by Linda Holderness
If your child is moving to middle or high school this year, it’s imperative to be prepared. Changing from one school culture to a very different one can throw even the best students off track—they’re facing larger campuses, more demanding courses and an array of extracurricular options, which, though exciting, can also be daunting. Parental support will make these passages more successful, no matter how self-assured and independent your child may seem. Here are seven steps to help your transitioning child make a smart start.
1/ CHOOSE WISELY
“It used to be that your kids went to their neighborhood school,” says Folsom mom Kathie Essex. “Now you have choices.” If you think your child would fare better in a different school, it may not be too late to switch. Three years ago, Essex applied to transfer her daughter, Olivia, out of district so she could continue her progress in Spanish; then Sutter Middle School added Spanish classes, and Olivia was able to enroll closer to home. Now an incoming freshman, she opted for Folsom High School (in part because of its Spanish program). Non-academic aspects of student life can be important, too. If your child has a shot at a sports scholarship, find a school that excels in that sport, urges Marc Buljan, principal of Warren T. Eich Middle School in Roseville, an International Baccalaureate (IB) candidate school. The same is true for budding artists and musicians. Where school attendance is concerned, Buljan says, “It’s a whole new ballgame.”
2/ GET TO KNOW THE SCHOOL
Most schools offer campus tours—Buljan escorted some 70 families around Eich last spring—and nearly all have programs to help newcomers adjust. Make sure your child doesn’t miss these. Folsom High School trains upperclassmen to mentor freshmen, beginning the day before school starts and continuing all year. Edwin Markham Middle School in Placerville holds orientation for incoming sixth-graders each spring. Back-to-school nights are also an ideal time to learn about your child’s classes and ask questions, says Edwin Markham Middle School Principal, Theresa Edinger.
3/ STAY CONNECTED
When kids transfer to a higher-level school, parents often wonder how much freedom they should allow. Too much can be dangerous, Buljan advises. “There are some mistakes you can’t let them make.” Folsom Middle School sixth-grade teacher Deb Hickey suggests middle school is a good time for kids to begin advocating for themselves while [parents are] still able to supervise. At the high school level, Folsom High School Principal Kathryn Allaman says you can back off a little, but should still stay involved with your kids’ activities and events and know who their friends are.
4/ GET THEM INVOLVED
Taking part in school activities gives a child a sense of belonging. “If you feel connected to the school, you have a much greater chance of being successful,” Edinger says. Most schools offer a host of clubs. Folsom High, for example, has more than two dozen and welcomes students to start new ones. “All kids want to be part of something,” Allaman says. “There’s no reason for them to be alone.”
5/ MONITOR SOCIAL MEDIA
Phones are a source of worry for nearly every parent. Essex gives her kids “dumb” phones without Internet access. Edwin Markham students are required to keep their phones off during school hours. Eich, however, has found smartphones can be good classroom tools under supervision—an idea that may spread—but he recommends parents educate their kids about phone use and talk to their carriers about setting limits. “Parents often hand over phones without a lot of guidance,” Edinger says. “It’s important the child understand that responsibility comes with having this technology.”
6/ KEEP AN EYE ON GRADES
Juggling several classes can be a challenge and so can following your child’s grades. Always ask to see school assignments and homework. Edwin Markham issues planners in which each student records class agendas and daily work; if your school doesn’t do this, create it. “Don’t ask if your kids have homework,” Edinger says. “Ask to see their work.” Talk to teachers as soon as you know there’s a problem, or encourage your child to make the contact. Ask, too, if your school has programs to help students whose grades are falling. Folsom High started a new academic-intervention class this year just for that purpose.
7/ HELP THEM ORGANIZE
In elementary school, kids have one teacher and a desk. Beginning in sixth grade, they live out of their backpacks—and those backpacks can become “black holes,” Hickey says. Parents give their kids a lifelong skill if they teach them to be organized. Hickey’s son tried several schemes that proved too clumsy for a backpack before hitting on an expanding file with slots for each course. “He had a place to put everything,” Hickey says. “To do a job, you need to be ready.”