December 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW7

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Raleigh County, West Virginia Student Transition from Elementary to Middle School Extension Program

The transition to middle school brings apprehension to both students and parents. The Raleigh County Transition Camp offers students a 1-week camping experience to help prepare them for junior high school. The evaluation for the 1999 program revealed that students who attended the program increased their levels of excitement and enthusiasm toward attending junior high school. Conversely, camping program attendees experienced decreased levels of anxiety toward attending a new school.

R. Dewayne McGrady
Extension Agent, Extension Assistant Professor
West Virginia University
Beckley, West Virginia
Internet Address:

Patrick Nestor
Extension Specialist-Volunteer Development
Extension Associate Professor
West Virginia University
Weston, West Virginia
Internet Address:


The transitions students make during their years of schooling are usually major events in their lives and the lives of their parents. The anxiety and stress created by these transitions can be minimized when the surroundings are responsive to the students. The transition to middle school brings apprehension to both students and their parents (Smith, 1991). The common concerns dealing with transitions from elementary school into middle school identified by students include social, organizational, motivational, and academic factors (Schumacher, 1998).

Increased attention has been devoted to the impact of changes in the educational environment on the functioning of children. The shift from elementary school to middle school has been an indicator in lowered perceptions of academic success, academic motivation, and interest in learning (Harter, Rumbaugh-Whitesell, & Kowalski, 1992). School transition affecting early adolescence students leads to a decline in self-esteem, class preparation, and grade points across race, ethnicity, and gender (Seidman, 1994).

Middle school environments are different in routine, classes, room make-up, and overall structure. Many middle schools are larger than elementary school, presenting students with larger social networks and challenges, and creating a lengthy adjustment period for them. These changes in school size and structure contribute to the decline in academic performance and motivation observed with the transition (Anderman & Midgely, 1996; Combs, 1993; Harter, et al., 1992; James & Boyles, 1985;).

Transition Challenges

Transition programs offer students and parents an opportunity to become familiar with expectations, routines, curricula, classmates, and buildings before the new school year begins (Camoni, 1996). In 1994, Ferguson and Bulach studied fifth and sixth grade students in Fayette County, Georgia to compare the social adjustment of students who participated in a transition program. The design of the program was to pair up incoming students (n=54) with current students (n=54) for one day to familiarize them with the schedule, structure, and school environment. The findings from the study indicated that students who were paired up with current students were socially better adjusted, exhibited lower anxiety levels, and fewer problems finding needed facilities (Freguson & Bulach, 1994).

Additionally, in 1996 Kurita examined different types of student support to determine how stress and anxiety of school transition is mediated. The types of support examined included the emotional, social companionship, tangible, and informational links students possessed. Students were to indicate on a survey the types or amount of support they received for parents, friends, and teachers. The results showed that parents provide more tangible support than teachers and friends, and more emotional support than teachers (Kurita & Janzen, 1996).

During school transition, students' lives become stressed, anxious, and distraught, brought on by changes in environment, school programs, organizational structure, and social interactions. These stresses complicate students learning processes, lower their confidence and their overall self-worth. During these life transitions, students need support, guidance, compassion, and information from parents, friends, teachers, and caring adults to strengthen their academic success and social achievement (Weldy, 1991).

Raleigh County Transition Camp

Developed as a school retention strategy, the Raleigh County Transition Camp began in 1992. The goal of the residential camp is to assist rising seventh grade students with the transition to junior high school. The program is available to all rising seventh grade students at no cost. Elementary school counselors, teachers, WVU Extension faculty, and camp teen mentors recruit students.

Four sessions of the program are offered during the month of July. Three of the county's junior high schools have their own week of camp. A week of camp is held for two of the county's smaller junior high schools. Students who graduate from elementary schools that feed into a particular school are eligible to participate in that school's week of camp. For example, a student who graduates from one of the four elementary schools in the Shady Spring District will attend the camp for Shady Spring Junior High School.

During the camping sessions, students participate in a variety of activities that are designed to promote positive social interaction and positive peer relations. Students are transported by county school buses to the camp on Monday morning. They are introduced to each other through a series of cooperative games. Students are then assigned to one of four groups that they will participate with during the entire week. Each group has its own cabin/sleeping quarters for girls and boys (total of eight cabins). Students are in their group with one or two friends from their old school and new students.

Four classes are taught in the morning during the week. Duration of each class is 50 minutes, with 5-minute intervals between classes. Classes for the 1999 camping session were model rockets, cooperative games, hemp jewelry, and nutrition education.

Afternoons on Tuesday and Thursday are spent at the Beckley City Pool. Following dinner on these days students participate in large group interactive craft activities. On Wednesdays students are treated to a picnic at the New River Gorge National Park. At the park, students are involved in educational programs and hikes conducted by the National Park Service. The evening concludes with a performance of Theatre West Virginia's Outdoor Musical Drama.

Each evening at camp students participate in campfires, organized dances, and discussion groups with teen mentors. Issues for discussion groups include drug abuse, violence prevention, and what to do if a student experiences bullying or harassment from other students. The camping program ends on Friday afternoons following lunch.


The last camping session ended on July 23. The first day of school for students was August 26. Surveys were mailed to the parents of students on October 19.

Campers were randomly selected to participate in the current evaluation. The number of students sampled was determined by the number of students who participated in each of the 4 weeks of the camping program. Enrollment for each week of camp varied. Therefore, the survey sample size for a specific week of camp was relevant to the enrollment for that week of camp. Attendance for the first week of camp was 66. A sample size of 24 or 36% of participants was selected for the evaluation. Enrollment for week two of camp was 74. A sample size of 26 or 35% was selected for the assessment. Week three attendance was 40. A sample of 15 or 37% was selected. One hundred nine campers attended the final week of camp. Thirty-eight participants or 34% of the campers was selected to survey.

A total of 103 surveys were mailed to the parents of campers. A cover letter explaining the purpose of the survey and instructions for the parents accompanied the survey. Thirty-eight surveys were returned for analysis. Rate of return for survey was 37%. Mean scores were calculated to determine the level of agreement to disagreement for each of the statements using a four point Likert-type scale rating.


Based on the findings and of the overall outcomes of the responses from the parents of children attending Raleigh County Transition Camp, the camp was successful. The parental responses indicated that they observed improved changes in their children's level of excitement and enthusiasm about going to junior high school. They also noted a lessened level of anxiety in their children. Parents agreed that the transition camp program helped lower their children's anxiety about attending junior high school.

Parents' responses concerning the activities were rated as high. The only low response indicated by the parents dealt with the nutrition activity, which can be reviewed and changed for next year's camp.


Anderman, E. M., & Midgely, C. (1996). Changes in achievement goal orientation after the transition to middle school. Paper presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Boston, MA.

Camoni, G. A. (1996). Crossing the bridge to middle school. Principal. 76 (1), p. 4849.

Combs, H. J. (1993). A middle school transition program: Addressing the social side of school. ERS Spectrum, 11 (1), pp. 12-21.

Ferguson, J., & Bulach, C. (1994). The effect of the shadow transition program on the social adjustment of Whitewater middle school students. Unpublished manuscript for Fayette County, Georgia school system.

Harter, S., Whitesell-Rumbaugh, N., & Kowalski, P. (1992). Individual differences in the effect of educational transitions on young adolescent's perceptions of competence and motivational orientation. American Educational Research Journal, 29 (4), pp. 777-807.

James, M. A., & Boyles, L. E. (1985). A teamed approach to making the transition to a middle school. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Kansas Association of School Boards, Topeka, KS.

Schumacher, D. (1998). The transition to middle school. ERIC Digest (On-line). ED433119. Abstract from: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. Champaign, IL. Available at:

Seidman, E. (1994). The impact of school transitions in early adolescence on the self-system and perceived social context of poor urban youth. Child Development, 65 (2), pp. 507-522.

Smith, K. A., (1991). Easing the transition between elementary and middle school. Schools in the Middle 1. pp. 29-31

Weldy, G. R. (1995). Critical transitions. Schools in the Middle 4. (3), pp. 5-7.

Weldy, G. R., (199 1). Stronger school transitions improve student achievement: A final report on a three-year demonstration project strengthening school transitions for students K-13. Paper presented at the annual meeting of National Association of Secondary School Principals, Reston, VA.