Transitioning to a New School

Each year almost every student gets a new teacher, but hundreds of thousands will find themselves in an entirely new school, with new teachers, a new principal, and often times a new student body.  Parents can feel as apprehensive about these changes as their child, but there are steps they can take to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible for their child.

1)         Meet your child's teacher and the principal

New families naturally bring their past experiences and expectations to the new school where traditions and events may be different.  Many schools hold "Back to School" events before classes begin to help parents understand how the school works and what resources are available to them and their children.  This is an opportune time to meet the principal and teachers, gain an understanding of the physical layout of the school, and learn whom to contact regarding specific issues or concerns.  If your school doesn't have such an event, request one.

2)         Get to know the school building

Before school starts, get to know your child's new surroundings.  Walk through the building with him - learn where his classroom is, the lunchroom, gymnasium, the nurse's office - anywhere your child will or may be spending time. Many schools provide this opportunity during registration or Open Houses.

3)         Get to know the schedules.

Learn where and when the school bus picks up and drops off your child, and what her bus number is. Know when school starts and ends - adult supervision may not be available before and after school so it's important to make arrangements so your child is properly watched.

4)         Get to know the other parents

As your child makes new friends, you should too.  It's important to know the parents of your child's new friends so you can establish familiarity and a level of trust, as your child may play at their house or be under their care at other times.  Join the PTA or PTO, participate in school fundraisers, and attend school social events such as sporting events.

5)         Be a partner in the educational process

Research shows that children of parents who are more involved in their child's school perform at a higher level than their peers.  Help your child with homework, volunteer in the classroom 1-2 times a month, and communicate clearly with the new teacher about your aspirations for your child and what you know about her learning processes, strengths and weaknesses. This will allow the teacher to develop learning strategies that will be most effective.

6)         Check regularly with your child

Vital lines of communication do not only run to and from your child's school, but also between you and your child.  Make sure you ask him directly where he feels successful and if anything in his new environment is challenging or troubling to him. Communicate immediately with your child's teacher if you notice marked changes in your child's behavior or performance.

School Safety 

Every parent wants to know their children are safe during the day when they're under someone else's care.  It is ultimately the responsibility of the principal and school staff to ensure a safe learning environment for all students, but parents have an important role to play as well.  Mary Kay Sommers offers some helpful tips for parents on how to make the coming school year as safe as possible for their children.

1)         Learn the school's emergency procedures

Comfort with emergency plans gives adults and children the confidence to act quickly and safely.  Emergency plans and phone numbers are generally included in school handbooks.  Schools are required to conduct emergency drills in the first few weeks of school.  Evacuation plans are posted in all classrooms with both primary and alternate routes.  If you have any special concerns regarding safety or your child's reaction to drills, contact the teacher or principal.

2)         Get to know travel routes to and from the school

In the unlikely event that the school is evacuated, schools have alternate locations where they walk or bus students from which parents can pick up their children.   When parents arrive, a safe plan is in place to release children.  It's also important to know the various ways to get to and from the school in case access on one route is blocked.

3)         Know and follow school security and safety measures

For the safety of every child, it's important to follow the school's safety procedures put in place to protect all children.  These might include signing in when visiting the school, being escorted when walking through the building, or wearing a visitor pass.  Check into the office first to know the expectations in your child's school.

4)         Talk with your child about safety

Children learn more easily when parents discuss specifics and can point directly to the safe exits and routes.  Children need to know what to do when walking to and from school and what to do when they don't feel safe.  Make sure your child knows how to get in touch with you in case of an emergency or how to contact a "safe" neighbor who is likely to be at home.  Children should talk to teachers or the principal if they see something suspicious in the school or in the neighborhood.  Make sure younger children and their teachers know who is responsible for getting them home after school.

5)         Make teachers aware of your child's health and emotional concerns

Whether your child has a food allergy, a physical disability, or has been subject to bullying, make sure your child's principal and teachers are aware of any needs or circumstances that could affect their well being.  At times, health action plans are prepared to ensure safe procedures.

6)         Get involved

Make sure your child's teacher knows you and who is allowed to pick your child up after school. Talk with your principal about what you can do to increase school safety, such as organizing parents to form a neighborhood watch before and after school in the area around the school building and bus zones. Report possible unsafe conditions to the school. Sometimes parent groups are highly successful in making improvements in traffic safety around school areas.

Unique Kids 

Whether your child has special academic needs, unique health concerns, or faces other social or emotional challenges, parents should talk with the school's principal and their child's teacher to make sure that their child's needs are understood and being met.

Here are some approaches for parents of children with common special needs:

Special Health Needs

  • Meet with your child's teacher, principal and school nurse to discuss your child's condition.  Schools will complete Health Action Plans to ensure safe and efficient responses to your child's specific needs.  All medications require a physician's order to distribute at school.
  • If your child has food allergies, see what socially seamless structures the school can put in place to prevent exposure.

Academically Gifted

  • Ask questions to understand the procedures for enrolling in gifted programs or services.
  • Ask about supplemental educational programs or strategies available for gifted students.

English Language Learners

  • Ask if there is a staff member you can communicate with directly.  If not, you may ask for a translator.
  • Speak with the principal about how your child will learn English and subject matter -English Immersion, Bilingual Education, mainstreamed or pull out classes.    Ask if there is a teacher or coordinator who will serve as your primary contact for such services.

Academically Challenged

  • Be an active partner with your child's teachers and principal in developing your child's instructional plan or, if appropriate, her Individualized Education Plan through Special Education services.
  • Determine if your child needs any additional education resources beyond what the school provides and talk with your child's teacher, counselor, and principal about how to access them.

Socially Challenged

Myriad qualities can result in challenges for a child to fit in socially.  This can result in bullying, teasing, or other behaviors which ostracize a child.

  • If your child is a victim or source of bulling, talk with your child's principal, counselor, and teachers to identify strategies for quelling the situation.  Understand that student behavior can change quickly during the course of the year, necessitating new approaches.
  • Talk with your child about strategies to interact well with others and how to treat all other children. Parents can most effectively model desired social behaviors, explain why you responded as you did, and identify inappropriate behaviors in public or social settings and in TV and movies.
  • Working closely with the school and sometimes with the extra help of an external counselor will facilitate faster changes in social development.  Consistency at home and at school continues to be the critical factor in positive behavioral changes.

The Parents' Back to School List 

Every parent has a "back to school" list for their child - new clothes, notebooks, and writing tools.  But parents should construct a "back to school" list of their own to ensure a smooth a school year for their child.

1)         Mark your calendars for school events

Most schools offer "Back to School" events and parent-teacher meetings which give parents a chance to meet with teachers, the principal, and other administrators at their child's school.  Not only do these meetings give parents an understanding of what their child will be doing during the school day, they open vital lines of communication, necessary for an effective partnership.

2)         Know what your child will be expected to learn during the year

Parents who value their child's education give a strong message that school is important.  Make it a priority to review homework and the papers in your child's backpack.  All states have standards for each subject and grade level - by reviewing these standards you can make sure your child is staying on track, and take action if you see her falling behind.

3)         Develop a learning support plan at home

Parents should help children develop good study habits.  Develop a daily schedule when children will do homework and a quiet location in the home where children can work.   Help your child stay organized with a permanent place for backpacks, books, homework, notes to school, and lunch money.

Ask probing questions about what your child is learning to encourage thinking.  Encourage your child to read often, even if it isn't part of the homework plan, and make a variety of appropriate reading materials available.  Children with no TVs in their bedroom are much better readers.

4)         Visit the school's Web site

Technology can make it easier than ever to keep up with what your child is learning in class. Many schools provide a wealth of information online, from contact information, to course assignments, and even online access to your child's grades. Some schools also may post announcements about weather-related closings or have email newsletters to keep you informed about school activities.

5)         Put a safety plan in place

Make sure you child knows how to get in touch with you during the school day, and how you can get in touch with him. For younger children, make sure children and their teachers know who is responsible for getting them home after school.

6)         Seek out new ways to get involved

Research shows that children of parents who are more involved in their child's school perform at a higher level than their peers.  Join the PTA/PTO, volunteer in the classroom, and utilize email to contact your child's teacher and principal with questions and concerns.