Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Leadership and Policies

First Advisor

Rose Ylimaki


Students entering middle school frequently encounter challenges in their transition as they leave the comforts of elementary school. Traditionally, fifth grade students experience their last year in elementary school in a similar fashion to the previous five years of elementary school. They are in self-contained classrooms with one teacher for the majority of their school day. This study’s objective is to determine best practices and strategies that support fifth grade students in transitioning to the rigors of middle school. More specifically, the research focuses on the impact of an Academy structure in the elementary setting that models the transitions of middle school, including a strong social-emotional curriculum, opportunities to cultivate leadership, confidence, and self-advocacy skills in students as well as experiences to build a sense of belonging among students.

To research the effectiveness of the Academy model, a qualitative research approach was utilized, examining practices in three elementary schools and a middle school. Interviews were conducted with students, parents, elementary school principals and middle school staff members. While the study is not a mixed methods study, attendance and reading data was included to provide additional context.

The results of the study indicated that the structure provided by the academy served as an asset to those transitioning to middle school. The expectations and rules for organization along with the leadership opportunities and social emotional learning emphasis served the Academy students well as they moved into their new environment. The qualitative interviews illustrated how the students’ abilities to adjust to the physical or organizational environment was supported by the structures in place at School C in the academy. Furthermore, intentionality on the behalf of the school leadership team mitigated problematic behaviors and academic regression in middle school.

Findings from this study also suggest that Bolman and Deal’s leadership theory that focuses on the four frames, provide an analytical tool to help school leaders navigate organizational changes of the middle school transition.