Could you imagine your grandmother sitting next to you in your class at school? A few years ago, a 106-year-old Norwegian woman received an offer from local authorities for a free bus ride to the school where she was registered to attend the following Autumn!!
Ingeborg Thuen was born in 1897 and actually began school just before she turned the age of six in the year 1903. As it happened, computers in the town of Os near Bergen in Norway, read the '97 of her birth year as 1997. So, this meant that she would be starting ‘first grade’ the following term.
The smiling grandma welcomed the free ride, saying that the last time she started school, she had to walk for an hour every morning. The letter from the township also encouraged Ingeborg's parents to list the children she would like to have in her class!
Learning alongside those with whom we are familiar is one of the latest strategies deployed by educationalists when children make the transfer from primary to secondary or high school. Every possible effort is made to ensure that the 11/12 year olds settle into their new learning environment and much importance is placed on ‘being with your friends.’
It is never easy venturing into this whole new world where for new first year pupils, they become the ‘little people’ having enjoyed the senior tag the previous year in primary school. So, it is understandable that for new students, this landmark moment in a child’s life comes with some apprehension.
There are two major transitions to make, one social and the other academic. A lot depends on the students and the type of school they had previously attended. Some may already live locally and have used the facilities for sport or other activities, making the transition that bit smoother. Some will arrive with their friends, which can be a help provided it doesn’t hinder a pupil reaching out to others and making new friends.
The academic leap is always a big one even though every effort is made to make it appear seamless. A varied timetable, the study of new subjects and a different teacher for each are usually listed as the biggest of the changes from what they knew before. It means getting to know the teacher and forming a new relationship with each of them.
For many, attending secondary school will involve traveling some distance just to get there. This means having to catch a bus in the morning and evening, a new experience that can be exhausting.
On arrival, the sheer scale of the building also presents challenges. Navigating one’s way around the school while carrying a heavy schoolbag with books for every subject as well as PE gear, a musical instrument and an Art file is physically demanding. It comes with the added mental pressure of having to find a place to leave all this baggage such as a locker (which usually fails to hold everything) or a classroom (where you won’t be scheduled to stay in for long)
Parents have a huge role in supporting their children practically and emotionally. When it comes to personal organization, here is the secret! Parents can show children how to do it instead of doing it for them. A little help in getting organized in the mornings, tagging books, uniforms and sports gear, checking homework journals offers support until confidence is built and they can fend for themselves.
Teachers always say that the big thing about secondary schools is learning how to organize oneself.
Parents can also help students to deal with their expectations. Some will be lonely, stressed or even scared. Acknowledging this, reading their feelings and beginning a conversation to hear the key issues will allow parents to address their worries and offer reassurance.
Most new students will want to be left at the entrance or the car park until they become more comfortable with their surroundings. They may need assistance or prompts to help with initiating conversations with their new classmates. Parents can help them practice what the school will already be promoting. A few one-liners can be great ice-breakers. “What primary school did you go?” “Are you interested in joining a sports team?” “Do you sing or play a musical instrument?”
As parents listen and have a constant conversation with the ‘new first year’ they will learn a lot about how their son/daughter is settling in. Short questions about ‘what is going on in school?’ and ‘what did you do today?’ ….… “who did you sit beside?’ are all useful leads for responses that give a good indication of what is happening in their lives. Signs of being unsettled are changes in character, being upset or unhappy, not sleeping at night or afraid to go to school in the mornings.
While students need to become independent, it is advisable that parents stay involved. One good way of doing this is to keep a regular check on the child’s homework journal. As it is a form of communication, it will show patterns in behaviour and teachers comments. Some schools now use Virtual Learning Environments that are accessible to parents and here they can find out a whole lot more about pupil-progress.
As the year goes on and students become more acquainted with the school, it should follow that they settle in fluently. It may take a term or even two before the ‘getting to know you’ phase has ended and the dynamics of the newly formed relationships move on from the ‘honeymoon period.’ By second year, friendships are established, routines are well known and different challenges emerge.
Social Media is another area where parents need to remain involved. This has become a huge issue with teenagers, many of whom are only introduced to it in the early years of secondary school. Having access to social media accounts if they exist is by no means a bad idea in the first year of high school.
Schools stress the dangers that come with using this form of communication and parents can help in explaining how it should be used safely. The global ‘crowd’ on social media never sleeps.
‘Friends’ on Facebook, ‘followers’ on Twitter might fill in the time and advice gaps that ‘Granny’ can never match. But wouldn’t you just as rather have her sitting beside you in class as one of your best friends!