The start of high school is one of the milestones in a child's life, but a new beginning can arouse excitement and worry for first-year students.
"There are two major transitions to make – the first social, the second academic," explains Jenny Crampton, counselor at Newpark Comprehensive at Blackrock, Co. Dublin, which has approximately 850 students.
"How big the transition is depends on the student and the type of school they come from," she says. "If they come with friends from a local school, and they have used the facilities here for swimming or hockey, it can be less of a transition, while if they come in as one student and have never been visited, it can be a big transition . & # 39;
But even without a group of friends from primary school, it can go to secondary school. "It can be very difficult in the beginning if you do not know anyone, but what happens is that you are forced to make branches, whereas if you come with a group from your school, it is very easy to keep them up. So, in the long run, this may mean that you meet a broader group of people. "
So what about the academic leap from junior to senior school?
"That transition was always a big step, but the new Junior Cert should make it a bit more seamless," says Crampton, who has been a teacher for more than 30 years. "It is more self-directed learning, less exam-oriented and more group work with classroom assessments, so that is all a consequence of what they did at primary school."
Schools apply different methods to make the first days at the second level less stressful. At Newpark, all incoming first-year students – from more than 30 primary schools for nutrition – follow an assessment morning during the sixth class, including a break for fun. Students who need extra support also visit another morning for targeted activities. In addition, Crampton and her colleague Eoin Norton set out to meet students at larger feeder schools and give advice on what to expect.
A subject that they always focus on is organization. "It is the key word during the first year," says Crampton. "There will be so much emotionally going on in your mind that if you can organize yourself, it's a big start, I suggest taking those big mesh zip pockets for every subject and storing everything they need for each class This means that with their lockers they can just pack the drawer they need and we also recommend putting a small timetable in their bedroom, with memories: Monday, PE equipment, Tuesday, home ec-things so they do not forget things. "
What can parents do to prepare their children for the second level? "It's about supporting them emotionally and practically," says Crampton. "If your child does not know anyone, help him meet one or two people in advance, help them to get organized, get their books and uniform and appoint them, to buy and organize folders for each subject, to change the timetable make and light it up, show them how to use the homework diary and how to organize their cupboard, but it's important that they are the owners of everything, it shows them how, but it does not work for them.
"Parents can also help students with their expectations," she continues. "It's important for them to know that it's good to be nervous, let them know they can be a bit scared, maybe even feel a bit lonely, acknowledge that it can be a difficult time, but they'll get through it like they did when they went to elementary school. "
Helping children overcome the first fears is a big step towards independence. "Most new students want to be at the door or in the parking lot or on the bus," says Crampton. "Some may need that extra support during the first few days, but if a child is anxious, the only way to overcome their fear is to have the fear of going to school." There is nothing worse than seeing your child upset, but you have to build resilience. "
Many early years can also have problems with their new school and routine. "For some students this means they do not find a friend, they try to keep up with other students, if they are not organized, or if they find it difficult to keep up, that's going to be a problem," says Crampton.
"If you do not feel at home, it can help you become a member of lunch clubs, sports and / or drama, as well as basic operations such as spinning and saying" hello "to everyone sitting next to them. They help practice Give them a sentence to say: Hello, to which elementary school did you go? & # 39 ;; or & # 39; Have you joined sports groups? & # 39 ;. It is only a one-liner but sometimes they even need a little help. "
Constant conversation with your new first year is central, Crampton notes, especially when they are not there. "Ask them what is it like? With whom were you today?" It must be non-judgmental, sometimes parents are too quick to seek advice, and maybe they just have to listen, if a student has had a bad day, you just have to hear what they say Instead of reacting, it's about reflecting and reacting We can not fix everything for kids It's hard to see them angry and say they do not have friends, but I would not jump to call the school If you continue with the conversation you will often find that they have a friend It may not be the close friendship they want now.
"If you jump in too quickly, you support their feelings of fear, give them soft encouragement instead, have you joined the rugby, did you join the drama, keep the conversation going, but sit back and reflect a week? or two to see what really happens. "
Another factor that parents and teachers have to be aware of, Crampton notes, is that some children do not want or need friends. "They do not want to be part of the group, they are happy in themselves, or they are happy with their only friend, and we have to be careful not to give them the feeling that something is wrong with it."
Parents, however, will see indicators if their child is very unhappy, she says. & # 39; They will be upset. There will be a real change in character. They may not want to sleep. If they do not come to school, it has gone too far. & # 39;
If problems arise, teachers must be the first port of call, says Crampton. "They stand on the ground and see them every morning, they know the group dynamics."
If a child reaches her door, this may mean that they find a challenge for secondary education. "However, I usually only do what the parent can do at home and she learns a few small skills – often the point is to let them know what is there and give them a gentle push – sometimes when they go to school, they are so overwhelmed by everything that they forget what is available to them, it may be just as well to help them disassociate their small concerns and show them that they can do something about it. "
Although students must become independent, it is also important that parents remain involved, emphasizes Crampton, both through parent associations and with the progress of their child. "Keep looking at the homework journal, our diary is a form of communication so that you can see if they have positive stickers or negative stickers, we now use VSware, which means parents get a code and you know the presence of their child, their behavior, their reports, etc. can be seen online.You can not leave it all at the school.You can not say, & # 39; but I did not know that they had not done their homework & # 39; and it is now Christmas The note may have been written in the diary, take responsibility and occasionally look through your child's writing. "
Social media is another area where parents must stay involved, she adds. "It's a big problem and parents have to take responsibility for it – in the first year it's not a bad idea to have access to their social media accounts, you're giving them an adult device that can cause huge problems. use the tools to use it safely and without being mean to others, otherwise they learn from each other and that is not a good thing. "Keep phones or devices out of the room at night is also a" no-brainer " "". "It is not good for their sleep patterns or their mental health."
The first year may turn out to be a honeymoon period for many students, Crampton notes. "They are all at their best because it is important that they are in a group, have an identity, but usually around February you will see that the group dynamics come into play and the second year is actually the year that many parents most challenging and difficult to find in terms of friendships. "
Finally, says Crampton, parents must remember that the first year can be exhausting. "Even getting buses in the morning can be tiring, they're tired of Halloween, but they're flattened at Christmas, so let them flatten out."
Advice for students by students
In September there is only the third intake of first-year students at the Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School in Dublin. Guidance counselor Alice O & # 39; Connor, who previously worked at a large high school for boys, says that despite a smaller school population, students experience many of the same childhood illnesses.
"There were more agencies and more teachers to get to know in the bigger school, but the students here face the same organizational and social challenges and stresses.
"They have to learn how to navigate through the school building and the school day, to learn to manage their lockers and to be organized for each class, to learn to take responsibility and to find their place." Being in a smaller group also means that relationships can be more intense , what other challenges entails. "
We asked a number of current Stepaside students to draw up a list of tips for new first-year students across the country.
Our survival guide for the first years
Starting high school can be a fearful and disturbing time for new students. We are & # 39; Relationship Keepers & # 39; at Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School, which means that we are trained to help everyone in the school environment and peace, love and positivity & # 39; spread. We all remember the first year and know that it can be very difficult and scary, so here are our top 10 tips to make your life easier:
1. Take care of your things and they will take care of you. Put your name on your stuff.
2. If you are prepared, you are never afraid. Take the time to get used to bypassing the school and using lockers.
3. School is scary, be early. Plan your trip to school before you start in September and do test drives.
4. Take responsibility for what you do.
5. Try anything and everything. Give sports and clubs a chance.
6. Try to deal with everyone, otherwise you will be left without someone.
7. Meet new people on the first day and they will be your friends until you are old and gray! Socialize. Do not be afraid to approach people.
8. Focus on school work, but a lot of fun – it's for six years, honey!
9. You are, because you are the best you could possibly be, because there is no one who is you but you.
10. School is difficult, but remember – staying positive helps you to get far.
Written by Dominic Newman, Sadhbh MacLaughlin, Phares Osa Amadasun, Nicole O & # 39; Neil, Lillie Power and Cuan Weijer