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Stepping Up: Preparing for middle school

Posted November 2, 2015
Updated November 3, 2015

Here we are: On the cusp of watching our young children grow into young adults. They are most definitely still children, but, boy, are we getting glimpses of the teenagers they are about to become.

I'm right there with you. I have a rising middle schooler. These tween years between elementary school and high school can be a source of all kinds of anxieties for parents. But it doesn't have to be all bad. In fact, other than the natural and entirely normal pushes and pulls, it can be mostly good.

First, if you're going through this transition with your child, I highly recommend reading the book "Middle School Makeover," by Charlotte mom and middle school expert Michelle Icard.

Second, let's talk about figuring out which middle school they'll attend if you live in Wake County and plan on sending them to the county's public school system.

Wake County Public School System has 33 middle schools across the county, including some magnet and year-round options, along with two single-gender academies that start at the sixth grade. Let's get started. (We covered elementary school yesterday. High school is planned for tomorrow).

What are my options?

There is your base option, of course, which you can determine by looking up your address on Wake schools' address look-up site. That site also will list your magnet and year-round options.

Even if you plan on moving up to your base school, it's best to check in on the school's website or call the school's office to find out about any upcoming open houses or tours planned. (My daughter's base school has an open house this month). Just like in elementary school, the tours and open houses can give you a great look inside the school where your child is going to spend so much time. Your child also can see the school, meet some teachers and, hopefully, start looking forward to that next step.

Also, check with your elementary school's guidance counselor, who can be a wealth of information on the topic and can set you on the right path.

How can I learn about my magnet options?

If you're considering your magnet options, the best place to start is the upcoming Magnet School Fair, which is 9 a.m. to noon, Nov. 7, at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School. Representatives from every single magnet school in the county will be there to answer your questions. The Wake Young Men's and Young Women's leadership academies, covering both middle school and high school, also will attend.

What are these leadership academies?

These are single-gender campuses covering sixth to twelfth grade near downtown Raleigh. They offer an early college component at St. Augustine's University, which allow students to earn college credits while still in high school. Students have the option of staying for a 13th year to accumulate up to two years of college credits towards a Bachelor's degree (for free!). They also are the only public schools in Wake County to require a uniform. Kids in sixth to tenth grade wear uniforms.

You can find out more on the websites for the Wake Young Men's and Young Women's academies.

You can also attend upcoming sessions at the leadership academies to get more information and ask questions. The Young Women's Leadership Academy, 303 Ashe Ave., Raleigh, will hold an information session at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 5. The Young Men's academy, 567 E. Hargett St., Raleigh, will host a session at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 12.

Now is the time to apply for the academies. The application period for the leadership academies (along with the early college high schools and career academy for older students) started last month. It runs through Dec. 14. Students are selected based on prioritized criteria.

But these are different from magnet schools? Right?

Yes. They are different from Wake's magnet schools, which have a separate online application period in January. All Wake County magnet middle schools will host open houses during two sessions on Nov. 17. Check with the schools that you're interested in to learn more about what's planned on those days. These, again, are great times for parents and students to learn more about the school and its various programs.

The school system also will hold magnet middle school evening information sessions from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Dec. 3, at East Millbrook Magnet Middle School, and Dec. 8 at Davis Drive Elementary School. Wake County schools has a handy flier listing all of the upcoming magnet school tours, open houses and more.

So when is the application period for the magnet middle schools?

Just like magnet elementary schools, the online application period for magnet middle schools is Jan. 7 to Jan. 22. Families are welcome to fill out the application, ranking their top picks, at any time during this period (no preference is given to those who, for instance, filled it out Jan. 7 compared to those who completed it on Jan. 20). Families will learn on Feb. 5 if they've been selected to attend a school.

If you are new to the system - maybe your child was homeschooled for elementary school or attended a private or charter school or just moved to Wake County - you will need to register your child at her base school before you can apply for a magnet seat. New student registration begins Jan. 7.

Some important things to know:

All students, who are currently attending magnet elementary schools and want to follow their magnet pathway at middle school, must apply, though they have high priority in the selection process.

If a student is attending her base elementary school and plans on moving up to her base middle school, she does not need to do anything.

For year-round options, families may apply for their calendar option school. That happens during the Early Transfer process, which is Feb. 8 to Feb. 12. It also is an online application. Families also can apply for Hilburn Academy, a kindergarten through eighth grade school, during the Early Transfer process. (I know! So many options!).

When I go on these tours and information sessions, what should I ask?

Your questions about middle school probably aren't close to the concerns you might have had when your child was a rising kindergartner - like is there snack and nap time. Parents often ask about how middle school "teams" work. In middle school, teams of two to five teachers share responsibility for specific groups of students.

According to Wake schools' middle school overview page: "As a team, teachers are better able to address students' needs, and parents will find communication with and among teachers to be easier. Teacher teams prove invaluable in assisting students as they make the academic and social transition between elementary school and high school."

Other questions to ask could cover opportunities for academically gifted students such as availability of advanced math programs; tutoring options; sports; other extracurriculars such as drama or academic teams; access to technology - their own smartphones if they have one and the school's; and annual school events.

Can I do this a year in advance?

As I wrote yesterday, I've had parents of toddlers ask me when to start the school process in the past. That's way too early for middle school. But, last year, when my daughter was in fourth grade, my husband and I toured a couple of middle schools to see what our options might be. This year, we will go on those same tours with our daughter as she'll play a big role in this decision. Another great place to learn more about the various schools is at the Magnet School Fair this Saturday (see above for details).

What are my kid's chances of actually getting into a magnet school?

Again, as I said yesterday, I'm not going to even attempt to answer that one! There's a formula involved that depends on your neighborhood, whether your base school is crowded and other categories. Wake County schools breaks it down on its website.

Join me, WRAL anchor Kathryn Brown and and Tamani Anderson Powell, director of Wake County Public School System's magnet and curriculum enhancement programs, at 10 a.m., Wednesday, for a live webchat. If you have questions, be sure to share them here on Go Ask Mom, @GoAskMom on Twitter (use #SteppingUp) or on Go Ask Mom's Facebook page.

Live Q&A Stepping Up: Questions for parents


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