It is well-understood that high school performance becomes the backbone of a student’s college application, having a significant impact on their life trajectory. It is no wonder then, that data shows an abundance of national resources is invested in high school programming/high school graduation rates. However, what is so often overlooked in this conversation is the vital role of middle school in laying the groundwork for high school readiness.
A strong performance in middle school—marked by regular attendance, satisfactory grades, and positive engagement with teachers and peers—is correlated with increased engagement in High School. For this reason, a child’s social-emotional wellbeing as well as their ability to establish healthy academic engagement during middle school becomes critical to their life path.
Developmental psychologists pinpoint early adolescence, a child’s middle school years, as the beginning of the key developmental task of identity formation. This is a time when youth begin the important work of deciding on their beliefs, their values, and ultimately, their sense of self.
Central questions that emerge during this time will include: What do I believe in? Who are my most trusted peers? Who am I? What is possible for me in life?
While early childhood was once believed to be the most influential stage in a person’s neurological development, recent studies reveal significant changes occurring in the structure and function of the brain during early adolescence.
Studies out of UCLA and the National Institute of Mental Health show a surge in neurological development initiated during the middle school years—changes that effectively rewire and remodel the adolescent brain for greater efficiency and specialization (neurological processes known as “dendritic pruning” and “myelination”).
Otherwise put, researchers now understand that the adolescent brain is still very much “under construction,” with the middle school years marking the onset of a period of meaningful change.