Thinking & Learning

Making the Leap to High School

If middle school was like riding a bike with training wheels, high school is the real deal. Your high schooler will have to be even more independent and juggle more complex academic, extracurricular, and social priorities. Helping them thrive during freshman year can set them up for success in the years to come. What should families focus on during this important transition?

Research shows that students who get off to a successful start freshman year are more likely to graduate from high school than peers who have a bumpier start. So helping your teen make a smooth leap to high school is a great way to make sure they have a strong experience for the next four years.

What should families focus on as your teen makes this big jump from middle to high school?


Get to know the adults who are looking out for your kid. In high school, your child is likely to have contact with even more individual teachers than they did in middle school. It’s a good idea to figure out who might become a consistent presence throughout their high school journey, and connect with that person now. In a lot of schools, this is probably the guidance counselor or a homeroom teacher. For students who have a strong interest in an extracurricular, this might be the coach or teacher advisor. Whoever it is, reach out to them now to introduce yourself. You might consider asking how you can get in touch with them, and sharing your preferred contact information, too. Students are far less likely to slip through the cracks in high school if they have adults in school who are keeping a close eye on them, and having an open line of communication to those people can help you stay informed about how your child is doing.


Keep an eye on how academics are balanced with everything else. Extracurriculars like arts and sports are a really important part of high school. For a lot of kids, these are a big motivator for going to school in the first place. But high school is typically where the time commitment for afterschool activities increases significantly, and the time required for academics jumps up, too. Plus, many kids are working on the side. It’s a lot to balance. Have a frank conversation with your kid about academic expectations: What kinds of grades do they have to maintain in order to participate in their chosen activities? (Often, the school will set these rules for you.) Nobody wants to force their kid to give up band or basketball, but make sure you and your teen are on the same page about what’s expected of them.


If your child is in a trade or industry training program, help them balance the additional expectations. Students who choose trade pathways in high school might have to leave campus for some of their courses or work experience. That means they’ll have to manage a more complicated schedule and balance different sets of expectations, too. This can be tricky—but it also provides great growth opportunities for your high schooler!


Watch for consistently low grades. The truth is, in elementary and middle school, grades don’t really matter. Of course, they matter in the sense that they can help you understand how your child is doing in school, and that’s important. But they don’t matter in the world, because no one else ever sees them. That changes in high school. If your child is planning to apply to college or a job training program, their high school transcript will be part of that application process. A single low grade here or there isn’t a problem, but if your teen is having a stretch of weak academic performance, don’t just wait it out. Maybe they’re struggling with the academic demands of their courses, or with balancing everything on their plate. Maybe there’s something else going on, like struggles with reading or foundational math that’s creating a barrier for them. Start by having a conversation with your kid about what might be going on. Encourage them to connect with their teachers about extra support, and consider having a group meeting with their guidance counselor to figure out how to address the root causes of your kid’s struggles.

(Here’s a quick recap of how grade point averages are calculated.)

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