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Why Is Middle School So Tough?


Middle school can be a tough transitional period. Students leave the comfortable nest of elementary school and face new challenges like harder classes and older kids.

Middle school students and the obstacles they face were the focus on Monday’s noon hour of “Think.” The show reairs tonight at 9 on KERA 90.1 FM or listen online.

As part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative, we talked to some middle schoolers hanging out at the mall to find out what they’re up against.

Francisco Chavira says parents don’t really understand what it’s like at his school. The 14-year-old is an eighth grader at Clark Junior High in Princeton, a suburb northeast of Dallas. He says he’s pretty social and does OK in school. Still, there are some downsides.

“Some of the classes are kind of hard, and things go on in the school like the bullying stuff,” Chavira says. “They think it’s easy for us and it goes smoothly, but it doesn’t.”

Francisco says he hasn’t been a victim of bullying, but he sees it happen to other students a lot. And that worries him.

“People hang out in their certain groups and I guess when people don’t like each other, they get their groups and they go get someone and single someone out,” Francisco says.

Wendy Middlemiss, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of North Texas, has done extensive research on the four biggest milestones of a child’s school years. One of them is when they enter middle school.

“There’s so much going on. There are changes in expectations. There are changes in the structure of school,” Middlemiss says. “There are also cognitive changes, how kids start thinking about themselves.”

She says these changes – and even the ones kids haven’t experienced yet – can be a little unsettling.

Read more about middle school on KERA’s Class of 17 education blog.

And learn more about how This American Life came up with an episode called Middle School.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.