by Helen Xia, CHS Student Writer

How big of a leap is between middle school and high school? Let’s start here: How young is a 14-year-old? Somebody who is 14 years of age can either be a middle schooler or a high schooler. Surely, a great portion of maturing is completed throughout one’s teenage years, especially when one considers it in retrospect. With that being said, how different are the two experiences to teenagers who are experiencing it themselves now?

Both middle school and high school are times of configuring one’s identity, and several of life’s most essential and bitter lessons are learned during this time period. That, combined with a seven-hour-long academic setting, letting go of and sustaining newfound relationships, and being faced with adulthood, is a stressful recipe for… well, stress. This makes sense, for 50 percent of middle schoolers and 56 percent of high schoolers feel that stress is one of the primary obstacles to their learning (YouthTruth).

It is commonly known that not many students are very fond of school. This attitude begins surprisingly young, and it seems to worsen as time progresses. Specifically, according to a poll conducted by Gallup, eight in ten elementary schoolers feel engaged in their classrooms. This starkly contrasts the four in ten high schoolers who feel this way. Comparably, in middle school, only about 54 percent of students feel that what they learn in school is relevant to their everyday lives, which is similar to high schoolers’ 46 percent. Despite this, many people also mentioned how, in the future, people often reminisce about their teenage years as being good times that weren’t appreciated enough. It is interesting to ponder how events, and our perception of them, may shift dramatically depending on our stage in life. You know what they say: Youth is wasted on the young.

I began high school during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools were shut down and classes were conducted online via virtual meetings. Even then, the bridge between middle school and high school didn’t seem to be very long for some students. For instance, a student explained, “Transitioning from middle [school] to high school wasn’t too bad, as we did online school at the time. I really didn’t notice any difference in the workloads either.”

Other peers pointed out how school days felt much shorter when attended through a computer screen. With that in mind, most students I’ve heard from didn’t like virtual schooling. “It doesn’t feel like school without the people,” they said, which was certainly true with the limited communication possible online. Others struggled to feel motivated, looking up answers or falling asleep in classes. (That happens in in-person classes now, too, but you didn’t hear that from me.)

A stressed topic was the people you meet and the relationships you build in middle and high school.

“In high school, friendships become deeper,” a student explained. “You begin knowing what exactly you do or do not like, and you surround yourself with people according to those standards. In middle school, those standards are not as fixed. I’ve heard many stories of people talking to somebody in middle school, but never speaking to them again in high school.”

While that may be true, conflicting personalities aren’t always behind fractured friendships. It’s also due to life, in general. I’ve had a number of friends who I, unfortunately, don’t get to talk to as often because we have very different academic schedules, or we simply drifted apart with time. While saddening, it’s poetic in a sense, too. It’s typically not a black-and-white “I like you” or “I don’t like you” scenario, which may be uncomfortable to grapple with; having said that, finding peace with that unconventional relationship you may have with others is a significant step in maturity and brings forth an incredible sense of harmony.

On a more lighthearted note: What about the curriculum itself? How does classwork differ between middle school and high school?

The content students learn is drastically different between middle school and high school, bearing in mind that there are numerous high schoolers already embarking on college classes. Here are some of my science notes from an old science notebook: “Energy: the ability to do things. Examples: roller coaster, machine, humans.” Now, compare that with my current biology textbook: “The free-energy change of a reaction tells us whether or not the reaction occurs spontaneously… In 1878, J. Willard Gibbs, a professor at Yale, defined a very useful function called the Gibbs free energy of a system…symbolized by the letter G.” See a difference there? The second statement is a lot more to wrap your head around—at least to me.

This is apparent, too, in mathematics. In middle school, I learned about area and slope. “What is the height of a triangle with base 20 mm and area 180 mm^2?” worksheets would ask. Now, my calculus notes read, “Relative extrema for any function must occur at a critical number… if f is continuous on a closed interval [a, b], then f has both a minimum and a maximum on the interval.” How did we get here? No wonder why 56 percent of high schoolers are stressed! (A joke, but a reasonable one…)

Life begins to feel overwhelming once we are conscious of the world around us, but only with this knowledge are we able to fully appreciate the treasures life offers. It is true that a harsh winter makes you appreciate a bountiful spring. Middle and high school are both ages for self-discovery, but the people you are at those two stages of life may vary greatly with the wisdom you gain and the morals you adopt. In light of that, middle school and high school are two distinct, yet essential, pillars of childhood. Following this era of rapid growth, more growth is to come. It’s easy to get caught up in the tumultuous series of events, but it’s important to not lose sight of how precious the present is.

Now, with that out of the way, I need to get back to (trying to) understand my calculus notes…

Middle school work compared to high school work. Spot the differences!

Photos by Helen Xia

Share →