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Research & Publications

Maximizing the Middle: Reflections on United Way’s Middle Grades Success and Transition Challenge


The middle grades are a time of dramatic growth for youth. This is a time period marked by significant physical and emotional changes, as adolescents experience the early stages puberty and a late spurt in brain development. It is also a time marked by the increasing importance and influence of peers and increasing independence from parents and other family members.

In schools, the middle grades mark a unique period of transition. Students entering middle schools are exposed to a more fluid environment with changing classes, multiple teachers, rotating schedules, and significantly larger numbers of students at each grade level that come from different elementary schools. There are increased expectations for student academic performance and behavior/self-control. Middle grades students are also expected to assume greater responsibility for their learning and to develop and put to use critical work-study skills including task persistence, completing assignments and projects on time, time management, and organizational skills.

A growing body of research demonstrates that strengthening the middle grades experience is a critical leverage point for improving high school graduation rates and increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for higher education.