"Transescence" that goofy, giggly period between childhood and adolescence - deserves special attention from educators, a visitor to Utah said last week.

Robert Boone, a junior high school principal from Mason, Iowa, was keynote speaker for the Utah Middle Level Association conference, which concluded over the weekend in the Olympic Hotel. He has been involved in a national movement to focus attention on the needs of students in grades six through nine."Kids 10 to 14 are experiencing critical changes in their lives," said Boone in a Deseret News interview. "Unless education is in tune with those changes, we fail these kids."

Pre- and early adolescents are in transition physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually, he said. Peer relationships become more meaningful to them than relationships with parents.

"You can't do for them what you do for children who are older or younger," Boone said.

Knowledge about the special needs of these students, however, has not always been enough to foster needed changes in education, he said. But the movement to tailor education to those specific needs is growing - primarily through awareness kindled in meetings such as those being held by Utah's mid-level educators.

There is a growing debate whether teachers in the middle and junior high schools should be specially certificated for that level. More training institutions are becoming cognizant of the need for courses that prepare teachers to target more closely the needs of specific age groups, he said.

Teachers in mid-level schools need time to establish good relationships with students, to help them feel approved and comfortable within the system, Boone said.

"Every teacher in a middle school should be adviser to a group of children so that every child has an adult to relate to. If they have no emotional connection, they begin to pull away from school." These isolated students become incipient dropouts, although they may remain in school until they are in high school.

Educators tend to concentrate on academic skills, ignoring affective skills children need to learn, because those skills are not easily measured, Boone said.

The standard approach to education, with students spending a particular amount of time in a particular classroom on a particular subject, ignores the short attention span of pre- and early adolescents. More creative ways should be found to educate them within the context of their age, he said.