BY MOLLY WILKINS
As a parent, preparing your child for the new school year can be one of the most challenging things you will encounter. Having children change schools or enter school for the first time is definitely stressful—for both parent and child. But for the child, leaving the familiar to a new environment can be overwhelming. Aside from the normal back to school shopping, summer
reading, and possible tutoring, there is the psychological aspect of being adequately prepared. And for most parents, even just being adequately prepared is not enough. In today’s society, there is an even greater push to make sure one’s child stands out among the rest. Here are ten easy steps to preparing your child for his or her utmost level of success:
Research your options, considering the needs and interests of your child and your family. Make sure this school is correct for your child by completing visits prior to transfer/starting. Hit those open houses. They often include a tour of the school’s campus, a chance to interact with principals and teachers, and a presentation of the school’s philosophy and methods. Be aware of the issues or features that are most important to your family so that it is easier to narrow down potential schools.
Lynne Adams, Director of Admissions for Tattnall Square Academy states that, from her observations, “Families may visit a school and feel perfectly at ease and at home, but they may feel social pressure to follow friends to a school where they may not feel as comfortable. Basing the choice of school on social expectations may result in unhappiness. In these circumstances, it is key to remember that just because one school is right for one child, it may not be right for another.”
Tina Wooten, Director of Guidance at Stratford Academy, echoes this sentiment. She urges, “Trust your instinct. Talk to the school, look online, find which school best suits your family and their priorities. Do you feel a positive interaction with the school and the support services they provide? Do you trust the subjective feeling as well as the objective feeling you get about the school? What do you want for your child?”
Adams also suggests that parents make sure the school has appropriate accreditation. She added that it’s important that parents make sure that the school offers the values that match those of their own, e.g., academics, faith, fine arts, atheletics, or whatever they want for their child’s overall education experience. “Make a list of questions that are pertinent to your family’s educational agenda then ask those questions. Visiting during a routine school day also helps the family get a good feel for the school,” she says.
Whether you are looking at public schools, magnet schools, or considering private or parochial education, you’re bound to have questions about making the right choice for your child. Whether you’re attending an open house or a personal tour of the school, be sure to prepare questions that need answers before your family can make a decision. Make a list so that you don’t forget the most important ones. Check out our website www.GeorgiaFamily.com under the “Education” tab for a list of questions that you might want to consider.
INVOLVE YOUR CHILD
Allow your child to make some decisions regarding their transition, this will allow them to feel some measure of control. Tina Wooten states. “Appropriate decisions to make are dependent on child’s age but the parents should be making the major decisions. Decide what the parameters and boundaries are for decisions that are child-geared and let them make choices, i.e., activities to participate in, buy vs. bring lunch, etc. Sometimes too much decision making can cause anxiety depending on your child and their age. Physical vs. practical decisions should be child-oriented.”
One of the most common mistakes that parents make is putting the burden of transitioning on their child alone. According to Wooten, in general, parents put the burden of the transition on the shoulders of the child. “They don’t educate them with tools to succeed. Parents should help children understand that the school community is here to help with transition. Also, parents should be realistic about how fast/slow transitions may occur,” she says.
PREPARE YOUR CHILD
Participate in school offered programs so that your child will not be left behind. This will require some advance work on your part. Find out if evaluations were done in the previous year that will determine if your child will need additional tutoring. This is particularly important when changing schools. Reading lists are not as hard, and are more straightforward. Check with the school that your child will be attending this year for any programs they might have to assist with transitioning. Wooten tells us, “Stratford hosts Parent Nights for parents of students moving up to 9th grade and 6th grade. Also, 6th graders are sent down to 5th grade classrooms to answer questions during the school day. There is an event in the spring for rising ninth graders to have social opportunities with upper classmen while parents meet with principals about expectations of becoming a high school student. Also, there is ninth grade orientation in the fall with [the] nuts and bolts of high school to really get specific.”
Dr. Craig Lockhart, Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services for Bibb County, also states. “The most important way in which a parent can prepare his/her child in coming to a new school is allowing the child to tour the school prior to the first day. This will allow the child to obtain a gradual comfort level within the school. All schools offer open houses in which parents and students are invited to attend. This event allows both parents and students to meet teachers, administrators, and other families.”
FOR YOUR CHILD
Make sure your child takes advantage of transition programs offered during the school year. Adams states, “Each new family is partnered with a mentor family who helps them through orientation and the first year of school. Each new student has a “buddy” who helps during new student orientation and then is there for the new student as the school year begins.” Tattnall also has an Academic Dean that schedules grade level meetings each spring to inform parents about the upcoming school year for their child. “As students progress through the high school, they may schedule individual meetings with their parents to discuss college counseling,” she says.
However, Dr. John Cranford, Headmaster of Windsor Academy states, “We do not have a set program. We assign a current student to meet with the new student, and a counselor will meet with the new student after a few days . . . the kids do a better job of helping new students get acclimated than the adults do.”
MEET & GREET
As a parent, participate in social programs to meet other parents, be sure to network with parents. Use this chance to ask questions.
John Paul Gaddy, Director of Admissions at Stratford Academy states “We do provide several opportunities for new parents to meet returning parents. Examples of these opportunities include our New Family Ice Cream and our parent organization’s grade level meetings.” Many schools will feature open houses in advance to allow parents and students to visit.
Alexander II will have their open house on August the 2nd, with varying times according to grade level. One can check their website for specific times (http://schools.bibb.k12.ga.us/alexii/site/default.asp), as well as other open house dates for Bibb Public Schools online. Lockhart also states, “It is always in the best interest of the child that the parents are active in the school setting. This can occur through a variety of ways. Parents are encouraged to join and become active participants in PTA/PTO. Also, parents are asked to volunteer their time by becoming a classroom mom/dad, parent volunteer, booster club member, etc. As parents become involved in these organizations they also have an opportunity to develop lasting bonds with other parents.”
Address any potential anxieties your child may have. Leave love notes in lunches, address any issues there may have been in previous years—whether they be academic issues or social issues. Assure your child that you are working with school officials, then set up meetings between yourself, your child, and school officials to address concerns.
Find out if you or your spouse has friends whose children attend the same school. Set up play dates during the summer, so that your child will already have friends at their new school.
PREPARATION IS KEY
Prepare in advance for the physical aspect of attending school. Get your child used to the new scheduling. Set alarm clocks for appropriate waking times a couple of weeks before school starts. Set doctor’s appointments to schedule required shots. Attend to any pending physical, optical, or dental checkups. Have potential paperwork needed for school filled out. Be sure your child is eating the proper foods to reach their full potential during the day.
Make a calendar out as far in advance as possible. Plan for school field trips and other chances to volunteer with your child’s class. Plan your child’s after-school activities. Don’t forget that over-scheduling can lead to an over-stressed child.
Planning in advance for times when you will need to be off from work will also help your child’s transition by allowing you to be prepared, thus allowing your own anxieties to be put to rest and not affect your child. Also preparing yourself and your child in advance for after school care can also alleviate any anxieties you and your child may have regarding daily scheduling.
SHOPPING FOR SCHOOL
Along with the practical aspect of needing new items that fit within school dress codes or even uniforms, many children simply enjoy shopping. Many local private schools, including Stratford Academy, Covenant Academy, Mount de Sales Academy, and First Presbyterian Day School, require uniforms. Bibb County Schools’ individual dress codes are listed on their website, http://bibb.k12.ga.us/drupal/?q=node/21. Shopping in advance will avoid any fights over clothing. Lay out outfits the night before to avoid any arguments the morning of school.
Once school starts, be sure to continue to communicate with teachers and administrators throughout the school year. Not only does the school benefit, but by offering some of your time to the school, and by interacting with teachers, administrators, and other parents on a regular basis, you can gain a first-hand understanding of your child’s daily activities that will help you communicate with your child. There are lots of unobtrusive ways you can stay involved—participating in the PTA, class volunteer, mentoring a student, assisting coaches and gym teachers, attending school board meetings, chaperone events, and most importantly, ask your child about school each day.
A successful transition is not just preparing your child for the first day, or even first week of school, but also includes keeping track of her/his development during the year. Many times future anxieties can be prevented by keeping track of what happens during the year. An involved parent will be the one that can prevent future problems. Many schools have parent portals. For example, Bibb County’s Board of Education provides a link to the “Parent Portal” on their website which provides “instant access to accurate, current and confidential information about your child(ren)’s school attendance, grades, class assignments and more” (https://sis.bibb.k12.ga.us/campus/portal/bibb.jsp).