Changing Schools in Middle School or High School

Parent Q&A

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  • Better to Move Schools in 5th or 6th Grade?

    (10 replies)

    Possibly not hypothetical question: We are starting to consider a move to a community about 30 minutes away. It would be a change of schools for both kids. The older one would be joining at either 7th or 8th grade, socially difficult either way but presumably not a lot of difference between the two grades, at a middle school that starts at 6th. The younger one would be starting either 5th (last year of elementary school) or 6th (first year of middle school). The middle school combines 3-4 elementary schools, so there's a lot of mixing at that time, but she'd be going in cold, knowing nobody in a school of 1000 kids, and that sounds like a very lonely way to start. Perhaps it would be better to try to push up the move so she gets to start cold in a class of 30 for a year? It's virtually impossible for me and my husband to gauge this, as we haven't moved as a family and neither of us grew up moving across school districts. To complicate things, the younger child is pretty shy, and will certainly struggle during the transition no matter what. I'd appreciate any thoughts from parents whose kids have been through this.

    I have kids in 6th and 8th grade right now at a massive middle school.  I would make the transition beginning 6th grade so that only has to transition once.  5th grade friends aren't necessarily 6th grade friends.  Good luck! 

    We went through this with my daughter this year. She unexpectedly had the chance to transfer into a better school district for fifth grade, and we decided to go for it instead of waiting a year and transferring her in for sixth grade. While I felt at the time that it was not ideal to pull her out of the school where she'd been since kindergarten and have her miss her last year with her friends, and she was really upset initially, I am now sooooo glad we did not wait until sixth to move her. The new school district has three elementary schools feeding into one middle school, so similar situation to yours, and she has already made good friends at her new school who will be going with her into sixth. I think the social transition into a smaller elementary school in fifth grade, especially for a more introverted kid, is going to end up being way easier than the social transition into a bigger middle school. So, I'd strongly recommend switching schools for fifth grade if you can, even if it doesn't at first blush seem like the most logical time to transition! I really worried about switching my daughter at that juncture, but with the benefit of hindsight I would 100% do it again. 

    If you have a chance to move at 5th grade, I would do that. We moved our son in 6th grade to a 1000-person middle school that combined five elementary schools in a new town. He survived just fine, but he found that, in 6th grade, all the kids split off into factions based on which elementary school they attended. At that age, most kids didn't seem to have the social confidence to break out on their own and find new groups. So he was always the 'new kid' and never really made close friends. He still enjoyed his time there, and found people to hang out with at lunch, etc, but compared to a friend's daughter who made the same move in 5th grade, he made fewer real friends. I think elementary school is an easier place to make friends, and knowing people before entering a huge middle school would be a benefit. (For what it's worth, my older son started in 9th grade and that was easier, as kids in high school seem mature enough to make new friends.) Good luck!

    I'd vote for the move for the younger one to start in 5th grade. We did that for our daughter. She made friends that could go with her into middle school (6th-8th grade). Although the middle schools are large, just knowing a couple of people give some peace of mind. Another benefit is for you as a parent to understand this new school system better: whether your child needs to register in spring of 5th grade for some elective in 6th grade; whether she needs to take some placement test in spring of 5th grade for 6th grade placement; and to meet other parents in the new district. Every time we switch school districts, it's not just a change for our kids, but for us as parents to learn the new policies, who's who, what/which schools have what, after/before school options, etc. My kids have been in 3 different school districts for elementary/middle school and that requires getting up to speed fast. If you're reluctant to move them midway through middle school, could you move for the younger one (whether at 5th or 6th grade) and at all possible for the older one to continue/finish in her old school for 7th-8th and commute? 30 minutes commute is pretty normal for the Bay Area. Finally, kids are pretty strong. If you have a positive outlook with the move and setup some play dates in advance before school starts, everything will be fine.

    I went through this as a kid, moving school districts. One move was disastrous; one went really well.

    A lot depends on the culture of the place you are moving to: extracurricular activities, achievement, what people value, what the school emphasizes, and how much the values of the new community mesh with your values. That will determine a great deal about how smoothly the transition goes. It's much easier for a shy person to make friends among 30 kids as opposed to 1,000, but it's also hard to come into a bunch of established friendships and cliques where it matters if your family owns a Jaguar (for example). 

    In your place I'd investigate the kind of group activities that might work for your kids (music, horseback riding, scouts, 4H, science club, swimming, ballet, etc.) and get them into a SUMMER camp or program before the school year in the new district. That way they'd come into the school year having met other kids and feeling more confident. And then continue them during the school year with some sort of extra-curricular activity. I'd also suggest you and your husband join the PTA, join bookclubs, go to YMCA classes, join a church/synagogue/etc., do whatever you can to meet other parents and start to get a feel for the community.

    If there is a local youth organization unit (scouting etc) that your kids can join before starting school, then there could be a few familiar faces upon entering middle school and you might get to know some of the parents too.  Some middle schools host a short boot camp (small day camp) before 6th grade begins and that allows for some potential new friendships or at least familiar faces.  We went through this process recently and our older daughter has been very lucky in meeting same-aged kids who live around us through the boot camp, who then introduced her to other kids, some of whom ended up in her classes.  At the elementary level, some schools will arrange for a play date before the start of school, one-on-one, with a child who will be in the same class as your own.  This is the ideal scenario but I hear of plenty of kids doing the school shuffle a week or more into the school year, including myself as a child.  While it is disorienting and one might not get one's first choice (or any choice) of a band instrument, plenty of kids go through this process every academic year and I personally have no scars to show for it.  I was really happy with the new school and glad that we moved... then and now.  YMMV, especially if a particular cohort in a given year is less friendly, but I think that is the exception and out of one's control regardless of when you make the move.

    Speaking as a former shy kid myself who changed schools pretty much every year during elementary school, I would rather have finished out 5th grade with my friends and then started a new school for 6th, when everyone else was also new and mixing and looking for friends - 6th grade is kind of like freshman year of college, when everyone gets reshuffled and is open to meeting new people. Coming in at the end of elementary school (which I did) meant encountering a whole ecosystem of kids who'd known each other since kindergarten and all their ingrained friendships and cliques and baggage and trying to find a place for myself there - as well as leaving all my own friends behind at my old school. I would much rather have waited until 6th grade to move if it had been an option. Bonus advice: Find an activity in middle school that comes a built-in peer group - sports, student council, school newspaper, scouting, band, knitting club, whatever moves her and it will go a long way towards helping a shy kid meet people and settle in.

    As you say, it might not make too much of a difference, but I would say the sooner you can do it the better. Speaking from my own experience, we moved across the country after 5th grade in a district where elementary went through 6th grade, to a district where 6th grade was the first year of middle school. It was an extremely traumatic move. I'll never know if it would have been easier had we done it the year before, but I would think that having made a few friends at the elementary school would have helped. That said, it was a long time ago and it was across the country.  And you do just never know. We have friends who moved before 6th and 3rd grade, and the 3rd grader had a much harder time adjusting than the middle schooler -- so it also depends on the peer group you're moving into and how different the two schools are. I wish you the best of luck. We moved 2+ plus years ago before 3rd and 1st from SF to Berkeley and the kids now say they are happy we live here (after about 1.5 years of saying they wished we still lived in SF).

    I would suggest timing your move so your child is joining her new school in 6th grade. Middle school is a time of huge transition anyway, and from my observation, it is a lot easier to make new friends in 6th grade (when lots of the 6th grade friend groups are changing/transitioning anyway), than to try to infiltrate a well-established friend group in 5th grade, where many of the kids have known each other since Kindergarten. If the class is 30 kids that means only 15 or so of them will be girls and that can be tough.

    We moved when kids entered 6th and 1st grades.  Our middle school is 6th-8th.  For sure it is easier to move in 5th grade because the teachers are still willing to do some social integration then, and there is only one main teacher in 5th grade.  Our older went into 6th not knowing anyone at all, but the teachers had no idea that he didn't know anyone at all.  Because it was 3 elementary schools funneling into the school, no one knew he was new.  It was not fun.  Also if you move in 5th grade and you play any sports, then you get a chance to meet a dozen families and kids on each team, and it is at least someone to say 'hi' to in middle school.  Or anything, summer camps, church, etc.  That's actually how my 6th grade kid met some people, on his soccer team.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Switching Schools as High School Junior

Oct 2009

I would really value this community's feedback on the following issue: how to evalute the benefits of switching from a big public school to a small private school beginning junior year? Our daughter is now a sophomore at BHS's International School. She finds BHS generally overwhelming, has had a hard time making friends, and - of equal or greater importance - is finding herself bored in class and frustrated with the pace. She is worried, for the first time, that she won't do well because her motivation to stay engaged is diminishing. I know the first course of action is to talk to the teachers and support staff, and we are doing that. She is great student, very academic, takes her work seriously and wants to go to a great college. And I write this with great respect for the educators at BHS; I know they are doing their very best with big classes and limited resources and bring a lot of talent and commitment to their work. The question: in the absence of knowing that things will get qualitatively better next year, is it the right thing to switch our daughter to a small private school? For a host of logistical and financial reasons, we chose the public school path, but I can tell this is not a great fit for our daughter and I think she would thrive in a different setting with smaller, more demanding classes and a different peer group. Is it too much to ask of her to cope with such a big change, just when she's working hard to get into college? Is it better to switch and take a big gamble on a better situation? I really want to support her love of school, which is just not happening this year at BIHS. Will kids be welcoming? Will she get integrated at this late date? Do kids switch as juniors? I don't want her to go through the whole enrollment process if this is a bad idea from the get-go, but I know high school can be different (better) than this. What to do?

Sounds like two more years at BHS is not in your child's best interest. HS is such an important time on many fronts. My child went to St. Mary's HS and had the best 4 years I could have asked for. There were students who transferred in as juniors and were welcomed into the community. Since St. Mary's is a small school, newcomers are welcomed easily and add to the student body. You might want to consider looking at the school. It is a Catholic education (I am not Catholic) but it is also an education that is more global in reflection than in religion. parent of St. Mary's grad

I know a couple of former students who left BHS mid-stream; both went to Maybeck in Berkeley and had a wonderful experience. It is highly academic but suits students who may not thrive in the sometimes overwhelming atmosphere at BHS. Both students went on to very good colleges and lots of their students end up at Ivies. My daughter is at BHS and is doing very well, but it is not for everyone. Not one size fits all

I can't comment on whether your daughter should switch schools as a Junior, although it seems like a tough time to switch. But I wonder whether she's talked with any of this year's Seniors in the BIHS Program , so she can know what to expect over the Junior and Senior year. If she pursues the IB Diploma she will have an incredibly challenging course load, which at the same time, is fantastically engaging, provided she's intersted in an international point of view. I'm sure many of the current Seniors would be happy to talk with her about how things progress. Ninth and 10th grade in BIHS are preparatory for the IB curriculum. International standards restrict the actual IB curriculum to 11th and 12th grade.

When my daughter, and I visited colleges last Spring when she was a BIHS Junior, nearly every admissions officer we talked with commented that achieving the IB Diploma represents completing the most challenging high school curriculum available. She's now doing the work to qualify for the Diploma, and finds it both really challenging and engaging.

I'm sure the counselors in the IB program can make arrangements for your daughter to talk to other students who are pursuing the Diploma. That may be a good first step before going down the path of switching schools. S.

I am not sure that switching schools is necessarily the best strategy.

I have a daughter who graduated from BHS a couple years ago. She was rarely challenged by the classes offered at BHS even though she finished with 10 or 11 AP classes. She was accepted into a small prestigious private university and is in college with people from the ''top'' small prep schools in the country. She is still not particularly challenged. She knows students at her university from some of the east bay small privates and she is definitely doing better than they are and really not very challenged.

My husband and I decided early on to look beyond the classroom to stimulate our daughter. Our strategy was lots of activities, community service, travel and work along with an expectation of excellent grades. BHS offers those opportunities much better than a small school could - there are tons of sports, music, drama and extracurriculars to keep students of all academic levels engaged. We always had her at least participating in both sports and arts. On top of that we had to do a lot of active parenting - lots of engaged conversations about life and what was happening in her life, why she was bored and what to do about it.

And in the end she is really happy that she went to BHS instead of one of the local private schools, she was exposed to a lot of culture and had some life altering experiences (not all good) that would not have happened at a small school.

So your child is not my child, but I think it is worth exploring your child's boredom a little more carefully before switching schools. former BHS parent

SWITCH HER! You tried a big public school and it is not working out. Kids switch schools all the time. She will probably LOVE her new environment and, even better, kids in smaller schools make a bigger deal about new kids (in a good way.) p.s. don't let her know how worried you are about this whole thing. anon

Maybeck High School might be a great fit for your daughter. It is not unusual for students to transfer to Maybeck after starting high school elsewhere.(She might even be able to start mid-year.) I suggest you check the BPN postings for Maybeck, and plan a visit if it sounds like a school she would like. I cannot say enough good things about our experience at this wonderful school- strong academics, small classes taught seminar-style, plenty of intellectual stimulation, close student-teacher relationships, and students who are accepting of others. Maybeck students are extremely well prepared for college. The writing program, especially, is superb. They also offer exciting travel programs each spring- last year kids had the opportunity to go biking through Japan, surfing in Kauai, explore the Theater and Art worlds in SF and NYC, or travel through Copper Canyon in Mexico, for example. Tuition is less than at most independent private schools. And the new location at St. John's on College Ave. is beautiful!

I would say that its small size would not suit every kid. It is not for someone who wants a classic ''big high school'' experience, for example. But it may suit your daughter very well. Happy Maybeck Parent

Ironically, we went the other way, from a private school which was intense academically and not great socially, to Berkeley High (as a junior). A month into the switch, things are going quite well.

If you send her to a very demanding private school she could be in for quite a shock academically! At the same time, there does seem to be a significant ramp up at BHS in both AC and BIHS in the junior years, so it could be that she'll be okay with sticking it out. Her math and science could be plenty challenging, language should be at 3rd, 4th year level, right? So the main academic issue would be whether other classes are sufficiently engaging, and whether she can help create that challenge for herself. As happy as my daughter is, it's partly because she has two really challenging AP classes, so she is just kind of putting up 2 out of 6 classes being less interesting. And because she's in AC, she has electives which she really likes. Perhaps with next year's change to block schedule, there may be opportunities for BIHS kids to add in some more personally interesting courses.

Also, my daughter joined two clubs and a sports team which puts her with some great, interesting kids. She's a fairly introverted kid, actually, and yet she's making friends. It's odd in a way that she didn't do so in a small school - maybe she was less motivated to do so because she wasn't happy there, or maybe it was because the social environment was TOO small so she didn't have enough kids to choose from.

As far as whether the kids at a new school will be welcoming, it depends, there's usually interest in someone new in a small school. Does your daughter have a sport or other interest that would help her integrate with a group of kids at a new school? Maybe your child is less motivated to make friends through clubs and sports because she just doesn't like Berkeley High? Do you have a feeling for whether she's likely to reach out and take advantage of both the academic and social offerings of a new school? Can you encourage her to do so this year at BHS so she's happier (and so she learns that skill if she moves to a new environment?)

Best of luck. I know how hard it is when your kid isn't happy, and how scary it is to take a leap of faith that a change will make things better! =went the other way=

It sounds like your daughter might do well at Envision Academy in Oakland. It's a small charter (public) school that is pioneering a new approach to educating teens. My gifted freshman daughter goes there and is thriving. For further information, search the BPN files or call the school at 510-596-8901. Nancy


Changing school in 7th grade

April 2002


We are thinking of switching schools next year when my daughter enters 7th grade. I would like to get people's advice about changing schools in the 7th grade and whether that is a particularly rough time for a girl to change schools emotionally, socially, academically. She does have one good friend there already. Thank you.

My daughter changed schools in 7th grade. We moved with only 2 months left of 6th grade and I drove her back to her old school every day. In retrospect it would have been better to put her into the new school at the end of 6th grade. Not only would she hopefully make some friendships for the summer but would also be able to figure out how to bridge the educational gap from the old to the new school. It was rather difficult for her to get used to the fact that she was not the top student of her school anymore but rather very average. I got to understand that it is not just how smart your kid is (oh, they will do great anywhere they are smart) but what materials they were exposed to and which track they were following. Having one good friend at the new school should make the transition much easier. Don't forget though that friendships in junior high are very fickle and sometimes friends are dropped at a drop a a hat. Good luck. Yours in parenting Ksenija