How to Celebrate Your Child’s 8th Grade Graduation

Amid the excitement of high school and college graduation season, some people may overlook an earlier educational achievement: the end of eighth grade. For Jack Harburger, who will graduate from middle school soon, it is a highly anticipated celebration.

After more than a year of online learning, Jack is looking forward to seeing his classmates and teachers in person during his school’s end-of-year ceremony. “It brings us closure to the past three years of middle school,” he says.

Leaha Charles-Pierre, Jack’s science teacher at The Mount Washington School in Baltimore, says, “It’s a milestone to move into that next chapter of high school. They’re that much closer to college, or to working or whatever it is that they want to do.” Celebrating eighth grade graduation, she adds, gives students the opportunity to have their “one minute of shine.”

For parents and families overseeing their middle schooler’s transition into high school, eighth grade graduation is a critical time to begin conversations about the next steps in their student’s education. Here are eight tips for parents to celebrate and support a middle schooler’s transition to high school:

— Balance parental involvement with a teen’s need for independence.

— Communicate with the school.

— Start conversations with students early.

— Plan for summer activities.

— Allow students to pursue new interests.

— Remember that students will move at their own pace.

— Practice patience.

— Honor their graduation.

Balance Parental Involvement With a Teen’s Need for Independence

Middle school marks an important period of social and cognitive development as children grow into teenagers. At the same time, “parents are turning of age too,” says Judith Warner, author of the newly released book, “And Then They Stopped Talking to Me: Making Sense of Middle School.”

Warner says parents may not realize adjusting to their child becoming more independent in high school can be an emotional learning process of its own. Parents may struggle to strike a balance between staying involved in their child’s academics and allowing him or her the space to grow as an individual.

“By and large the most meaningful thing parents can do, if possible, is to empower their kids to self-advocate,” Warner suggests.

[READ: Ways to Keep Kids on Track With Reading During the Pandemic.]

That means supporting a child in learning to identify and communicate their needs to friends, teachers, counselors and learning specialists.

And this does not have to be a parent’s job alone. Middle school teachers also work to reinforce a child’s preparedness for high school. Charles-Pierre says The Mount Washington School begins teaching responsibility, critical thinking and self-advocacy at the start of sixth grade and continues to build on those skills each year.

As students grow to be more self-assured, Charles-Pierre encourages parents to stay involved in their child’s high school. She suggests joining a parent-teacher organization or taking part in school volunteer opportunities. When students see their parents involved, they feel more connected to the school community, and parents benefit from learning about the opportunities their child’s school has to offer.

Communicate With the School

When a student enters a new high school, the environment may change but the student’s unique needs, learning styles and past behavioral issues are not swept away. Experts say parents should be upfront with the school about their student’s developmental needs, emotional triggers and learning challenges.

Jeremy Goldman, a counselor at New Town High School in Maryland and a parent of an eighth grade graduate, encourages parents to be proactive and establish relationships with teachers and counselors early in the school year. Direct communication can mitigate a school’s work investigating a student’s past and give counselors and teachers more time to respond to his or her present needs.

Start Conversations With Students Early

Talking to students about their next steps going into high school can make them feel recognized and supported.

Jack says, “Having those conversations, just sitting down and talking is always helpful — whether it’s with my friends who are going through this with me, or with my family.”

As many schools transition to in-person learning in the fall, Goldman recommends starting those kinds of conversations by addressing “where we came from, where we are now and where we need to go.” Many students spent the past year with limited social interaction, more screen time and flexible daily routines. They will need to adjust to waking up earlier, interacting more with their peers and having more academic accountability than they did in middle school.

During these conversations, experts say parents should address these changes and potential challenges, and above all listen to their child.

Plan for Summer Activities

The summer is an opportune time for teens to get reacquainted with social situations and in-person activities. Jack has plans to be a counselor in training and to attend a sleep-away camp that was canceled last year.

His teacher says the summer between eighth and ninth grade is an excellent time for kids to get involved in academic or holistic enrichment programs to prepare for high school expectations.

[READ: Summer Bridge Programs Help Ease Freshmen Into High School.]

Parents can typically find a variety of camp options with different focus areas, and many camps offer financial assistance. Outside of organized learning, kids can benefit from summer reading.

Allow Students to Pursue New Interests

High school is an exploratory time for teens to discover their passions and learn to be comfortable with the things that make them different.

Goldman’s suggestion to ninth graders is to “see what you find interesting, and be willing to be the only one of your friends engaging in an activity.” Students will likely have the opportunity to attend an extracurricular fair in the first few months of school to help them explore ways to get involved.

As for class registration, Goldman helps parents apply “more mentally healthy perspectives on their kids’ academic choices” and understand that there is no standardized list of the “right” classes to get their child into the “right” college. Choosing classes is all about finding the best fit for the student, he says.

Remember That Students Will Move at Their Own Pace

Every student has his or her own individualized needs in an academic setting. During this transitional time, soon-to-be ninth graders exhibit a wide range of developmental differences, “all of which are normal,” Warner says.

People have different strengths at different times and parents should recognize that not every child is on the same schedule. Warner recommends removing the judgment of children that often looms over the high school years and dealing with changes with a sense of humor.

Practice Patience

This fall, parents, teachers and students will be coming together after a challenging year and a half of the pandemic. To prepare, Goldman says parents should remember to have patience with the students, school staff and other parents, and recognize that mistakes will happen during the new school year.

The transition from remote back to in-person learning may require schools to take extra steps to account for students missing core elements of their middle school experience. To be responsive to this change, Goldman says, parents will need to stay open-minded.

[Read: Parents: Ninth-Grade High School GPAs Matter.]

For students attending high schools where different middle schools converge, patience and acceptance among parents and students is also necessary.

“If we want to build a community within our high school,” Goldman says, “then we’ve got to accept people for who they are and be willing to challenge ourselves to learn new things and make friends with people that we might not have known before, or might not look like us.”

Honor Their Graduation

Jack says having an in-person ceremony reminds him that “we got through this year together and now we’re moving on.”

The significance of “leaving middle school in one piece” is a really big deal, Warner says. If parents want to spend some quality time recognizing their child’s accomplishment, she suggests planning a lunch or dinner and inviting siblings and extended family members.

Middle schoolers generally value spending time with friends and sharing moments of joy with their families, experts say. And although eighth grade graduates may not always show it, they appreciate small gestures that show their families are thinking of them and their accomplishments. Consider sharing photos of them from the past years or gifting flowers or a good book.

The goal is to help children feel good leaving middle school behind. Parents can help ensure a smooth transition into high school by listening to them, celebrating their advancement and providing support that respects their newfound independence.

Searching for a school? Explore our K-12 directory.

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