about and empathize with their future ninth-grade selves. In our work together, students will think about, discuss, and problem-solve challenges associated with this move.
Brainstorming questions about the Upper School
Meeting with current ninth graders to ask questions
Discussing a list (generated by students and teachers) of skills/habits required for ninth grade
Reflecting on and discussing “Where I am as a learner” (See Student-Led Parent Conferences)
Role-playing scenarios about challenges (social, emotional, academic)
Visiting Upper School classrooms and spaces
Reviewing actual Upper School syllabi
Discussing how grades are determined in a typical Upper School class (what “counts” and how it is weighted)
Here is a snapshot of additional programming this spring that supports our students’ transition to Upper School:
On Monday, April 27, Upper School Dean of Students Will Mills will visit the eighth-grade homeroom to talk about the Upper School.
On Thursday, April 30, eighth-grade students will visit the ninth-grade homeroom and meet their “shadow”—a student whom they will accompany to a few classes on Monday morning, May 4.
On Thursday, May 7, eighth-grade students will attend a special transition dinner where students will learn more about the Upper School from Upper School student advisors and will have the opportunity to ask these students questions about life beyond the Middle School.
On Thursday, May 1, the eighth and ninth grades will attend a breakfast together.
Later this spring, eighth-grade students will take placement tests in history, math, and language. These are not tests that students should prepare for—they are simply one more source of data that is used to determine course selection for next year. In eighth-grade homeroom, we will provide an overview of these tests for your children.
In addition, the Middle School deans, the assistant head of Middle School, and I will collaborate with Upper School deans to match students with Upper School advisors. The ninth grade course counselor will then review student files and talk with Middle School faculty as needed to gain information that will guide student placement. She will meet with parents and their children together this spring to determine the proper course selection.