Making the Jump to High School

In a Q&A session on the topic of high school, grade 8 students at Shanghai American School met with a panel of eight seniors in April. There, they met a few seniors who took their entire four years very seriously, but they also heard stories from those who took a more relaxed approach when it came to high school.  

These eight students had taken different courses, competed in different sports, and were involved in the school in different ways. “They all had a different journey, and they were all going to good universities,” Pudong high school teacher and Link Crew advisor Matt Clapp shared.  

The myth that high school is a linear path that every student must follow was debunked before they even stepped into the high school. Mimi ’25, a rising freshman in the fall, said, “You got to see what it was like for them, and it showed you a variety of experience that you might take on eventually in high school.” 

Welcome to our two-part story about the transitions our students undergo between elementary, middle, and high school. This article will cover Shanghai American School’s middle school to high school transition program. At the end of the article, you’ll find some advice from our teachers.   

This team of juniors and seniors who welcome the incoming freshmen each year and support them in their first year of high school are Link Leaders. Months before entering high school, grade 8 students already meet the student leaders. On our Puxi campus, grade 8 students have the opportunity to shadow high school students during a lunch block, which often involves attending a high school club meeting for the first time. Over in Pudong, students this year attended five sessions where topics like grades, balance, support, and extracurricular’s were all individually addressed. On both campuses, the teachers have the students break out into 15-student small groups after the group talk in order to discuss their concerns in a more comfortable setting. 

Mimi recalled that it was useful hearing high school students openly sharing their experiences following the presentation from the teacher, “The students themselves admit faults and say, ‘Oh I messed up on these tests, but my teachers were there to help me.’” 

Over the summer, the reaching out continues. For instance, Link Leaders from Puxi campus make a phone call to each rising freshman telling them, “I’m excited you’re coming, what questions do you have?” Puxi high school teacher and 6th year Link Crew advisor Dave Wood said they want incoming freshmen to know that someone cares about their wellbeing even if they’re on campus yet.  

“They really emphasized ‘we are here for you’, and I think that was really important for everyone to hear,” said Mimi.  

In the fall each year, freshmen will be again welcomed by Link Leaders.  

Through simple activities, Link Crew hold important discussions with new freshmen. One game Link Leaders introduce is “Juggling”. A ball is passed around by a circle of students initially. Then a second ball gets added, and a third ball, and the fourth ball. Matt said, “Obviously it becomes a lot more difficult when there’s more.” The Link Leaders then proceed to ask questions after the activity: What did you notice from the activity? How could this translate to your life in school? Are there times when you have to juggle different things at once? Matt added, “There’s always a good outro that follows a specific line of questioning where we ask the students to think about how this may be relevant to their own lives.” Students go home that day having reflected on how they would manage and cope with more responsibilities.  

Leaders also initiate smaller get togethers, bringing the freshmen to watch the JV sports teams for instance and encouraging them to try out for sports they enjoy.  

The program is integrated into Pudong’s weekly advisory block. Matt said, “They know they can find their Link Leaders every Tuesday.”  

After the concentrated series of activities, the students leaders continue to support their freshmen mentees. One Puxi student said, “They always said hi to me in the hallways. They gave me great advice during finals week.” 

With great leaders come future leaders in the making. Dave noticed a common sentiment mentioned in the Link Leader applications he was reviewing in his third year as an advisor. Because they had a great experience being mentees in their freshmen year, the same students started to apply to become leaders in their junior year.  

Now onto some notes from our teachers: 

  • This is your high school story. Not your parents’; not your friends’.  

  • Relax this summer. Instead of placing too much stress on yourself, find some things that help you recharge and use this time this summer to do those things. They’re going to help mentally prepare you to enter high school for four years. 

  • Grades are not the only thing. While we are concerned with your academics, we are also concerned about your socio-emotional wellbeing. We want you to have fun in sports, or music or clubs. We want you to have a positive experience. If you’re only focused on one thing, you’re going to miss out on a lot of other opportunities that are presented to you.  

  • Focus on working on a skill over the letter grade. Yes grades matter, but when you get an assessment back, also ask yourself, what skills can you improve on?  

  • Read more. It doesn’t have to be a certain academic subject. Pick up a subject you’re interested in. Read a variety of genres. We would encourage you to read a variety of authors, so they get an idea of how different people communicate their ideas. Ask yourself: what you appreciate about this. What would I do to emulate that in my own writing? 

  • There are high school student and adults looking out for you. They want to help you work through this from Day 1. Just know there are people who are going to help you.  



Read part one of the series: Making the Jump to Middle School

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