The first day of school is hard enough without the added pressure of transitioning to a new environment, but for many families that will be the reality once classes begin in August. So how can parents help?
Many Birmingham experts agree the transition, whether it’s at the beginning of the school year or the result of a move in the middle of the year, begins before the first day.
“When transitioning to a new school, it is important to be there with your child during registration and course selection to ensure proper decisions are made,” said Clarissa Reese, a former guidance counselor at Ramsay High School. “Parents and their student need to know what is available at the new school as it relates to their short- and long-term educational and career goals. When enrolling, try to find out what extracurricular activities and clubs are available that interest the child. The best way to become connected is to become involved.”
Dr. Tamala R. Maddox, principal of R. F. Bumpus Middle School, agrees involvement is key. “Visit the school website to see pictures of students in action and the extracurricular activity opportunities offered. The parent can then promote the activities that fit their child and help make connections between activities at the old school and the new school that are similar. Arrange to tour the school—escorted or unescorted. Assure the child that no matter the size, they will have a smaller community to belong to within the school.
“A sense of belonging is one of the greatest indicators of academic achievement for students in transition. That doesn’t mean belonging to the in-crowd necessarily. It’s feeling and believing you have a place and you are valued in that school. The parent and teacher’s role is to help the child find their place of belonging.”
Although most students transition within a few months, there is no set time limit.
“There should be positive chatter about school at some point during the week. Not every day will be grand, however, not every day should be unbearable. A parent should hear the name of a ‘friend’ or a point of connection within a week or two,” Maddox said.
Reese cautions parents to be on the lookout for signs their child may not be adjusting well. “Parents should watch for any significant change. Grades, social activity, mood and weight changes are always pretty good indicators. If the student isn’t transitioning well, the parent should make an appointment with the administrator or counselor so they can come up with a plan (with the student’s input) on how to adjust to the change.”
Adds Maddox, “It helps if the parent gets involved also. The parent can emphasize the areas of the child’s life that have not changed. Continue and encourage involvement in church, Scouts, dance, music, etc. School is a large part of their life but it’s not the only part.”
This article originally appeared in Alabama Family Connection magazine.