“middle school” or “junior high”?

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?

21 thoughts on ““middle school” or “junior high”?”

  1. We tend to call ours middle school; every once and a while I say jr high either because it’s shorter and I’m running out of room on an announcement, or because I just want to say it differently. Someone in our church once tried to get my assistant to change it all officially to junior high in all of our printed materials (which was a weird thing for them to be demanding) and he said he’d do it if the guy could find any schools in the area called junior high (there aren’t any). : )

  2. What do you call it when the education system in your city is elementary grades 1-8 and then high school grades 9-12? Neither Jr high or middle school reflect the education system.

  3. When I arrived at my former youth ministry position in 2003, the group was called “mid-high” (I think it was to acknowledge the height of the average early adolescent). I was quick to change the name of the group, and was informed by a teacher, in no uncertain terms, that the town had a middle school, NOT a junior high school. After an explanation of the difference I was happy to call our kids middle schoolers. Interestingly, that town had a 5th/6th grade intermediate school and a 7th/8th middle school. (My 6th through 8th grad school in the late 80’s/early 90’s was call an Intermediate School… so, I guess that clears things up!)

  4. I like the term middle school. Its seems a little more up to date and that’s what we call our students. Our school system will be changing from the 6th-8th grade format and going to a 5th-6th grade intermediate and 7th and 8th grade Middle school. We will also be moving our 6th graders out of our youth program pairing them with 5th grade students and starting a pre-teen ministry.

  5. We use the term Middle School. It is what the school is called and we want to be consistent with that. In addition, our Middle School is composed of 5th-8th grade students so we go with that in our ministry. We’re in the planning stages of creating separate 5/6 programming.

  6. We call ours Jr. High I think mainly because that is what it has always been called. We are in a very small town and we have a combined school. Which means middle school and high school are in the same building (6-12 grades).

  7. Our church tends to use junior high, even though the middle school calls itself the middle school. The middle school is 6th-8th, but we only work with 7th-8th grade. Kind of weird, and not really a good idea in my opinion.

  8. We use both. The town our church is in has a 5th-6th grade school (middle school) and a 7th-8th grade school (junior high). We gave each group their own name within the ministry program, and their own space, but we all come together during our weeknight program. It has seemed to help to have them with familiar faces that they see throughout the school week. I prefer the term middle school, just because when I was a kid, our middle school was 6th-8th grade.

  9. We use the middle school term because we have 6th-8th grade. I’ve found that schools in the area use middle school when having 6th-8th grade and use Jr. High with 7th/8th grade only set-ups. I honestly think that our school systems are lagging in terms of adjusting the current realities of adolescent shifts, as it would seem that a 4th-6th, 7th-8th or 9th, and a 10th-12th format would be developmentally appropriate. But I think that it’s rather difficult for the church to set the trend in this area, but maybe better to reflect what’s taking place at schools in terms of placement.

  10. We don’t have any “junior high schools” around us because everyone switched to the “middle school” (6th to 8th) system about 15 years ago. But we stuck with junior high because our students wanted to be “junior highers” and not “middle schoolers”. Last year, we made the switch for our education department to become 1st to 3rd, 4th to 6th, 7th to 9th, and 10th to 12th because we had a theory that we could raise up more student leaders (6th/9th/12th) by “maturing” each of the departments to include one grade from the next level of schooling. (We decided to have the transition take place over 2 years… right now the “junior high” department is 6th to 9th, high school is 10th to 12th.) It has turned out to be fantastic… with more ownership and responsibility all around.

  11. What do you think about Rick Lawrence’s and Group’s decision/discussion to call it something other than a name associated with “school”? I think it was in an article last year (or the year before – time flies) that spoke mostly of calling these creatures “youth” rather than “students” but the argument had to do with not associating them with going to school. His argument was that there are some who aren’t in school – who have dropped out and can feel alienated by being connected with school.

    I use the term middle school, but sometimes we use the name “younger youth” and “older youth”. (And now and then I throw in “junior high” since one of the feeding schools into our group is still a junior high school.)

  12. I agree with reflect the area you’re in (except the 1-8 or 6-12 people above, not sure what I’d do with the 5-6/7-8 town except move 6th back to elementary but I don’t see that being very popular the first two years)

    Don’t have a preference in name though JH abbreviates much better than MS which is definitely less family and unfortunately already taken by Multiple-sclerosis

    My suggestion for schools (not that it matters) would be Middle School with a primarily secluded 6th grade and High Schools, possibly with the same thing for 9th (partly secluded)…6th graders and 9th graders take a good 6 months to really fit in (and I think it goes way beyond adjusting to a new subculture) but they definitely are very distinct from the grades below them too

  13. This is an interesting read. I love the term middle school but when we had the chance to change a few years back at church we stuck with jr high.
    The reason wasn’t as deep as a mindset towards them. Our church knew what we were talking about when they heard jr high. So really it was a marketing decesion for our local church.

  14. I was once told to use
    Jr High/Sr High or Middle/High School
    but to not intermix them – since we don’t use Sr High anymore it seems natural to not use Jr High anymore…

  15. We call it middle school. We almost never say/hear the term Junior High anymore. Honestly, it makes the person saying it seem older.

  16. The implementation of “middle schools” incorporating sixth grade age children into the social structure of seventh, eighth and ninth grade children has led to an increase in bullying and violence in our school system. Children of eleven and twelve years old are not prepared to enter into the volatile emotional and physically challenging social structure of teenagers. Placing them in contact with older children leaves them unprepared and unprotected. This one year makes a world of difference to a child at this level of development. Even at the seventh grade level some children have not yet gained the maturity to function well in this higher pressure social and more self directed learning environment.
    In the United States, other models include one room school houses, which rarely taught beyond the fourth or fifth grade level, first through twelfth grade parochial schools in which one or two school buildings occupied the same campus, first through eighth grade schools which fed into high schools, and separate first through third (primary) and fourth through sixth (elementary) model.
    The middle school concept is not necessarily the be all and end all of school design for children in those age ranges, and I believe closer attention needs to be paid to the potential and recorded psychological and emotional damages incurred by juxtaposing these very different maturity levels.

  17. I hated it hen they changed the name to middle school. Fortunately I was moving on to sr high school at the time so I got over it to some extent. When somebody asks now however I just tell them I went to jr high school and leave it at that.

  18. As a youth(I’m a minority by the way) I actually found my junior high experience more difficult than my high school experience. Especially 7th grade. I think it sometimes depends on the environment the school is in if it’s a public school.

    For instance, I grew up in the inner city(majority black) but had a chance to attend a culturally rich K-8 private school 3rd-5th grade year. I was not doing very well in math and was made to attend public school 6th-8th grade year.

    This was the mot severe punishment that could have ever been inflicted on any shy, quiet, kind child. It was completely undeserved. I cried and cried my first day at public ALL Black junior high.

    The mean, mean spirited, hateful, ferocious, aggressive, highly insensitive, always ready to fight mentality of PUBLIC school inner city youth was a million miles off from the accepting, warm, loving, kind, gracious mentality of inner city PRIVATE school kids in an ethnically diverse environment.

    High school in that same city WAS NOT much better but a bit easier than junior high. Thankfully my family relocated to a middle class suburb the summer of my 10th grade year and I got to go to a new school. I had a similar wonderful experience at my new public high to my experience at private school.

    I was once again in a culturally rich environment surrounded by civil kids who were more focused on their studies than who they wanted to beat up that Friday at 3.

  19. I grew up in the 60s and 70s. Yes, I am older. What is wrong with that?! Not (bold) EVERYTHING needs to be freshened up or redone in life down through the ages!! I associate, possibly wrongly, middle school, with younger generation(s) trying to make everyone a winner. No losers. Don’t ask me why I think that way. I just do. There is nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong with using the phrase or term junior high. Another aspect of it is, why do people have to complicate things?! Too often we are our own worst enemy. If it’s not broke….

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