whether you use the term “middle school” or “junior high” is not a big deal, really. but it does mean something. and i get asked this question with regularity. in fact, this post was prompted by a ministry leader texting me to ask if i knew of evidence, other than my own observation, that “middle school” is the more common term these days. more on that in a bit.
junior high schools are fairly new, even in the extremely short scope of american history. traditionally 7th through 9th grade (though not many still have that format), they were meant to be just what the name implied: junior high schools. we often shorten it to ‘junior high’, which removes it from its original intent (maybe that’s good).
the middle school movement (read more in the wikipedia article on “middle school“) rose up a few decades ago as more educators took seriously the uniqueness of young teens. the idea was: the students aren’t merely little high schoolers; they are in a distinct developmental stage, and need a school that is fully aware of those realities. most middle schools shifted to 6th through 8th grade in response to developmental and cultural realities (like the drop in puberty).
these days, whether a school is called a middle school or a junior high often has very little to do with the grades or ages of the students, as schools have adjusted back and forth, often only for demographic reasons. but the 6th through 8th grade format is still the norm.
in fact, in response to that text message, i read that wikipedia article, and saw this statement:
“The middle school format has now replaced the junior high format by a ratio of about ten to one in the United States.”
wow. ten to one is a pretty significant ratio!
now, i’m sure churches – as we tend to be – are lagging behind that trend significantly. but i passed around a memo a few years ago at YS stating that we would stop using both terms (which often made things very confusing), and only use ‘middle school’ in books, events and websites.
for my middle school ministry campference, i do toss in the occasional ‘junior high’ or ‘junior high ministry’ as a descriptor, for two reasons: to not repeat the same term over and over, and because i’m always a little amazed when someone in junior high ministry says to me, “we don’t have a middle school ministry, we have a junior high ministry.”
ultimately, i think what a local church calls their ministry to young teens should reflect the schools in their area. but there’s often not uniformity in the local school scene, of course.
so… i go with middle school. i like the developmental acknowledgement. what do you think?