Easing the Move to a New School
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
It is estimated that one out of five families moves every year. If your family is like most, your child will probably change schools at least once prior to graduation. A change in schools can be as stressful for children as a change in jobs and communities for their parents. For many children, their school is the center of not only their educational life but their social and recreational life as well. Older children generally have a more difficult time adjusting to a school change because their peer relationships are more firmly established.
While moving to a new community holds the promise of something new and different, school-age children are often more worried than excited. They will likely not want to leave their friends behind or go from a familiar setting to an unfamiliar one. They may fear that they will not like the kids in their new school or, even worse, that the kids will not like them. They may worry that the work in their new school will be too hard or that their new teacher will be too strict. They may fret that their clothes will be out of style in their new school.
These jitters are natural and should be expected. You will not be able to completely put your child’s fears to rest by soothing words of reassurance. Only experience can do that. And the adjustment will take a little while.
With the myriad concerns that parents must attend to during a move, it is easy for them not to give the school change the attention it deserves. There are some steps, however, that parents can take to smooth out the likely bumps their children will find during the first few days in their new school. They are described below.
- Do your homework on possible schools for your child. There are a variety of ways of gathering information about a school system or a particular school. While you will want to talk with other parents who have children in the system, review the local paper and obtain comparative statistics (money spent per child, class size, teacher salary scale, standardized test scores, etc.), nothing can replace a visit to the school itself. It’s best to visit when school is in session so you can get a feel for the tone of the school as well as its teachers and students. Call the school before you go and ask to meet with the principal during your visit.
- For parents who are considering moving to a community in another state, a service is available (for a fee) which can help you evaluate school districts across the country. Called School Match, this organization has information on all of the public schools within the United States as well as private schools all over the world. You can obtain further information by going to www.schoolmatch.com.
- Try to move before the start of school. Parents don’t always have control of the timing of the move but the school transition is considerably easier for children if they begin the school year in their new school. Other children new to the school will also be starting at the beginning of the year. In addition, if your child moves in the middle of the year, she can sometimes miss out on learning critical skills because of the differences in the two schools’ curricula. The move may also be easier for your child if the students in her grade are also entering a new school (for example, they are going from elementary to middle school).
- Acknowledge your child’s worries but look for the silver lining. Give your child a chance to express her fears and anxieties. Be respectful of her feelings and be extra patient with her during the first few days of school when she is likely to be on edge. Let your child know that you understand her worries and assure her that it is very normal to feel nervous about changing schools but don’t feel that you have to offer solutions. What your child is looking for is a sympathetic ear. At the same time, reassure her that it will take a little while but with time she will feel comfortable in the new school. Your positive attitude will help your child feel more confident in the move.
- Visit the new school. Try to arrange a visit to the school with your child even before she is scheduled to begin. Call in advance and ask if you can meet with the principal. The purpose of this meeting is not only to establish a rapport with the principal but also to obtain specific information. Make sure to confirm that this the is the school your child will be attending. You will also want to know about school hours, lunch policy, bus arrangements, and the school calendar but most importantly you will want to inquire of the program options. If your child has any special needs, make sure to talk with the principal about them. Ask what specific school records the new school will need and what information you will need to bring in when enrolling. (You will likely need to be living at your new address before you can enroll your child.) Most likely, you will need proof of your child’s age, proof of residency, and health records. Ask if you can have a brief tour of the school. While walking around, make note of the other students’ dress so that you can help your child to dress in a way that helps her to fit in. If your schedule allows, volunteer for some school activities. This is not only a way of getting to know your child’s school better but also of meeting other parents who will give you vital information about the school that you will not hear from the principal. Before leaving, make sure to introduce yourself to the school secretary. She is a key member of the school staff whose help you will likely need at some point.
- Review school records before they are sent. Make sure that your child’s records are accurate, complete, and current, and include grades for the most recent marking period. If the records contain inappropriate comments, ask that they be removed from the file. It is helpful if the teacher from the previous school can send to the new teacher a description of your child’s strengths and weaknesses as well as skills covered. If your child is in a special education program, arrange for the Individualized Education Program (IEP) document and evaluation reports to be sent before your child enrolls so there is minimal delay beginning in the new school. If your child is in a special education program, the new school may not allow your child to begin until it has reviewed the evaluation reports and IEP from the previous district and developed its own IEP.
- Help your child meet other children. Your child will feel more comfortable going to a new school if she knows at least one other student. If you move during the summer, find out the names of children the same age as your child who live nearby. The principal may be willing to give you some suggestions. Put aside social inhibition and try to arrange some dates for your child to play with other children. It is also a chance to meet other parents. These social connections will be important in your child’s overall adjustment to school so be flexible about allowing your child to invite other children to the house even if boxes are still unpacked and the curtains are not yet hung. Also, arrange for your child to join a reasonable number of school or local activities soon after moving into the community.