Helping Students Transition to High School
The transition from junior to senior high school can be a difficult time for students—there are new schools, new schedules, new teachers and students, and new opportunities. It’s easy for freshmen to become lost and unnoticed as they try to figure out how to balance and prioritize their energy and time. As youth leaders, we need to provide ways for them to feel loved and connected as they make this transition. Below, you’ll find three ways you can make this time positive and encouraging for new freshmen.
There are many ways you can create memorable moments throughout your youth ministry. These are the moments that are going to stick with your students as they look back on their faith journey—they’re captured on social media and in the hearts and minds of students. So one of the best ways you can transition students from junior to senior high school is through a special ceremony.
Here’s an example of one way this can happen:
Camp can be a memorable week filled with crazy games, dynamic speakers, and powerful music. It’s a week during which students get messy in extreme competitions while hearing the gospel message and making commitments to follow Jesus. This experience creates a great environment for a special ceremony where you can encourage and challenge your eighth grade students before they make the transition into high school ministry. This ceremony can happen on the final morning at a special spot at camp. You could have the eighth graders stand in the lake while all the other students sit or stand on the pier above them. Read some Scripture, thank your eighth graders for their leadership and example, challenge them to rely on the Christian friends around them for accountability and encouragement over the next four years of high school, and end with a prayer of blessing. You could give them a special gift or letter as a reminder of this ceremony to keep with them as they enter high school. In this letter, try to encourage them with the ways God wants to transform them during the next four years. Prepare them for the pressures and temptations they may face. Give them an idea of the person God has created them to be.
You can transition students from junior to senior high school by creating bridges that connect the junior high and senior high ministries. This can be done through a class, service project, or any other ministry opportunity that begins while students are in junior high and ends after they enter high school.
Here’s an example of how this can look in your youth ministry:
Confirmation students can start their classes in January of their eighth grade year and finish in January of their freshman year. This can be a very positive way to get students and parents to commit to something meaningful, and it can be used as a way to transition students into the high school ministry. The students share a common goal and commitment as they develop their statement of faith, and they also leave junior high together and enter a new chapter in their lives. This also challenges them to keep their faith journey a priority.
A special event to welcome freshmen can be another great way to transition students. This event works really well during mid- to late-summer, or it could be something to kick off the school year. This event will help the new freshmen feel loved by the older high school students as well as by the adult leaders in the high school ministry. This is vital in helping freshmen feel connected and creating an opportunity for them to begin building lasting relationships with both students and leaders.
There are many positive welcome event experiences you can try in your ministry:
During the summer, you could have a special late night or lock-in where you have older high school students and adult leaders pick up freshmen at their houses for a fun scavenger hunt around town that ends at church with snacks, games, and testimonies from older students about high school life and the importance of youth ministry in their own lives. Another idea is to kick off your youth group in the fall with a night of team competitions that partner the freshmen with older students, a time of worship, and an opportunity to pray over new students as they enter high school.
It’s also important that through the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year that you encourage your high school students to invite the freshmen to school and church events. Challenge them to make an effort to connect with the new freshmen when they see them around school. Include freshmen as you take high school students and leaders out for lunch after church on Sundays. Informal hangout times can be a great way for freshmen to build bonds in the high school ministry. Encourage adult leaders to be present at school events to support the freshmen throughout the year but especially in the fall. Find lots of ways to be present in those students’ lives as they begin this new chapter, because when they feel connected to each other and included by the older students and leaders, they’ll want to be involved in your high school youth ministry.
ANDY JUVINALL is the Director of Junior High Ministry at Second Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, IL. He is the husband to Melissa, Father to a baby girl named Magdalene, and has been working in Middle School Youth Ministry for twelve years.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.