Every year, school boards across the country grapple with the issue of redistricting: Drawing new lines to decide which kids go to which schools, thanks to the opening of a new building, the closure of an old school or lopsided class sizes among schools in the same district. Once these new lines are drawn, many kids end up stuck in the middle.
If redistricting means your child is at a new school this year, it's a sure thing she’s going through a period of adjustment – which could be rough if he was happy at his old school. “It is a big deal for your child, no matter what age they are,” says Dr. Mary Beth Klotz, a certified school psychologist at the National Association of School Psychologists.
Still, in this situation your child isn’t the only one who has to get used to a new school. Everyone is in the same boat and some of your child’s old friends are probably at the new school too, which makes the transition less disorienting than moving to a whole new neighborhood.
The process of redistricting is often contentious, but Klotz says that once the new lines have been drawn, parents should keep a positive attitude and encourage their kids to embrace the new opportunities that a different school can bring.
When you’re talking to your kids, emphasize the good things like a new playground and the chance to be the first kids ever in a new school, says Dr. Karen Hoving, a psychotherapist in Aurora, Colorado.
Here are 8 tips to help you (and your kids) adjust:
- Make new friends and keep the old. The nice thing about new attendance boundaries is that some of your child’s old friends will probably be going to the new school with her. Set up a play date with some of her old friends and some new ones – or if she’s older, help her plan a sleepover or movie night. Make sure your help your child keep in touch with her friends that aren’t attending the new school.
- Keep up to date. Find out how parents at the new school keep in touch. Is there a parent e-mail listserv? Sign up for it. Does your child’s new teacher have a website? Check in regularly to keep tabs on homework assignments and classroom activities. Staying abreast on homework and happenings at school will make the transition easier for everyone.
- Get involved. Look for a way for each family member to find a place in the new school community. Is there a club or sports team your child might like to join? Could the PTA or PTO use your help on a project? Is there a school picnic coming up? Getting involved at school will not only help you and your child get to know others, but it's also a great way to show support for your child's education.
- Volunteer. Schools can always use volunteers. Give some of your time if you can. This will also allow you to get to know teachers and staff at the new school on an informal basis.
- Stay in touch. Attend back-to-school night to get acquainted with your child’s teacher. Find out if he prefers e-mails or phone calls from parents. Ask what your child can expect to learn this year and how much homework to expect every night. Asking questions and communicating frequently will help you and your child will help you stay ahead of them game when adjusting to a new school.
- Talk to your child. Ask your child what she thinks of the new school. What is her teacher like? Who does she eat lunch with? What are the names of her new friends? If you had to go to a new school when you were a kid, tell her what it was like. If you didn’t, describe how you might have felt about it. It's important to make your child feel like her feelings matter and that she has a say in this new situation.
- Remember: The teacher is your ally. Every day your child’s teacher sees how your child is progressing academically and socially. If your child is having trouble making friends or is struggling with her homework, contact the teacher right away. “The teachers will give you feedback on what they see,” Hoving says. “Anything can be helped if you catch it early.”
- Ask for help. If your child has been in the new school for a few weeks and is having problems with the change, talk to a school counselor or school psychologist. Talking to someone other than a teacher or parent can make a hugely positive impact in how your child adjusts and deals with any problems she may be having at school.
Remember that going to a new school is a new start for your child. She has a chance to make new friends and get to know new teachers. With caring adults like you by her side and lots of support at home and at school, she'll make it through the transition and come out a stronger person.