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From ‘Kings of the School to Measly Peasants’

If you’re headed to middle school in the fall and worried about the whole “small fish in a big pond” thing, William Compton says yep, that’s pretty much what you can expect.

“In fifth grade we were the kings of the school,” the sixth-grader recalled. “When we got here, we were measly peasants.”

But there are a lot of fears about middle school that just don’t come true, says William and a handful of his classmates at Lowell Middle School. And even when worst fears are realized, they say, all are survivable.

Middle school counselors Katie Erickson and Sheila Dubbink agree that middle school is a time of transition.

“We love it because it’s that age when there’s so much change and growth,” Erickson said. “Yes, they’re awkward, they’re hormonal … but I get a little teared up sometimes when I look at certain kids and think, ‘You have just matured so much since you got here.'”

It always helps to have guidance from someone who has recently been there. To that end, School News Network assembled a small panel of experts.

Here are some thoughts, observations, tips, warnings and advice from sixth-graders whose first year of middle school recently came to a close. Call it “Survivor: Middle School Edition.”

Adjusting to Middle School — Tips for Parents

  • The advent of multiple teachers means that none of them knows a student as well as one dedicated teacher did back in elementary school. In middle school, parents can feel kept at more of a distance by teachers who seem less responsive and harder to reach, because they are now responsible for many more students whom they know less well. This does not mean that middle school teachers are not approachable, only that they have more demands on their time.
  • The middle school mission is different. Now teachers seem to focus more on a student’s acceptable conduct and adequate performance. Part of the mission of middle school is helping students learn the self-management and other skills that will be necessary to successfully cope with high school: developing the discipline to keep track of homework and the work ethic to complete it on time.
  • Social-system skills focused on in middle school are “Comply with rules, Conform to routines, Cooperate with authority.” If a young person doesn’t learn adequate self-management responsibility and social-system skills (the 3C’s) in middle school, he or she will have a harder time making it through high school – an even larger, more impersonal facility, with less tolerance for off-task and socially disruptive behavior.

— Source: Psychology Today

Changing Classes

Going from one class all day to six — and six teachers instead of just one — can be overwhelming. Counselor Erickson said parents often have more trouble adjusting to that than their children.

“All this time their kids have had one teacher they have gotten to know, and now there are six,” she said. “That can be a huge anxiety for parents.”

Other than that, the sixth-graders seem to take it in stride.

“There’s a lot more people (than in elementary school). It’s way more crowded,” Jadan Sanders said.

“You’ve got to be way more mature and find classes yourself,” added Chloe Sandborn. “You can’t just break down crying in the middle of the hallway. Well you could, but that might be embarrassing.”

Kelsey Stephens recommends new students map out their route from class to class before the first day. “I just put a 1 next to where my first hour was, and a 2 for my second hour, and like that,” she said. “It made it a lot easier.”

Or, as Greta Forward admitted, you can defer to those in the know.

“Five of my classes are with Jadan and she knows where everything is, so I just followed her most of the time.”


“In elementary, you sat in one place all day, and if you forgot something you could just open up your desk,” William Compton said.

That’s a lot simpler than storing everything in your locker, students agreed.

“I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to open it in time to get my stuff and get to classes, and I’d be late or something,” Kelsey said.

Chloe Sandborn could relate. “That was kind of scary because I thought I was going to forget my combination.”

Did either of these things happen?

“The first day I was here,” Chloe admitted. “The library lady helped me out. Second day I was fine.”

“My teacher said ‘Next time you can’t get your locker open let me know and I’ll help,'” Jaydon Gates recalled.

Chloe recommends carrying a purse, backpack or binder with dedicated compartments to keep extras of often-used items on hand.

All in all, “I like the lockers, because people can’t take stuff out of your desk,” said Evan Klein. That didn’t happen when he was in elementary school, Evan said, but just, you know, privacy.

Riding the Bus

Lowell Middle School students ride buses with high school students, which means “if you really like the back seat, forget it because the high schoolers always take the back seat,” warned Greta Forward. “They want the back seats, I think, because they want to talk loud or they think the bus driver can’t see them or hear them. But they can.”

Also, buses for middle- and high-schoolers are identified by numbers and letters rather than by animal symbols, as they are in elementary school, so that takes some getting used to, agreed the group.

If you find yourself confused about that, or need other help, never fear, Greta said. “The bus drivers are really nice.”


Evan Klein came to the middle school from Alto Elementary. “I stayed in the same group, but we made new friends too, and fused,” he said.

“I was nervous that I was going to lose my old friends, that they would find new friends and just leave me,” Greta admitted. “But they didn’t. It was OK.”

“I was nervous I wouldn’t have any of my friends in my classes,” said Emily Struckmeyer.

Counselors Sheila Dubbink, left, and Katie Erickson
Counselors Sheila Dubbink, left, and Katie Erickson

A Few Downsides, and Some Perks

No more class birthday parties (too many cupcakes to make for six classes, Chloe explained). And you may miss having that one teacher who’s dedicated to you and your growing, emerging, fabulous self, like in elementary school. And oh, no recess, noted William.

Most of all, despite that you are a small fish in a big pond in sixth grade, keep in mind that you’ll grow into a big ol’ salmon by eighth grade (at which point you will do it all over again in high school). But in the meantime, there are some perks to the middle school experience, the sixth-graders said.

“You get to sit anywhere you want at lunchtime,” Jaydon Gates said.

“I like in between classes because then I can stretch my legs after sitting for so long,” Greta said. “And I like the teachers,” added Kelsey. “And the counselors. You can go to them with anything.”

“There’s a lot more hands-on things,” Chloe said. Chimed in Taylor Holdridge, “Like in science, there’s a lot of experiments.”

And a lot of clubs, said pretty much everyone at once: robotics, chess, civic organizations, guitar, jazz, and so on. You can even take boater safety classes in middle school, Evan said.

And it always helps to keep a positive attitude. For example, having a different teacher for every subject is a positive no matter how you look at it, Emily Struckmeyer said.

“If you don’t like a teacher very much, you only have them an hour a day, so that isn’t so bad. And if you like a teacher, you get to have them for an hour every day.”

The reporter lady was so funny!

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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