Despite the dizzying pace of change in the world, fears of today’s 5th-graders are remarkably similar to those of their parents and older siblings, according to a recent survey of 225 Alabama students about to enter middle school.
Undressing in front of others for P.E. was students’ top concern followed by taking harder subjects, taking tests and using a locker.
The transition from elementary school to middle school is an exciting and intimidating step every generation of children takes toward growing independence. How do the fears of today’s students compare to the fears of children 10 years ago and 5 years ago? Do concerns differ based on gender, race or school type (suburban/urban)?
“Difficulty opening lockers is identified in the literature as a typical concern of middle grades students and a factor that may contribute to lost instructional time at the beginning of the school year,” the researchers write. “Our analysis revealed differences based on racial background, as both African American and students of ‘other’ races were more concerned with using a locker in middle school than white students.”
In general, girls are more apprehensive than boys about their transition to sixth grade. Female students were significantly more concerned than male students about getting lost, being pressured by peers to drink and smoke, being bullied, and meeting academic challenges, according to the survey results.
African-American students were more concerned than white students about having enough time to eat lunch and inner-city students were more concerned than students at the urban, suburban and rural schools about having enough time for lunch. More than 90% of the African-American students in this study were enrolled at inner-city schools, which had the highest percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch.
“The inner-city students may have shown a higher level of worry regarding sufficient time to complete their meals at lunch because of a lack of access to sufficient meals outside of school,” the researchers write. “Also, lunch lines tend to be longer at schools with high numbers of students receiving free or reduced lunch, so students toward the end of the line have less time to eat.”
Restroom use was a greater concern to students of other races than to write and African-American students and it was also a greater concern to students attending inner-city schools than students at suburban schools. Students attending inner-city schools were more concerned about making new friends and belonging to the right clubs or groups than their peers at suburban and rural schools. One possible explanation for this difference could be that suburban students tend to have more opportunities for socializing with peers through extracurricular activities. Rural students expressed greater concern about getting lost in their new school than suburban students.
Researchers did not include teachers as concerns in the instrument, which may be an excellent avenue for future research, according to the authors. Survey respondents were able to write in additional concerns, and 11% said having a “mean” or “bad” teacher was a worry. The researchers note that because self-management is a major goal in the middle grades, middle school teachers may be viewed as less warm and nurturing than elementary grade teachers. Focus group interviews with students could increase our understanding of why middle school teachers may be viewed as “mean,” they write.
Survey respondents attended four elementary schools in one Alabama district serving 60,000 students.
“An Investigation of the Concerns of Fifth Graders Transitioning to Middle School,” by Gahan Bailey, Rebecca Giles, Sylvia Rogers, Online Research in Middle Level Education, 2015, Volume 38, Number 5.