As the new school year approaches, it provides an opportunity to think about school transitions. Interestingly, as a parent, the school transition that was the most difficult was when my son went from middle to high school. Everything changed, and not for the better.
He went from a middle school of about 400 students to a high school of nearly 4,000 students. I remember in middle school knowing his teachers, the vice principal, and even being on first name basis with the principal. I was asked to join the school site council, and this meant that I knew most of the adults on campus. When my son got into trouble for mooning other kids in the bathroom, he wasn’t suspended. I was notified so that I could have the opportunity to address the issue with him and administration. This grace allowed my son to not be thought of as a problem kid but rather a kid that makes mistakes and is given the opportunity to correct them.
In high school, everything changed. His school was big and run by a selective group of parents that there wasn’t an opportunity to be more involved. I was one of thousands. I did not know the vice principal, principal, or teachers. When my son began to slip academically, I never got a call or notification that his course work was suffering. No one really knew him, and so the teachers didn’t realize that this was out of the norm for him.
As I reflect on the new school year, I share advice for other parents sending their kids to high school in the Fall. I hope the three lessons learned may be helpful.
- Remain Vigilant
I remember freshman year, my son was given a schedule that did not work for him. He was placed in a science course that was not what he wanted. I told him to go to the counselor and change the class. It took him two weeks to tell me that he couldn’t get in touch with the counselor. I then spent a week calling him with no success. Finally, the following week I dropped my son off and cased the hallways looking for his counselor or the principal. By the third day, I ran into the principal and told him what was going on. Within a few days, the matter was resolved.
I had no idea that counselors have several hundred students and that making class changes would take so long. I should have been more on top of the situation and in the first week made an attempt to find the principal to fix the situation. The result was that my son missed three weeks of instruction, and by the time he was in the right class, he was behind.
Having the right set of classes must begin from day one. High school students should follow the A-G requirements, and to be very competitive students must be taking four years of math, science, history, and foreign language. It’s important to check early and often with your kids and make sure they are getting the courses that they need to be college-ready.
- Never Accept What You’re Told
Advocacy is key in high school. I know schools want students to begin advocating for themselves, but not all students can do that in their first year. It’s important as parents that we advocate for our kids and never accept what we are told if it is not a satisfactory answer. At the orientation, they warned us about class changes and deterred parents from lobbying for changes. I followed the rules. Looking back, I would not have followed the rules, instead using the advice that “a squeaky wheel gets greased.” So, while we must be discerning, it’s also important to speak up when needed and make the school work for you.
- Keep the Lines of Communication Open with your Child
One of the most important things to do is keep talking with your high schooler. I know that they often don’t want to talk. It’s important to have discussions every day about how things are going at school. And ask specific questions like “Tell me about the friends you hang out with at school,” “What teachers are you liking/hating and why?,” “What specifically do you like/don’t like at school?”
We tend to ask our kids how the day went and get a “fine” in response. Asking more open-ended questions gets richer information. It is worth it to have those conversations so that your kids know you care, and if something comes up that seems important, you can have a deeper discussion.
My son ended up having a great high school experience and went off to college. I know everything is new, but remaining connected with your school and kids is key to making sure you get what your student needs from high school.
Raquel F. Donoso
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