leaving your old friends at middle school

"On top of all the stress of placement, isn't it hard for the kids to leave their old friends to go to a new middle school?" I get this a lot from the parents of young children, especially when those parents have loved their own experience growing up with the same people in each school. It is also often the case that their kids #1 requirement for their new middle school is that it is the one their friends are attending. What I find often is that there are unrecognized benefits to a shake up.
First, every kid is in the same boat. You aren't the one new kid, EVERYONE is the new kid.
Second, you assume that your friends at elementary will remain the same as they grow into teenagers and your relationship will of course remain the same. (isn't this the premise of EVERY angsty coming of age book?)
What happens at preteen is that the kids have a foot in both worlds. Has this happened yet?
They fold their giant boney knees and elbows into your lap and try and get as little as possible AND they request that you refrain from addressing them in public. They are nostalgic for their "childhood" and trying on their new teenager selves. I guarantee that your darling will remain friends with her "old, childhood" friends that are not going to her new school. In fact, you should make a regular sleepover date. She can play American Girl and dress up (or lego) well into her young teens with her "childhood" friends, while retaining her "cool" at school. It is kind of built in social insurance in by book. Also any monkey business that may be making school a drag- isn't part of the relationship that she has with her loyal old friends. It is actually a great built in safety net. The kids also often take the opportunity to "reinvent" themselves at middle. It can be a fresh start or a new opportunity. The "cryer" can be a different kid. You can get a new nickname. Some kids want to distinguish themselves with a particular identity. This can be tricky. I was lucky- my kids cast around for an idea, couldn't come up with anything more compelling than "science nerd". Sigh of relief. There is comfort in a label.

The kids often come back together at high school with citywide choice - so they spread farther. One daughter's closest friends in HS: her former nemesis from middle school (that is him, above left), an acquaintance from camp, a couple kids from elementary school and a big batch of new kids. The other daughter (at a different school - different on purpose, which was awesome) became best friends with her sister's best friend from kindergarten, a girl she had known for years in a program at the AMNH, and a whole collection of new kids (friends of friends- many from neighborhood private schools). They still remain best, best friends with the girl they met at 3yr old in nursery school who attended a different elementary, went to Brazil for 5 years (gotta love skype), and ended up at a different HS and college. The heart wants, what the heart wants.
Rethink this: You live in a small town in the middle of a great cosmopolitan city. The kids, by the time that they are in high school, all know each other (or at least are friends on facebook). They meet everyone at their own PS. Then they meet a new sub group at soccer, the food coop, summer camp, church or temple...Then they remix at middle and high school. By the time they get to college they have friends and friends of friends (and have dated) at every campus in the northeast (at least it feels that way). It is actually an amazing network.

Here is a curious but not uncommon story. Sophomore year at Bowdoin in Maine, my daughter moved into her social house and introduced herself to the girl next door from Boston. There was a picture on that girl's wall from her tween summer camp in Rhode Island. A group of girls at the beach with their arms around each other. She said, "heh, isn't this you?" pointing to her picture of 12 year olds. "You are the only one in this picture, I didn't know". That is not coincidence, it was only a matter of time.

When the middle school placements come out soon (we hope), there will undoubtedly be tears. You will want to cry also, but don't - you are the grown up. Help them understand that life brings surprises, sometimes wonderful ones wrapped in crappy paper. They may find their BEST friend that they haven't met yet, but they don't have to lose their old ones just because they aren't in class together.