As one school year winds down, its good to start thinking about the next year. Perhaps you have a child who will simply be moving from one grade to another in the same school. Maybe your child is facing a more dramatic transition such as:
- Starting Preschool for the first time
- Entering Kindergarten
- Moving from Elementary to Middle School
- Beginning High School
It is time to move from thinking to planning! Take steps to make this transition as smooth as possible by gathering information about what might be coming up, and sharing important information about your child with the right people.
If your child is staying at the same school, find out what might be different for the coming year (e.g. class size, number of teachers/aides, daily schedule, curriculum, meal times, etc.). Each of these factors could impact your child and may require some changes in how your child’s needs are met. You might also want to speak with the Principal about the classroom environment and/or teacher styles that are likely to be successful or unsuccessful for your child. Hopefully the Principal will use this information to make a good match when class assignments are made.
If your child is moving to a new school, you will still want to know the things mentioned above, PLUS:
- Visit the new school to check out the physical layout and ask about a typical day
- Think about any possible barriers or challenges that your child might have in the new setting
- If your child is entering middle or high school, ask about required courses and any options that may exist. Some courses are offered at multiple difficulty levels, and there may be other ways to help make sure that your child gets a course schedule that will work for him/her
- Request a transition IEP meeting to discuss and make decisions about any changes that may be needed in the accommodations, modifications, supports, services and/or goals
- For many children, it is helpful for them to have an opportunity to walk through the new school and possibly see their classroom(s) and meet their teacher(s) sometime before school starts. There may also be other steps that you can to help make this transition a smooth one.
Most importantly, stay positive and help your child feel good about the upcoming school year!
It’s report card time and time to see how the first half of the school year went. If your child’s report card reflects solid grades and good work habits, some sort of celebration is in order. One of my co-workers learned that her daughter earned a 96 in an advanced math class. She offered to buy ice cream, but her daughter wanted her bedroom painted instead. Fair enough!
If, on the other hand, you were disappointed in your child’s progress or performance, there is still time to turn things around. You and your child can press the reset button by looking for ways to improve on things that you have been doing. Think about changes that can be made on many possible levels.
- If your child has poor sleeping habits, try establishing a bed-time routine that gradually steps down the amount of activity and stimulation in the household. A well-rested brain functions better.
- If your child wastes time in the evening and then stays up late doing homework, set a firm cutoff time to stop working, shut down the computer and place everything in the backpack (which will “live” in a designated spot in another room). Then start winding things down toward bedtime. Provide prompts and reminders earlier in the evening to serve as fair warning. It may take a couple of incomplete assignments or disappointing test grades to get the real message across. Don’t cave in though, because it is essential that students develop good work habits, including learning how to effectively manage their time, if they are going to be able to sustain their success throughout the school and college years. Showing up for class exhausted and inattentive will eventually take its toll. Throwing together projects at the last minute and cramming for tests will also lead to poorer quality results that your child will take less pride in. I know this first-hand from my experience as person who went through school with undiagnosed ADHD.
- If your child is overwhelmed by an over-packed schedule that doesn’t leave enough time for schoolwork and “down time,” consider taking a break from one of the activities. Unless your child is talented enough that a sport or cheerleading scholarship is a real possibility, they might be better off burning the candle from only one end. Keep the activities that give them joy, and set aside those that are on the schedule just because of habit.
- If your child has an IEP or Section 504 accommodation plan, review it to see if it adequately addresses her current needs. It might be time to update the accommodations and supports to match performance expectations that tend to get higher each year. Get your child’s input so that any changes are going to be ones that they think will be helpful and will cooperate with.
- Re-establish lines of communication with teachers and other school staff. If your child will have different classes for the 2nd semester, there may be new teachers who may not be aware of his special needs or the fact that you are a concerned and involved parent who expects to be considered an equal part of your child’s educational team. Set a positive tone and let them know that you are looking for this semester to be better than the last one.
- Look for any other areas where a change for the better might be possible: diet and nutrition, general health and well-being, mental health, organization (personal and/or household), social skills, etc. Consult with trusted friends, family and professionals to see if they have any suggestions.
If things are going great, keep doing what you are doing. If not, try something different that might lead to better results. Remember, there can be no growth without change!
For students in middle and high school it is extremely important for parents to keep up with the courses that they are taking. The classes should offer the right amount of challenge (not too easy, not too hard). They should be preparing your child for whatever their goals are for life after high school. More importantly, the courses need to be chosen so that they meet the graduation requirements for your school system. With many schools using computer programs to create schedules for students, it’s not hard for the needs of individual students to be overlooked.
For many students who have disabilities, course selection is even more critical. For some students it will be important to make sure that they are placed in the course sections that are co-taught by both regular education and special education teachers. This can offer real-time assistance and support to help students be successful with grade-level material. The co-taught classes can be selected in the areas most likely impacted by the student’s disability. Sometimes the assumption is made that, because the student has an IEP, they should automatically be placed in the lowest level course available. This approach would keep many students from building on their strengths to reach their full potential. Students who need support in some subjects can also take typical or even honors classes in subjects that are areas of strength for them.
These days, most high schools are using block schedules that cover the entire content of a course during a single semester. It may be important to make sure that the courses that will be most challenging for your child are not all piled into the same semester. With thoughtful planning, the school can create a schedule that spreads the work load out more evenly. For example, your child can take two really hard classes at the same time plus a support class and an elective in an area of interest. This kind of planning from the very beginning will usually allow students to complete all of their graduation requirements within 4 years so they can graduate with their peers. Even if they have to pick up a summer class or return for an extra semester, the goal is that the student experiences success and gains knowledge that will help them throughout their life. The extra time will be well spent.
Parents also need to look out for other kinds of scheduling problems:
- Make sure that courses are taken in the right sequence. The level1 course should come before the level 2 course.
- Make sure that your child is not assigned to a course that they have already successfully completed. With rare exceptions, they will not earn course credit the second time around.
- Make sure that your child was not placed in an elective course that they have no interest in, or one that is a poor fit, just because there was space in that class. Forcing an extremely shy kid to take a drama class will probably not end well.
- Make sure that your child is on track to graduate when expected. Your child could be taking math and science classes that are counted as “electives” that do not meet the graduation requirements for that subject area. If your child comes up short by missing even a single graduation requirement, they will not get a diploma. At least once a year have your child’s guidance counselor review the courses that your child has taken and compare them to the courses required for graduation.
Read your child’s class schedule carefully as soon as you get it. If you see anything on that doesn’t look right, contact staff at the school immediately. Go to the school in person if you need to. The sooner any problems are corrected, the easier it will be for your child, and the better their educational experience will be.
We sometimes get calls from parents of high school students that are concerned that their child is doing poorly in school for one reason or another, and as we try to get to the root of the problem, we may ask the parent what classes the student is taking. I am dismayed, but no longer surprised, by the number of parents who cannot answer that question. If parents don’t know the courses that their child is taking during a given semester, then it very likely that they also don’t have a good understanding of where the child stands with regard to meeting the requirements to graduate with a diploma.
In North Carolina there are two courses of study (COS) that lead to a high school diploma: the Future-Ready Core Course of Study and the Future-Ready Occupational Course of Study (OCS). Each COS has it’s own specific set of requirements, which must be met completely before the student will be able to receive a diploma. The decision about which COS is the most appropriate for a particular student is usually made late in the 8th grade year, and parents need to ask as many questions as necessary to understand what will be expected of their child. But that’s just the beginning!
Parents and students should periodically check to see which graduation requirements have been met and which are still outstanding. In most schools, the guidance counselors will meet with each student at least once a year, especially as courses are being selected for the following year. What’s surprising to many parents is that a lot of schools do not routinely involve parents in this process. The parent may have to initiate contact with the counselor and ask to have an unofficial transcript sent home, or maybe schedule a face-to-face meeting with the counselor to see where things stand. Every school system will have it’s graduation requirements available on it’s website and in any high school planning guide that they may publish (you may have to ask for a copy in order to get one).
Think about how much time the student has left in school, and which courses have to be taken before the student will be allowed to take a needed, or desired, course (those are called “prerequisites”). Are there any tests or projects that are stand-alone graduation requirements? If your child plans to go to college, are they taking the courses that will meet the college or university’s admission requirements? Is the student taking, but failing course after course, ending up with very few credits toward graduation? Are they taking remedial courses that they pass, but only count as elective credits? Is the student taking career-technical classes that have nothing to do with their career goal or area of interest? If the student is on the OCS, do they have the required number of hours for each type of work experience? If not, what’s the plan for accomplishing by the time graduation is expected? Who can help with this?
In some cases, parents and students have made a 5-year plan for high school, only to be told that the student MUST graduate at the end of four years. When this happens, there has often been inadequate planning for the student’s transition to adulthood and nothing is in place to support them once they leave school. Spacing the required courses out over a longer period of time can buy the student more time to work on transition goals, further develop their skills, and have experiences that will give them a better chance for success as an adult.
The bottom line is that parents need to stay on top of their student’s progress throughout the high school years. There is a High School Planner available at www.cfnc.org that can help parents and students keep track of graduation requirements that have been, or still need to be met. A similar tool may be available through the high school. Once again, the guidance counselor will be the key contact for this entire process. Establishing a good working relationship with that counselor can only work in your child’s best interest, so it’s well worth the effort.