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Tips for Middle School Success

Local principals point out some common pitfalls and share tips for parents and students.

For parents with students making the transition from an elementary school to a middle school, these next few weeks can be a challenging time. Students are becoming more independent, but parents still want to help.

"I don't think the kids are as scared of middle school as the parents are," said Patrick Mc Nichols, principal at in Cleveland Heights.

The local principals who talked to Patch agree that parents should stay involved, but there are ways to help students spread their wings. Here are a few tips. Parents and teachers, add yours in the comments.

Encourage students to get involved
The biggest problem students face is trying to make connections socially and figuring out where they fit in, said Principal Patrick Farrell.

“They’re definitely trying to find themselves,” Farrell said.

Students who are struggling socially may have trouble concentrating, an issue that can definitely affect class performance and grades, he said. Farrell recommended that parents encourage students to be involved in some sort of group, whether it’s a sport, a club or an organization outside the school system.

Doug Baker, principal at Mentor’s , said his school tries to build a community. The more involved students are, the more ownership they feel and the more successful they’re going to be, he said.

Keep the lines of communication open
Middle school offers a lot of changes for students, Baker said, from getting used to new procedures to adjusting to different expectations from multiple teachers. He encourages parents to “be patient with change” and be ready to advocate for their child if there is a problem. Often, parents wait until an issue is really affecting a student.

“It’s important to have that communication piece with the schools,” he said, both for social issues and academics.

Mark Walter, principal at Lakewood’s , said parental involvement is critical at the middle school level. Academic standards are higher, and with a team of teachers and family members, students are more likely to succeed.

Keep an eye on social media
Parents should also monitor social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, Farrell said. That’s where arguments and other types of bullying often happen now.

Bullying can be a 24-7 problem now, Walter said. Students need to know how to report it and to know that they’ll be supported if they do.

Help students stay organized
Middle school is the first time many students are expected to take charge of their day: they’re more likely to switch classes or have multiple teachers or they might have a locker rather than a desk.

“It’s easy for kids to get overwhelmed,” Walter said.

Parents can help by checking in and making sure students stay organized, he said.

Mc Nichols suggested that parents help students set up a routine at home, planning a place and time to do homework every day. That helps parents make sure the work gets done, but students are doing it themselves.

"This is the time where the kids need to start developing more autonomy, and the parents struggle with releasing more responsibility to the kids," Mc Nichols said.

Cleveland Heights Patch Local Editor Michelle Simakis contributed reporting to this article.

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