Confronting the first hardships of high school

By: Christine Langlois

Author: Canadian Living


Confronting the first hardships of high school

By: Christine Langlois

Negotiating the transition to high school
High school is exciting and scary all at the same time, and many a student loses some sleep over the biggest change he's had to deal with since kindergarten. Even though you won't be there to hold his hand and show him where to go, you can help prepare him for the changes ahead.

Both classmates and teachers in elementary school talk about the big move; rumours abound about initiation rites and the intimidation of new students. To ease your teen's mind, check out the rumours with older kids and their parents. A word or two from a responsible older teen about what to expect in the first year of high school can help calm the fears.

New students and their parents usually have an opportunity to tour the school building and see all the facilities during an orientation session, so be sure to attend. If possible, get an outline of the courses offered and the names of the staff members. If it's a large school, you can get to know the layout a bit during the orientation, but ask for a school map that includes service areas such as the main offices, the cafeteria, the library or resource centre, and the guidance offices. Study the map together at home, so your teen knows ahead of time how to negotiate the hallways.

Don't forget that something as basic as a combination lock for his locker can be a stumbling block for a nervous new student. Show your teen how to set the combination, record it in a safe place (a notebook or backpack), and use it for his locker. Try also to find out about what extracurricular activities are available at the school. A teenager's social life is almost as important as his academic life during high school, and in the first weeks of school, a new student might find himself painfully isolated. More friendships are formed in a club or on a sports team than in a homeroom, so talk about which activities interest him enough to try out for them or join them.

Choosing a school
Transitions from one school to another vary across the country. Some provinces have organized middle schools after grade five or six. Others call them senior public or junior high schools. But almost all provinces call grades ten to twelve secondary school or high school. If your community supports more than one high school, this may be your teen's first opportunity to choose which school she attends. Most kids want to go to the same school as their friends, but encourage your child to check out all his or her options.

Some secondary schools specialize in programs such as technical subjects, including graphics arts, business programs, or arts and music courses that are not available at other schools. Many schools also develop their own culture and traditions: One high school may be a sports powerhouse; another might have links to local business and industry and offer a strong co-op program through which students spend part of their school year in the workplace; some schools have a stronger focus on and reputation for academic achievement. Talk to other parents and older students in your community about the different secondary schools available. The one your teen attends can help or hinder his achievement.

Playing to the parents
Each spring, some Nova Scotia secondary schools open their doors to the parents of new students. Over a cup of coffee with teachers and administrators, parents learn about the variety of courses offered at the school and what courses their teen should take to be eligible for admission to the next level of education or training. It's such a popular event that at larger schools the open house must be extended over two nights to give all parents a chance to visit their teen's new school.

Page 1 of 3 -- On page 2, find strategies to help assist your child in learning.

Academic survival
Most classroom teachers in the last grades of elementary school talk to students about the demands of high-school courses and the hard work that lies ahead; they talk about the importance of having good work habits and of doing homework -- in fact, they hand out major assignments themselves. You can also help prepare your teens by talking about the following:

Ten steps to high school success
1. Use a calendar agenda or diary, so as not to miss an assignment or test because you forgot to write it down.

2. Be prepared for class by doing the reading assignments the night before. This makes it possible to follow the class discussion.

3. Listen actively in class. Focusing on what the teacher and other students say and participating in the discussion contribute to overall marks and reduce or help with follow-up homework.

4. Take notes. Concentrate on key concepts and key facts. Don't try to write down everything the teacher says. Listen to the point she's making; if it's an interesting variation on what you've read or a tip that helps you understand, jot it down. But for the basics, you can usually check the textbook for details.

5. Organize your notes. Date them; use a highlighter to emphasize definitions or important concepts; write down any questions you have about the subject so that you can ask them in class.

6. Ask questions if you don't understand. It's too easy to let a question go and miss an important concept. Asking questions as well as answering them demonstrate your interest and give your teachers opportunities to expand on topics that may also puzzle other students.

7. Learn to manage your time. Set aside enough time to get your homework done or to study for a big test. Tell friends not to phone during your "study period." When you've finished your work, reward yourself with a phone call or a game.

8. Set up a study space. Don't waste time hunting down a calculator or searching for an eraser. Gather up all the supplies you need and keep them in an easy-to-reach box. If you can't create any other space and the kitchen table becomes your work table, choose a study time that doesn't bump into meal preparation.

9. Make a friend in every class. If you're sick and miss a class, call your buddy in English class and find out what the teacher covered while you were away.

10. Never pull an all-nighter for a test. No one is at his best when he works through the night and tries to write a test or exam without adequate sleep. Be fair to yourself and set aside enough time to study or write that essay.

Page 2 of 3 -- Did you know as the parent of a teen in high school you play an important role? Learn more on page 3.

Parents in the high schools
Opportunities for parent involvement in school decrease at the highschool level, and maybe that's as it should be. Teens need a place to call their own and high school is as good a place as any. Although parents aren't needed as often to volunteer in the classroom or to help with fundraising, you may find that the parents' council requires your services, or that your contributions to career day may be solicited.

To get to know your teen's high school and to signal your interest, attend several of the events that the school sponsors or that your teen participates in. Buy tickets for the school play or a musical event. Even if your teen isn't a member of the cast, all classes likely have a certain number of tickets to sell. Your own child may want to sit with his friends rather than his parents, but at least you'll have shared the event and be able to talk about it at home. Don't miss open house or meet-the-teacher night. Showing your own school spirit sends a clear message to your teen about how important his school and his education are to you.

When you do visit the school, make an effort to meet the school principal and other key staff, even if it's only a brief introduction. You'll be glad you can put faces to names. Talk to your teen's teachers to get to know who they are and to make connections beyond the fifteen-minute parent-teacher interview.

Parents, welcome!
Parents have made themselves more welcome in some schools than in others. At Cumberland Junior Secondary School on Vancouver Island, each sports team has a parent rep who serves as a link between the team coach and the parents of team members. The school also has nine other parent volunteer committees. Parents are a common sight in the hallways as they make their way to the Parent Office, the school's unofficial headquarters for them, several days each week. It has a meeting room, a resource library, and the planning centre of their school lunch program. Parents who can't attend a meeting can check the council's website, which is chock full of the information kids always seem to forget to tell parents.

Page 3 of 3 -- Learn how to help your child transition from elementary school to high school on page 1.

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Confronting the first hardships of high school