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I believe that choosing a new school for your child might be one of the more stressful parenting decisions we have to face. We feel tremendous pressure to “get it right” for our child. Most of us remember middle school as a time of uncertainty and insecurity as well.

This being said, the process is much easier than we make it out to be.

School Culture

I frequently tell parents to “trust your instincts about the school’s culture.” School culture is the intangible feeling you get when you are in the building. It is the energy, the productivity level, the comfort level, and the enthusiasm you sense interacting with the students, teachers, and principal.

  • Everyone in the school should be approachable and able to talk about their experience.
  • Students should be smiling and have easy, calm interactions with one another. Teachers should be warm and project professionalism.
  • The administration should be able to easily answer any curricular and procedural questions.

Simply put, is it a happy, productive place?

Outside the Classroom

Each student arrives with unique talents and abilities. Make certain you ask about extracurricular opportunities for your child and have a chance to speak to that coach or sponsor. There should be teams or clubs that welcome anyone interested, in addition to the traditional “try out” sports. Students should be presented a treasure trove of academic, athletic, service, and fine arts offerings. I describe middle school as the smorgasbord years. This is the time to try a bit of everything! Finding ways for your child to engage beyond the classroom is especially critical during these adolescent years. Connection to other students, a trusted adult, and the school in general grounds kids. They feel anchored, create their identity, and are happier overall.

High School Prep

Middle school moves students from concrete thinking to the abstract thinking skills needed in high school and beyond. Ask the principal or guidance counselor about the curriculum, and the ways the school differentiates abilities and learning styles.

  • Are there opportunities to earn high school credits?
  • Are there world language courses?
  • Is there academic support for learning differences?


We strongly recommend children “shadowing” for a day. They make a friend, and spend the day experiencing the school. This truly creates an opportunity for your child to get a sense of how the place operates and if they can envision themselves a part of it.

So, go visit.

Ask questions.

Ask to speak to students and coaches.

And trust your instincts about the school’s culture.

By Kari Alderman, Middle School Head