By Wendy Jacob
School mornings were once a leisurely affair for Christine Nordal’s 14-year-old daughter, Alison. Her small middle school in Toronto was a two-minute walk from home, but when she begins high school in Oakville, Ont., in September, a bus will pick her up promptly at 7 a.m., meaning a much earlier start each day. For some students, leaving the comforts of middle school can present other rude awakenings. Here are some insights from educators across Canada on how to help your child make a smooth transition into this new stage of academic life.
1. Early Start
Share breakfast together on the first day of school along with smiles and calm reassurance, or at least have a fairly relaxing morning. “Ask your child what they would like to happen on that day,” says retired teacher Joan Dyson, who taught at B.C.’s Delta Secondary School for 33 years. “It’s a chance to share conversation, even if it’s short.” Encourage your teen to get to school 30 minutes early to look around and catch up with friends, then he can shift his focus to getting accustomed to his new routine.
2. Branch Out
It’s no secret that friends are hugely important to teens, so if your daughter’s BFF isn’t in her English class, she may be distressed. “Being separated from peers is probably the most anxiety-provoking thing about starting high school,” says Merri Macartney, a retired high school teacher from Kincardine, Ont. If you think your teen will listen, point out how many friends you keep in touch with from grade school. “Most parents hang out with very few of the people they went to school with, yet teens make their decisions based on what their peers are doing,” says Macartney. And be cognizant of how your child is choosing her option courses; she may pick electives based on a friend’s interests—not her own—so they can be together. “It’s important to look ahead. Don’t leave course selection up to your teen alone. They require adult guidance so they end up where they want to be academically,” Macartney cautions.
3. Get Organized
Most schools provide day planners, and it’s particularly important that your teen uses them now if they haven’t already in grade school. “They need to be organized for the whole semester, especially if they have a part-time job and school-related activities,” advises retired principal Lloyd Yamagishi of Lethbridge, Alta. “Some students complete the assignment but forget to hand it in on time because they get so busy.” Encourage your teen to write down their assignment due dates the minute they get them, as well as those of tests and any practices. Remind him that big events such as exams, big games, etc., should be put on the family’s fridge or online calendar.
4. Be a Sounding Board
If your teen runs into problems, he needs to know he has support. Let him know he can speak with school counsellors or advisors about academic or personal problems—there is usually an opportunity to change classes after school starts if there is a legitimate issue. And keep the lines of communication open at home so your teen can feel free to experience new ideas and feelings with assurance. “If they have a strong parental base, teens in the “big school’ can feel confident and happy as they walk down the halls,” explains Dyson.
5. Encourage Involvement
Teens can have a voice in their school if they are involved, whether it’s student government, sports or academic groups, according to Macartney, who served as a staff advisor and ran youth leadership classes for the public speaking organization Toastmasters. “Sometimes it’s difficult to convince teens that school is what they make it. If there is no interest, then nothing happens.”
6. Let Go, Gently
“Most students see entering high school as a chance to be more independent from their parents, whereas parents see high school as a loss, losing their young, dependent child,” surmises Dyson. The high school experience is a growth opportunity for kids to try their fledgling wings before taking on life’s bigger challenges. As Yamagishi observes, “in a few years they will be working and voting!”
Looking for more? Here’s how to drop-out proof your child.