By Kathy Peters, Director of Junior High Academics & Advising
For some families, moving from elementary school to junior high school is often as great an adjustment as leaving home for college. Why?
First, the structure of the day changes. Rather than having one or two teachers and a comfortable homeroom base to work from and return to, most students will now have 7 or 8 class periods each day. Learning to make quick transitions every 45 minutes or so and move fluidly on a schedule takes some finesse.
Next, the sheer number of people to interact with daily can be daunting. More friends, new friends, more teachers, and additional school personnel. Trying to remember who teaches what, who wanted you to bring 50 notecards tomorrow, and who to ask about your jammed lock can stump the best of us.
Then there is all of the stuff to keep track of. Keep it in a locker? Carry it all with you? Bring a lunch or buy lunches? What to do with all of the sports practice equipment and my tuba?
Lastly, the overarching theme of junior high—“What are my friends doing, wearing, studying, playing, watching, etc.”
Here are a few tips for survival:
Visit the school campus before the year begins. Find out about drop off and pick up routes, walk the halls and locate the junior high classrooms. Point out restrooms and water fountains and the cafeteria to your child. Consider the campus in all types of weather so your student can stay comfortable and dry. Be sure shoes and backpacks are sturdy and comfortable.
Cement one really good friendship for your child during the summer before junior high. Remember the angst we all felt when we walked into that new cafeteria and wondered where to sit, and more importantly who to sit with? It still happens. Having one solid friend to count on will help to navigate that as well as the many ups and downs of typical junior high relationships.
Buy only the essentials in clothing or uniforms and school supplies to start the year. Junior high students grow quickly and fads and trends change just as rapidly. That very expensive backpack or shoe may fade from popularity by the end of September.
Work with your child to develop organizational strategies. Keeping up with all of the assignments, papers, tests and due dates can be overwhelming at first. Find out if your school uses an online system for homework/assignments and get familiar with it. Encourage your child to use a planner and write things down. Color code the book covers and folders for each class. (Everything for English is blue, Math is green, etc.) Label things with your child’s full name. Consider using disposable water bottles and paper or plastic lunch bags if your child finds keeping track of personal items to be a challenge. Make a small emergency pen, pencil and paper kit to be stored in the locker.
Get involved in the life of the school. Yes, you can still volunteer. Many sports and music programs rely on parent support and involvement, and many teachers also still appreciate a helping hand with special activities or projects. If you are working full-time, offer to send in project supplies or snacks. Many schools offer parent coffees or book study groups. Plan to attend- especially if it your first year in a new school.
Communicate- Most teachers prefer email as it is easier to respond to during the busy pace of school days. Teach your student how to ask questions of adults, and empower him/her to do much of the communicating with teachers. If you make a conference appointment with the teacher, your child should attend also. Subscribe to school newsletters, get to know a group of parents, and offer to drive a group of students to the many activities that they want to attend. Get a wipe off calendar that your child can use to learn long range planning and coordinating all activities.
Above all, try to relax and enjoy this time. Junior high doesn’t last forever. (A useful phrase for both good and bad days, by the way) Take advantage of mistakes to teach problem solving and help your child to stretch and branch out in new directions. Encourage joining clubs and sports to try things out. Find ways to point out all of the things your child is learning so they can take pride in their own accomplishments. Be prepared to be amazed at how much your child is going to mature and change, while remembering that growth can be bumpy, messy and surprising.
Wishing each of you a great year in junior high!