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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Middle School: A Perspective Looking Back at the Awkward Years

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

When applying for kindergarten, parents feel comfortable looking into the curriculum of the early grades. However, with most San Francisco privates running K-8 or K-12, they are also choosing a middle school. This year, my eldest started high school and has told me how well prepared he feels, but has also noticed that students coming from different middle schools have different levels of preparation.


Executive Function Skills: What does that mean?

All my articles on middle school touch on this important topic. Executive Function are essentially study skills: how to take notes, study for tests and quizzes, make summary outlines, and stay on top of homework and longer term projects. Group skills are also important: group projects when some teammates don’t do their portion of their work, or, as my high schooler laments, when a teammate pastes memes all over the presentation. Self Simple day-to-day skills are handy – how to organize your papers, how to leverage your locker, and how to get from class to class on time. Advocacy is also important – when you catch a mistake in a test, you are absent and need to make up assignments, or you disagree about your grade. Most high school teachers will not share your student’s log in, and certainly, college professors will not take an email from the parent, so preparing to grow those skills will allow your student to take over their own education. SF public schools often have an AVID program to teach these skills to students in special education, and private schools often teach these skills to all students.


Social Emotional Skills

It is never too early to learn how to get along well with others. Making friends and continuing those friendships sets our children up well for their future happiness, as well as work success. From personal arguments to recess brawls to group project disagreements, conflict resolution skills will be invaluable. A well thought out SEL program teaches students from the earliest years how to develop those relationships and handle the rocky times.

Academic Skills

Sorting the skills into subject areas, the following are the most used skills in high school and beyond:

  • Reading – Skills that allow your student to absorb material in a timely manner, not missing key details but also not spending an inordinate amount of time in weekly reading assignments. Both fiction and nonfiction (think STEM subjects as well as history) are common genres. Students that prep for reading comprehension tests often understand how to prioritize details to recall later, while saving time.

  • Writing – Essays are among the most common requirements of higher learning. Think back to your own college or high school days, and consider both “term papers” as well as “blue book” essay tests. Learning to write a coherent paragraph, as well as a longer essay will come in use in almost every class.

  • Math – Most upper level courses allow a calculator, so while your student must handle basic calculations on their own, math concepts matter the most. Algebra I in 8th grade allows your student to complete through a year of calculus in high school. This is most important if your student might want to major in a STEM subject. Physics, among other subjects, is best calculated with calculus, whereas biology leverages statistics. Most colleges will credit any high school math classes taken in high school; UC’s strongly prefer geometry no earlier than 7th grade, but are open to Algebra I and/or at any time before high school.

  • Foreign Language – Your student can take foreign language in high school, but middle school classes can help your child place ahead and go further in less time. Depending on your high school, your student might be placed in more advanced language classes, and many colleges will give middle school foreign languages a 50% credit towards high school requirements in order to apply, which frees up space for other electives or allows your student to take an AP year. Or, if your child is not able to place out of the entry level class, the prior experience would make the class easier, reducing 9th grade stress.


Puberty – The Awkward Years

Most students start puberty during middle school or soon before. For this reason, many K-8 private schools have shifted their middle school to begin at 5th grade. A smaller environment – smaller classes and a smaller school – allow for more personal attention during puberty. Many private schools use an advisory approach, in which students are grouped into small advisories, where they discuss Social Emotional and Executive Function topics. In addition, students will commonly attend a puberty or sex education class, which is often led by a specialist in the subject, such as a health or puberty educator. Support while wading through early puberty can make these years easier for your student, and by association, the parents.


Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco. Email to learn more about her services.



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