New school year, new grade -- how to make the transition

Posted: Sunday, August 08, 2010

Like clockwork, school starts over again every year. But it's not always the same school for a youngster.

Life has transitions, and so does matriculating through the education system. Meeting the challenge of those transitions can be a test every season -- for the students and their parents.

Kay Downs, a first grade teacher at Soldotna Elementary, said that parents often become overly focused on their child's academic abilities going into kindergarten.

"Most teachers feel that knowing letters and being able to count isn't critical for readiness," Downs said. "Don't worry. They'll teach that."

The teacher advised adults to focus on their child's social skills. Many kids are entering a new social group, and meeting children they previously haven't been in contact with. Concepts like sharing with their peers will take on an increased importance. Parents should instruct children to express their wants, needs and disagreements through words, not actions.

In the classroom, kids will be required to pay attention for a longer time span than they're used to, as well, Downs said. Teaching children how to sit still and quietly pay attention will help them acclimate to the school day, especially as it grows longer in elementary school. Listening skills and the ability to follow directions will become an important part of their daily life because school plays a bigger role, the teacher said.

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If a parent is particularly concerned, Downs recommended visiting the school, meeting teachers and observing classes. Parents should teach students about classroom rules and discipline techniques.

"Don't lurk though, because it'll make the child uncomfortable," she said.

Adjusting to group social situations can pose a challenge, too. The teacher recommends parents sign up children for camps and other programs with kids in their age group. She said that her kid already had a solid group of friends when he entered school because of a play camp.

On unrelated, but equally important note, Downs said, "they need to know how they're getting home."

Soldotna Middle School Guidance Counselor Karen Ruebsamen said that middle school is a transitional period in its own way, because much time is spent preparing them for high school.

Ruebsamen said that elementary school children find the larger class and grade sizes a little intimidating because of the variety of backgrounds within the student body.

Unlike elementary schools, the next level of schooling involves multiple teachers instead of a handful at the most. Students often require help from teachers in finding their new classes. Simple things, like finding a locker and adjusting to a homeroom period can be difficult as well, the counselor said.

The added amount of homework can throw some students off, too. She said recommended parents come to the middle school open house to get a feel for the process and encourage their children to balance time between school, sports, activities and down time.

Moving to high school, Soldotna High counselor Sara Downs said that parents need to stay involved with their students lives even as they move towards independence.

"Parents feel like they're in high school; they don't need me any more. Students give off that attitude as well," Downs said.

"A student pulling away is a natural process," she said. "Finding a balance is what's so important."

Students should try to branch out and try new things, but Downs said that finding a specific academic, extra-curricular or sport interest will give them an anchor for their adult lives and give their high school relevance. Picking a trade school or more academically focused institution can help, as well.

New high school students have to keep academic requirements in mind, as well, she said. Some students don't realize they need to re-take a course if they fail.

Downs mentioned that honors programs and occasionally college courses also begin to play a part in the students' lives.

Taking the college courses may help the students acclimate to the independent nature of college.

"The law says you have to go to high school," said Kenai Peninsula College Director of Student Services Bill Howell. "In college your professor is not going to call the truant officer if you don't go to class."

He said that students find it difficult to manage their time during an open college day after their strict high school schedule. Howell recommended leaving a good amount of open time the first semester of college, because a job or other distractions can detract from their grades.

"If you find you're working too hard, it's easier to pull the throttle back than the other way around," he said.

Anything that goes on your college transcript stays there, as well.

"You know that permanent record people always mention? This is it," he said.

Math skills atrophy without adequate practice, and high schoolers who didn't take those types of classes should brush up, in his opinion.

A college classroom requires adult behavior, too.

"This is grown up stuff here," he said. "The guy sitting next to you may be paying out of his own pocket.

"None of that high school skylarkin' is welcome."

And as adults, students receive a certain level of privacy. He said that parents are surprised when they can't gain access to their student's grades, attendance records or anything, for that matter. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prevents the school from divulging most details.

"Parent's are used to being involved in children's schooling," he said. "I understand what [parents are] saying, but federal law says that."

Tony Cella can be reached at

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