Act now to support middle school students

By Quentin Wilson

According to a recently updated ACT study, “The Forgotten Middle,” students’ middle school careers are crucial in preparing for success in high school and beyond. However, these years of education are often glossed over or forgotten.

It’s not shocking. Traditionally, middle school is a period when students can be misunderstood, anxious, confused or apathetic; leading to challenges for educators from behavioral issues to information retention and beyond.

While many have called this a problem, and it certainly is, it is also an opportunity. It is time for more attention to be paid to middle schoolers and the role educators play in preparing these students for high school and beyond. Preparing students to make successful transitions from middle school to high school is just as important as preparing them to make successful transitions from high school to postsecondary education or the workforce.

Waiting until the junior or senior year of high school to start preparing is just too late. To maximize the college and career readiness of all high school graduates, intervention must happen long before students start ninth grade.

The time to act is now. Contrary to popular belief, summer isn’t a three-month vacation for educators; most develop lessons and plan other activities for the coming year. Let’s use the summer to re-affirm our commitment to the middle grades, and start next school year with specific plans for ensuring middle grade students are on track for future success.

These plans don’t have to be grandiose, even small steps at this age can have a big effect down the line. Commit to ensuring that students know the requirements for high school graduation. Plan a field trip to a nearby college. Invite business leaders to talk with students about their own educational and career journeys.
Or, start a peer mentoring program. Not only is peer mentoring an opportunity for students to improve academically and professionally, it’s also an opportunity to step up as a role model for their peers. Peer mentoring promotes leadership, builds a school-wide culture of success, and passes on knowledge and motivation to other students.

For example, the Career & College Clubs program, implemented in many schools in California, works to engage middle school students in a peer-to-peer learning environment where they lead fun activities centered on the topics of career, college, and life skills. These activities effectively provide them with a greater sense of empowerment, as well as an intrinsic drive to plan for, and achieve success in high school, college, and life.

Obstacles to high school, college and career readiness must be met head-on. Let’s challenge ourselves to take the steps necessary to ensure that every student learns the essential skills needed to succeed in high school and beyond. Middle school students deserve it. They deserve to be heard.

— Quentin Wilson is the president and chief executive officer of ALL Management Corp. He has pioneered national initiatives to assist students of all ages in attaining and completing their college degrees.

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