Maneuvering Middle School

Q: How can I stay involved in my son’s education as he enters middle school this year? In elementary school, I was a room mother and very active in the PTA. Now, he wants me to back off and stay away from his new school.
– Concerned

A: Being involved in your children’s education definitely becomes trickier and trickier for parents after they leave elementary school. Many, like your son, are no longer eager for their parents to come to school or to talk to their teachers. Nevertheless, your involvement in his education remains a key to his success in middle school just like it was in elementary school. Here are some ways to help you stay involved in your son’s education:
• Read the handbook the school sent to your home. It will help you understand how things are done at your son’s new school. Pay particular attention to the sections on attendance, grading, contacting teachers, and all the rules and regulations. For example, if your son says he needs to stay after school for a detention, you will know the approximate reason why this could have occurred.
• Keep up with what is going on at your child’s school by reading all the information that the school sends out. Be sure to sign up for e-mail newsletters. If the school has a Web site, it will be a great source of information. And possibly some of his teachers may have pages on the Web site telling what is happening in different classes.
• Continue to be involved with the PTA. It will let you know so much about what is happening at the school and how to play a role in implementing policies to improve the school.
• Attend events in which your son is involved, as well as those for parents. This includes such things as science fairs, sports events, choir performances and PTA meetings.
• Volunteer to help in whatever ways your schedule will allow. This allows you to learn even more about how the school works.
• Very important: Talk to your son every day to learn about his day at school. Make sure it’s a real conversation – not one that seems like an inquisition. Many families use the evening mealtime to discuss what everyone did that day.
• When problems occur at school, don’t rush to resolve them unless your immediate involvement is necessary. Instead, talk with your son asking him to devise ways that he can resolve them. This will help him learn how to handle school problems.

Q: The school year has scarcely started and already the fifth-grade teacher is talking about having my daughter skip to sixth grade. This will mean moving her from elementary to middle school. She isn’t too enthused about leaving her friends behind, but she obviously has mastered the fifth grade material already. Are there any studies on accelerating students that might guide us in making this decision?
– To Skip or Not

A: Most research shows that gifted students who are accelerated typically do well academically. In fact, it may improve their motivation and scholarship. Some researchers even advocate skipping extremely gifted children more than one year. A few accelerated students are unhappy, nevertheless, because they are no longer the best students in their classes.
Parents tend to worry about the emotional effects of skipping a grade. They are concerned that their children will be riding bikes while their older classmates are driving cars and dating. Unfortunately, few studies have been conducted on the emotional consequences of skipping a grade. Some researchers think that the skipped students could be more mature than their age-peers and not affected by skipping. Others are in favor of keeping gifted students with their peers and enriching the curriculum.
Parents should send questions to or ask them on the columnists’ Web site at