Understanding Middle School Transitions – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Understanding Middle School Transitions

Are children better adjusted if they enter middle school after attending only one elementary school, or if they enter having attended multiple elementary schools? Casey Marshall ’09 investigated this question and others with Julie Kingery, assistant professor of psychology, and they presented their findings at a recent conference of the Society of Research in Child Development (SRCD) in Denver, Colo.

“I had an amazing opportunity offered to me by Professor Kingery to grow and challenge myself personally and academically by participating in this conference with her,” explains Marshall.  “It was an invaluable experience that has given me real insight into the field and a preview of what I have to look forward to in my career.”

The research that Marshall presented at the conference with Kingery was based on her dissertation data about the middle school transition and the role of peer relationships in adjustment across this transition; this gave Marshall the opportunity to collect her data set, brainstorm new ideas, and create her own hypothesis. Marshall’s idea was to further explore the role of feeder schools and their impact on adjustment across the middle school transition. 

“I asked, ‘How is the transition process affected by the number of elementary schools a child attends? Are children better adjusted from one elementary school because they don’t have to worry about meeting new peers?'” says Marshall.

Kingery and Marshall then analyzed the data, formulated a proposal for a poster which was submitted to the SRCD, and then, once accepted, worked together to create a poster for presentation. The overall findings discovered that children from multiple feeder elementary schools had an increase in number of friends and higher academic achievement across the transition, where those children from single elementary schools had fewer friends and lower levels of academic achievement. Based on this sample, children who come together with new peers across the transition to middle school adjust more positively to the new environment. 

“The most exciting part of the SRCD conference was the opportunity to see some of the foundational developmental psychologists that I have read about since I began my psychology journey here at HWS,” says Marshall. “I had the opportunity to be in a session with researchers and psychologists who I’ve learned about in my classes.”

Marshall, a psychology major, has worked in several offices on campus as well as for the psychology department as a research assistant. In addition, she has volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva and Neighbor’s Night, served as a team leader for JumpStart, and completed a collaborative community research project and Honors thesis on kindergarten literacy. 

Marshall will pursue a Ph.D. in school psychology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.