Moving to new school is tough for kids of any age
Sep 7, 2011
By Carole Feldman, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- With her move from Miami already planned, Denia Lopez talked to her young daughters about the good things they were going to find in Washington and took them to see the school they would attend.
Lafayette Elementary School was shuttered for spring break, but the children stretched up on their toes and peeked in the windows. "The little one fell in love with the kindergarten and pre-K area," Lopez said. "She couldn't wait to get here."
Moving to a new school can be traumatic for children of any age, but there are things parents can do to help.
"Talk about it," said Donna Henderson, a professor of counseling at Wake Forest University. "Talk about both sides of it."
A move means trading the known for the unknown, and with that can come grieving for the friends, school and neighborhood left behind, she said. "There are going to be some parts of it that are really scary and that you can't figure out immediately, and that's OK. You're going to figure it out eventually," said Henderson, a self-described "Army brat" who moved frequently growing up.
But moving to a new school also is an opportunity for students to "rewrite that story about themselves" if they didn't like the way things were going, she said. "It's a chance to not make the same mistakes again."
About 37.5 million people moved between 2009 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those, about 6.5 million were school-age children, between 5 and 17. With 12.5 percent of the population on the move, schools are likely to have programs to welcome newcomers, and counselors recommend that parents take advantage of them.
Seeing the school before classes begin can help ease anxieties. Sometimes it's the school's counselor or principal who gives new families a tour of the building. Other times, it's the students, as at Sheboygan South High School in Wisconsin. Counselor Steve Schneider said that if the school has advance notice, a new student can shadow a current one for half a day, learning how to navigate things such as schedules and lunch time.
Orientation programs inform parents about what's available, from extracurricular activities to tutoring and other support services.
Once school begins, there may be special activities for new students. Lopez said her children -- third-grader Anaily and kindergartner Ayleen -- met other new students while taking part in those programs at Lafayette. "They felt better that they were not alone," she said.
Joining a club or team also can help the transition for children.
"They may not have a place socially at the outset, but you'll have a place if you're doing music or you're doing sports or if you're in a debate club or on a math team," said Betsy Cavendish, whose daughters, Lucy and Margaret Kellogg, transferred last fall from private school to public schools in Washington, D.C.
Margaret, now 14, started Alice Deal Middle School as an eighth-grader; Lucy, now 11, entered Lafayette as a fifth-grader.
"In both schools, the extracurricular programs were incredibly welcoming, and both got started off on the cross-country teams in the fall," Cavendish said. Margaret also got involved in musical programs at Deal.
The sisters will be making another transition this fall, Margaret to high school and Lucy to middle school.
"It's nice for my middle-schooler to go to high school with a base of friends that she made this year," Cavendish said.
Although transfers at any time can be difficult, counselors say the beginning of the school year usually is easier. "There are always going to be new kids coming in, so you're not alone," Micucci said.Entering midyear can be tougher because friendship groups already have been established. And academically, it may be more difficult in the middle of the year to match the new school's curriculum with that of the old, Schneider said.
Still, some parents choose that route and delay moving until the fall because they don't want their children to have a summer in a new neighborhood without friends, Henderson said.
Regardless of when the move is made, parents and counselors say it helps if children keep in touch with old friends. "I think if there's any way to maintain some continuity with their old life as they knew it rather than going totally cold turkey, then that's helpful," Cavendish said.
Lopez's daughters are spending the summer in Miami, with their father and old friends. "My older daughter also told me that for her the best thing was to have an e-mail address, and being able to chat and e-mail with her friends and old teachers," Lopez said.