By Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.
Not so very long ago, your child was entering middle school and was tied up in knots worrying about how he would find his way in the huge new school, if he would have any friends, and if the classes would be too tough. Now he's facing high school, and guess what he's worried about? The same things. Plus he knows that now it really counts. He needs to decide if he's aiming for college or the workforce. He definitely must accumulate enough credits to graduate and may need to pass a state-mandated exit exam. And then there's dating, getting a driver license, and his first job.
OK. Slow down, just a bit. High school is a time of great change and numerous "firsts" and transitions. Luckily, you and your student don't have to cope with all of them at once, and certainly not all during his first few weeks as a freshman. So let's take a relaxed look at what is important during the transition from middle school to high school, and what extra concerns may crop up for your child with learning difficulties.
Scott*, a 16-year-old sophomore with learning difficulties, reflects on his early weeks in high school: "I was a little worried about finding my way around the new school. But I knew I had managed to get around OK in junior high and I had done the whole locker thing already, so I figured I'd get where I needed to be. After a couple days, it was no problem."
Scott didn't just make the move from junior high to high school, he also transferred from a private school to the local public high school. He credits friends and sports with helping make the transition easier. "I already knew people from my neighborhood and the swim team and seeing familiar faces helped a lot. That made me more comfortable. I met even more people by trying out for water polo."
The classes, on the other hand, were more of a concern. Says Scott: "The workload increased dramatically. Junior high was much more relaxed. In high school, the teachers are stricter and there are more deadlines." He says his parents were (and still are) a great help. "When I get discouraged, they remind me that things will get better and help me to keep going."
Scott's experience confirms formal research findings: Kids moving into high school rely heavily on friends and are, at least at first, caught off guard by the academic workload (Letrello, T., 2002; Mizelle, N, 2000; Akos, P., 2004). This applies to students with learning problems as well as those without. Scott's participation in swimming and water polo probably contributed to his smooth transition. Studies reveal that students who feel they are a part of the school community are more motivated and show higher academic achievement (Isakson & Jarvis, 1999). Parents should also know that the transition period is more than just the first few weeks of school. Many schools treat the transition as a long-term process, beginning in the 8th grade and continuing through the 9th, and provide multiple avenues of support and information to help freshmen settle in socially and academically (ERIC Development Team 2006; Isakson & Jarvis, 1999; National Network of Partnership Schools, 2005).
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