09 Jan New Year Revolutions
A new school year brings change. We look at four different transitions school kids may face.
The First Year of School
Transition to school is not just a period of a few weeks at the start of the year; the end of the first year can be wearing for children, too.
“Most students transition well into their school environment, but for some the length of the day and five days a week means that they become very tired initially,” said Maryanne Tiller, Principal at Mitcham Primary School in Adelaide. “While that early tiredness subsides, it often returns in term four when children are involved in a lot of extracurricular activities.”
Kids starting school deal with a new situation, but so do parents.
“It’s really important that parents don’t show that they are feeling apprehensive or anxious about their child starting school as this ‘tells’ the child that school is something they need to worry about,” she advised. Instead, she suggests, be very positive and focus on the exciting day ahead.
“Visiting the school on weekends to play on the playgrounds, use the school oval or to just walk around the school familiarising themselves with the layout and different buildings is a great way to build confidence and allay fears. Open communication between the teacher and parent is vital and most schools provide a communication book or diary for this purpose. Parents also need to allow their children to develop at their own pace and not place unrealistic expectations on them – let kids be kids. Children who come to school with a positive attitude, who always try their best, and who are open to new challenges and friendships will do well at school. These attitudes come from home and the adults around them.”
From Primary to High School
Students moving from Year 6 to Year 7 have to make new friendship groups, especially if they are going to a high school where they don’t know very many students from primary school, said Danielle Kempton, ……“There is sometimes a lot of upheaval between social groupings as some students try to fit in by behaving in a way to try to impress their peers and establish hierarchy in terms of popularity. This can lead to disagreements and sometimes bullying.” Danielle said that while girls may tend towards more noticeable friendship issues, boys too can run into friendship troubles.
Some students will find the increased workload in Year 7 difficult to manage. She said parents can help by having a good relationship with the school, including the year advisor and/or deputy principal responsible for looking after Year 7. “Parents can also assist with the organisation of homework and assignments so that their child is able to keep up with everything. That doesn’t mean parents should do the homework or assignments for their child.”
Above all, advised Danielle, be available to have an open discussion with your child about how things are going.
“When students don’t express the difficulties they are experiencing, problems tend to get bigger.”
From Home to the Boarding-House
For some children, starting school means leaving home to board.
“Boys are tribal, therefore as part of their transition from one tribe to another they naturally look to make new bonds. That’s not to say they don’t miss home – the strongest tribe of all is family – but the tribal nature of their existence results in a common connection with their peers in a boarding context,” said Brisbane Boys’ College Director of Boarding, Matthew McEwen. The school boards boys from Years 4 to 12.
“Whether it’s catching the bus to rowing training or getting up at the same time to share breakfast, sharing in the small moments can make a big difference. The more boys are involved, the easier it becomes to forge new friendships and to find their place in our community.
Matthew said that when a family sends their son to boarding school, there is always a thought of ‘Will he be ok?’.
“As a parent myself I know how this can have a real impact on families. In the early stages, it’s important for parents to encourage their son to persevere with trying new things, meeting new people and broadening their perspective. And for parents it’s about honouring his growing sense of independence. Our ‘Home Away From Home’ program connects our boarders with day students so they can be part of a wider family environment and conversely for day students this enables them to better understand life as a boarder.
“Our boarding house is an incredibly close-knit community with the boys often referring to themselves as a ‘band of brothers’.”
From One Culture to Another
For the first time in 2016, 22 Year 7 Indigenous students from remote areas of Australia attended the new Melbourne Indigenous Transition School, mits.vic.edu.au. A new concept in Aboriginal education, the school boards the kids at an ornate historic building in Richmond adapted to a welcoming home, from where they walk to school inside the Richmond Football Club’s Korin Gamadji Institute.
“The step from a home community to a large Melbourne school is a huge one and we think that the kids who make this step are extraordinary!” said Edward Tudor, the school’s Executive Director. “Different kids face different challenges: language, culture, academics, and of course homesickness can all be a part of this.”
The school aims to be more than just culturally safe; it aims to be culturally celebratory.
“We encourage our kids to talk in their own languages (except swearing, of course!), encourage family and other Indigenous kids to treat the boarding house as a home-away-from-home, and we have filled it with Indigenous art from our kids’ communities. A large proportion of our staff are Indigenous people, some who have personally experienced the challenges and rewards of schooling away from home. We’re fortunate to have great teachers and a low teacher:student ratio, which allows us to provide differentiated learning programs for students.
“For us, it’s important that our families genuinely want their children to come to school in Melbourne; away-from-home schooling will not be the right thing for every child. We want to be walking ‘hand in hand’ with their families, so that they are active participants in their children’s education, despite the geographic distance. We encourage our parents to accompany their kids to Melbourne at the start of term, and our staff accompany kids home at the end of term to talk with our families about their progress and their achievements. In the school holidays, we encourage our parents and families to celebrate their kids’ achievements and ensure that they are reconnecting with family, culture and country. We take a four-week mid-year break: in the Top End this is the dry season and an important time to get out on country and sometimes participate in important ceremonies.”
Image by Cynthia del Rio