The youth-written stories in YCteen give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Contest Runners-Up #229
How was your transition to high school?
Writing Contest Winners

Prepare for Change

Shania Russell, 16, Bronx Academy of Letters, Bronx, NY
“High school is a different ball game,” was likely the most worn-out phrase in my middle school. Teacher after teacher, fed up with our interruptions, inactivity and general lack of interest in being productive would repeat it again and again, in their attempt to make us get the point. As much as they would try, we never did seem to get it. For me, it was because the phrase was rather difficult to believe. Even sitting in an 8th grade classroom, my acceptance letter in hand—when I knew for a fact that I was going somewhere new—I still didn’t believe it. It just seemed too far-fetched.

High school is the sort of significant thing that you can not help but walk into with high hopes or expectations. I hoped for lockers, best friends, teachers and everything else that made "Saved by the Bell" look so fun. But what I actually expected was exactly the same—middle school in a different building, with taller kids. Because of that, I walked in with the same attitude, prepared for another year of sliding by and getting through it. And that was the trouble with my transition into high school: I didn’t even realize it was a transition.

The uniforms were the first tip off. In middle school the polo shirt and dress pants dress code was ignored. The freshmen always wore it, sure—but as you went up the grades you cared less. Seventh graders wore dress pants but any top, while most seniors abandoned the uniform completely. Teachers would glare and even complain, but that was where it ended. No action was ever taken. My high school didn’t seem to get the memo. Breaking dress code suddenly meant you would be sent to the office, or serve detention. I was lost.

The detention policy was the next sign. We were made aware of it on the first day of school with it being enforced on the second. It worked very simply: if you were off-task, late, or unprepared, you served a 15-minute detention. If you did not complete homework, you stayed after school until you did. It made no sense to me; I never did homework in middle school, and that was that. There was no push, no penalty; you did it, or you didn’t, that was just how school worked. Or at least, how it used to. I groaned silently in complaint with everyone else, but I abided by it. I did homework every night, for no other reason than to keep out of detention. I figured my motives didn’t matter as long as I got the work done. Then I went to my first advisory meeting, where we learned what a transcript was.

We were each given two transcripts, the “good student” and the “bad student.” The good student showed good grades, attendance and test scores. The bad student was missing credits, had low grades, many absences, and awful test scores. It was the sort of student who didn’t care about when they were showing up to school, and didn’t do homework or study—the sort of student who just didn’t care. The student seemed insane, I thought, but oddly familiar. It was the kind of thought that never would have crossed my mind in middle school. My head was reeling as I came to a realization; I could very easily be that student. I was walking a thin line between the two, simply because my attitude was not adjusted to the reality of high school. The problem was, part of me did not want to adjust my attitude.

High school being like middle school meant that I could do what I had always done - just get through it, with no thought to the end result. If I accepted it as different— harder, or more important—then I would have to change, to improve in some way. Knowing that you have to get better is fairly terrifying when you aren’t sure how exactly to do it.
All I knew was that high school is different. Different enough that to get through it as something better than the “bad student”, I had to change. I had to put my mind in a different space; this meant no more groaning, or just getting by. I stepped up for my own benefit, and made sure I was prepared to play a completely different ball game.


Make Connections

Emma Bickford, 15, Cardinal Spellman High School, Braintree, MA
Transitioning to high school from middle school can be a jolt of new experiences. The classes are harder, the teachers are different, and maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family may become more of a challenge. When I transitioned into high school, I was surprised and nervous about the new experiences that I was about to face.

I went to a combined middle and elementary school when I was younger, so I had been with the same friends for years. In high school, all my friends were going different ways, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make new friends. Not knowing anyone in a sea of hundreds of people was daunting. I was worried that I wouldn't stay friends with my best friend since fifth grade.

When I got to high school, I found that the best way to make new friends was simply to talk to people. It was scary at first, but making connections by greeting people with a simple hello made it easier for me to feel like I belonged. I joined a few clubs, like Mock Trial and the school choir. Although I was nervous, I was able to meet people who shared common interests with me. Making new friends may seem hard at first, but I now know that I had nothing to fear. I found that there were plenty of girls and boys alike who were just as anxious as I was about coming into new surroundings. Freshman year, you are no longer the "big kids" of the school. Just like middle school, you eventually become used to your new surroundings and comfortable in your own skin. High school is an opportunity to maximize you potential and meet all sorts of people. By joining clubs and getting involved in my school, I found it easier to make connections and new friends.

Now, with new friends I was worried I would lose me old ones. However, I still talk to them and see them on weekends all the time. We text and keep connected. If you really want a friendship to stay strong, it takes consistent effort from both parties involved. It can be done! Just because you have new friends doesn't mean you have to lose your old ones.

My freshman year I discovered that the classes were harder. Now that I was in high school I was expected to be more independent. Teachers seemed tougher that they had been in middle school, and I didn't seem to have any free time. I realized that this was not a punishment of growing up or an obstacle that was meant to be unsolvable. Yes, the classes were harder, but they were set up that way so that I could challenge myself in a healthy manner. If I ever felt like I was struggling in a subject, I went to teachers for extra help.

Teachers love to know that their students care and want to excel in class. I became more aware of what teachers expected from me. I realized that it's not embarrassing to ask a question in class or to go to extra help. It's actually empowering! When you feel comfortable with the class material, you will be more confident on tests and quizzes. One of the most important academic advice I received my freshman year was to not slack off. Although it's your first year, colleges still look at your grades. I took classes that presented a challenge for me, but weren't so overwhelming that I couldn't handle them. High school courses are meant to allow you to grow as a person and stretch your mind to learn new things.

With all my new activities and classes, I seemed to be ignoring my family. I wasn't allowing free time for myself and I felt distant from them. When I suddenly realized that I was feeling so isolated from them, I decided I needed to change the way my schedule worked. I became better at time management and learned that you should always make time for those who care about you. Just because you're in high school doesn't mean you have to lose everything you enjoyed in middle school.

I've found that I love high school. It's not a place to be frightened of, and it's not as scary as it seems. High school is a place to grow in relationships with yourself and others. Keeping yourself on the right path may seem hard at first, but putting in the effort and realizing that there are many people that want you to succeed is reassuring. Put yourself out there and you will be blessed with new opportunities you never thought possible.


Make a Map

Tessa Sparks, 19, Vale, NC
My transition from middle school to high school was rough at first. High school is huge compared to middle school. There are more classes and finding them can be very difficult. I missed my teachers the most because I had bonded really well with most of them over the three years I had them. The school work we had was also harder. We were getting into algebra and trigonometry so that took time to learn. But my biggest challenge was finding my way around the big school without getting lost. How I managed it, and this my sound nerdy, was I made a map of the school by walking around the whole thing in my spare time. It helped me find all the rooms and know where I was supposed to go. It helped me a lot and I find myself making maps for the freshman every year and passing them out to help them find their classes. This helped me make new friends and I made it through high school successfully. Just because something seems hard or big at first doesn't mean you can't tackle it.


Sharpen Your Study Habits

Jose Contreras, 17, Holland High School, Holland MI
The challenge that made my high school transition hard was the school work. I had the same mindset from middle of not studying for tests and thinking everything was going to be easy. I also did not realize how important my freshman year was for my GPA. At first, it felt a bit unfair to me, but then I realized that it was me who was causing all the problems. I had never developed the tools do well in school. I did not have good studying methods; in fact, I had none. It was a wake up call for me because I knew that high school was not going to get easier. The teachers I had my freshman year were amazing and without them my transition into highs school would have been a disaster. They helped me devolp study methods that I still use to this day. One of them is making flashcards, especially if the class has a lot vocabulary and terms to remember. Also, to study for every test and not cram the night before.

Any challenge you may face is made easier by getting help. I do not think I would be the student I am today if it was not for my teachers that helped. School work was a hard challenge for me because I was not prepared. But now, in my senior year, I am taking two Advanced Placement classes. I know that it’s because I was able to successfully change my middle school mindset and make my transition to high school easier.


Learn to Say No

Yashoma Boodhan, 18, Richmond Hill, NY
A chill replaced the warmth of summer as withered yellow-orange leaves fell onto the sidewalk where I stood. It was my first day of high school. I slowly walked into the building, feeling sick. Granted, my first day was overwhelming. I had assignments due the next day along with immense pressure from my teachers to be active in student life. So, at the conclusion of my first day, I couldn't wait to get home.

The following days were no better. My mind was thrown into frenzy and my heart raced. Teachers further stressed the importance of clubs and extracurricular activities—claiming that one needs extensive participation in such activities to be considered a well-rounded student by colleges. As a result, I joined every club in sight. I even managed to get a leadership position in the Key Club. I was so focused on planning meetings and going to events that I didn't even notice the new trend in my grades; they began to drop faster than the ball on New Year's Eve.

The next week was filled with sleepless nights, unnecessary worry, one meal days, and unexplained frustration at my family. I’d complete an activity-filled day at school on a few meager hours of sleep and an empty stomach. Despite my utmost efforts, my grades continued on a downward slope—along with my family relationships. When my mother asked me if I ate or had a good day, I shooed her away by sucking my teeth. I used every second I had to finish my work; still, there was never enough time to do everything.

One day, I arrived at school with the fake smile and energy which I conjured and mastered over the weeks. That day, the pretense was harder to maintain than usual. I had trouble focusing in class and maintaining conversation with my peers. I couldn’t understand anything. I found myself drifting away mentally and physically. I was drowsy and weak beyond belief; I couldn’t go on like this.

Something needed to change. I needed to pause—and reevaluate my priorities. I wanted to be a good student and college candidate but I also wanted to be healthy and spend time with my family. So, I made the difficult decision to trim the herd—cutting clubs and activities that I joined for the wrong reasons. As the cross country season approached its end, I remained in two activities: tutoring Latin and being a student ambassador. I had more time for myself, my family, and studying; my grades and my attitude bloomed. I found my balance.

From that point on, I “check myself before I wreck myself.” I take time from my busy schedule to just sit and think about where I am and where I want to be. I know that I want to be successful—who doesn’t? I also know that I have a limit and that pushing myself past that limit won’t necessarily be beneficial for my academics, or physical health. The more I take a step back and make changes to my lifestyle, the better I feel about myself.

Since then, the only thing that has been dropping is my stress levels. It was my introduction to the pressures of a high school environment that made me learn about respecting my limits and about the importance of creating balance between all aspects of my life. Not many people at my school knew that I had a rough start because I managed to get things together and raise my grades. I managed to graduate with honors.

I didn’t like feeling weak and fragile—but ultimately, I think it taught me that I had control over my life and the craziness of it all. I get to choose what is important and what I can handle. Life can be a crazy mess of expectations, suggestions and obstacles but knowing what I want and knowing that I have the power to choose keeps me sane.

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(NYC-2015-11-18a)

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