DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - May 25, 2007

The 411: Calming eighth-graders' qualms about high school

by Katharine O'Hara

As the school year is drawing to an end, eighth-graders will be closing the current chapter of their educational career, and preparing to embark on the sinuous four-year journey of high school. With a brother in eighth grade now, and having gone through the transition myself, I am well aware of both the excitement and qualms many eighth-graders feel at this time about this new experience that has been so built up in their minds for years by teen movies, magazines and gossipy chatter. That said, I find it necessary to explore the basis of some of these fears and sources of excitement for these soon-to-be freshmen.

Coming from junior high, which many view as boring and unchallenging, most of the graduating Charlotte Wood Middle School eighth-graders I talked to are eagerly awaiting the opportunities for involvement, the activities, friends and freedom high school has to offer.

"I am excited for high school because junior high is very boring. There are no interesting classes, and it just isn't a challenge," said Gabby Patton.

"Most kids are excited because they want to be with their older friends and have overall more freedom and maturity," said Chili Corder.

This concept of greater independence and the ability to hang out with friends who may have graduated from junior high in a preceding year is an alluring feature of high school that I had when I was at this same point.

"I am looking forward to the fact that there will be more activities to get involved with because the school is bigger. A lot of people are excited that there will be more people in our grade, and more people with common interests," remarked Victoria Kwan.

Having often felt frustrated with the juvenile nature of middle school work (coloring maps, etc.), I can remember wondering whether (and hoping) high school work would be more serious and less of a waste of a time.

"Most kids who care about academics are excited about high school because junior high doesn't challenge students much and they are looking forward to feeling like they are actually doing meaningful work," said eighth-grader Sean O'Hara, who happens to be my brother.

Aside from being excited about these new opportunities, many of these eighth-graders still have some qualms about entering high school in the fall. It is not surprising that some are even plagued by fear of the "Mean Girls" phenomenon.

"I am a little bit scared because I might not have any classes with my friends, and that girls will be mean," said Victoria Kwan.

Looking back at my own experience and transition from middle to high school, I remember, as I am sure many of my peers can, running all the possible high school fiascos through my head. Though pertinent and realistic issues to me then, reflecting back on this, the worries seem so juvenile and ridiculous now. High school was not nearly as bad as I presupposed. In fact, the "tween" obsession with cliques and petty drama has surprisingly even calmed down by high school.

When talking about high school fears, it is overwhelmingly necessary to discuss anxious anticipation of the homework load. If there is one thing these eighth-graders have in common, it is a genuine anxiety about the rumored large amount of homework and difficult tests, especially in balance with various other activities.

"I am worried about the work load in high school. I am probably going to have a hard time with homework because I play on two soccer teams and will be playing football on top of that," said Scott Rider.

"I am a little scared - not only about homework, but about harder testing - that I will slip and not get into a good college," said Gabby Patton.

It is somewhat saddening to me that kids as young as 13 or 14 are already worrying about getting into college. At this age college was of slight concern in my thoughts, but it seems even in the last four years since I was in eighth grade, this anticipation of college has grown larger.

Students who have had older siblings enter high school before them say this has helped to assuage these fears and to calm their anticipation of entering high school.

"I think having an older brother has helped because he has reassured me that high school is a lot better than middle school," said Rider. "It is also comforting to know I will have my brother to help if I am having problems at school."

Having been the first to enter high school in my family, I cannot relate to this relief of having an older sibling to guide me, but I can imagine that having this degree of knowledge about the unknown is certainly comforting.

Lastly, the junior high experience is not complete without the gossip factor. Nick Ajer, a current freshman at San Ramon Valley High School, describes some of the rumors he heard and believed as a graduating eighth-grader.

"I always thought classes were going to be really hard, that the homework was going to be way too much to handle, and that I wouldn't have any time to do any other activities. But once I got here, it was not nearly as bad as I thought," said Ajer. "I also heard one rumor that kids who date freshman year 'go all the way,' but that's not actually true."

While there is more sex, drugs and alcohol in high school than there was in middle school, the participation in these activities is often over-exaggerated. It is absolutely acceptable not to engage in these activities, and you'll often find that a significant portion of students chose not to. Aside from this increase in sex, drugs and alcohol, more difficult work, and shifting and expanding groups of friends, high school really isn't an experience much different from junior high and is certainly nothing to worry about. It is simply a new chapter in an ever-expanding book, which should be encountered with enthusiasm and excitement, rather than fear and anxiety.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a junior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at ohara5@comcast.net.

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