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Counsellor’s Corner – Supporting Students’ Transition to High School:  Balancing Involvement and Individuality

The transition from elementary to high school holds significant importance in a student’s educational journey and personal development.  It marks a critical period of growth and maturation, where students transition from childhood to adolescence, and from a relatively sheltered environment to one with greater academic and social demands.  When Grade 8 students complete elementary school, most high schools place a great deal of focus and attention on transitioning students to that next step.  Many high schools:

  • Invite Grade 8 students into the school for tours and/or a “day in the life of a Grade 9 student.”
  • Have guidance counsellors visit the Grade 8 classes.
  • Offer a Grade 9 summer school transition course whereby students entering high school can earn an elective credit while making friends and acclimatizing to the high school they will be attending in September. 
  • Some will even host a BBQ at the end of August and invite the new Grade 9 students to attend to make their youngest and newest students feel as comfortable with this change as possible.

But what about those students who, despite all the school and guidance department’s efforts, don’t have the desire to get involved, and opt not to attend these extra-curricular and social events?  How do we care for our students who are introverted or selectively social?

Some students may still struggle to feel comfortable during the transition to high school despite the best efforts of host schools.  It is crucial to recognize and address their unique needs and concerns.  Especially for teenagers, we need to learn to balance extra-curricular involvement and honoring student individuality.  Most high schools offer additional support systems, such as counselling, peer mentoring programs, or CYW and SW support.  The guidance office is a safe space for students to express their anxieties and receive one-on-one support.  It is important to foster an inclusive and empathetic school culture where students—all students—feel heard, understood, and supported, ensuring that their well-being and education needs are prioritized.

I am speaking as a guidance counsellor and educator of 24 years, and as a parent of a student (my daughter, Lauren) who just started Grade 9 this September.  As a guidance counsellor, I recognize the importance of Lauren having a smooth transition.  However, as Lauren’s mom, I know that she is a shy 14-year-old.  To help her transition to her new high school, I registered for her for a Grade 9 transition course.  This past July, Lauren took this course at the high school she is now attending (note: she is not attending the high school I work at).  On the first day of the course, Lauren was given a timetable to follow. She took numeracy, literacy, art and physical education classes.  Field trips were embedded into the month-long program.  Students enjoyed a common lunch and Lauren was able to experience how a typical day in high school would feel.  Lauren attended the course daily and enjoyed learning math and literacy skills. She also made a few acquaintances that hopefully may develop into friendships over the course of high school.  Overall, Lauren had a positive experience with this course.

So, of course, it came as a shock to me at the beginning of September when I heard some of her friends trying out for sports and joining clubs, that Lauren was not interested in joining anything.  Although I gave her daily pep talks leading up to the beginning of Grade 9 and encouraged her to inquire, and try an extra-curricular activity stressing the importance of getting involved, something I had to come to terms with as Lauren’s mom (and not her guidance counsellor!) is that Lauren is more of an introvert and needs to slowly adapt to her environment instead of jumping in headfirst.  I had to take a step back and let Lauren figure this out.

As parents and guidance counsellors, we may encounter students like Lauren, who exhibit introverted tendencies, such as preferring solitude or having limited interest in extracurricular activities, especially in Grade 9.  It is important to recognize and respect their individuality.  While encouragement to explore new opportunities is crucial, it is equally vital to listen to these students when they express their contentment with their current choices.  Like Lauren, there are many students who may need time to adjust and feel comfortable before engaging in social activities beyond their academic pursuits.  I admit it is a work in progress for me to reconcile my own expectations with Lauren’s choices. But, as Lauren’s mom, I am learning to understand that I need to achieve balance between supporting and guiding her while giving her the space she needs to navigate her high school experience autonomously.  By maintaining open lines of communication and understanding students’ preferences, including Lauren’s, we can create an environment that fosters acceptance, flexibility, and personal growth.

The transition to high school is a significant milestone for students, filled with both excitement and challenges.  As guidance counsellors, we have a vital role in supporting their journey.  We need to remember that each student’s high school experience is unique, and by striking a balance between involvement and individuality, we can empower them to thrive and find their own path to success.

By: Anna Macri