My daughter just started as a freshman at a specialized high school and came home the first day convinced that she will never like this school or be comfortable with the fit. She is interested in transferring to a smaller school that fosters creative and analytic thinking, community, and independence. My question is: How and when can a parent "know" that her child and the child's school are not well-matched? How would you advise proceeding?
Her father and I are concerned that if we wait too long to explore other options, any transfer spots for which she might qualify will be filled, that we will let he in for serious misery, and that she will just refuse to go to school (which she has threatened to do). On the other hand, it seems premature to conclude after a very short trial (today was her 4th day here), that we are dealing with a square peg/found hole situation, and not just an advanced case of what my mother would have called "the jitters."
I would also like to hear from other parents in this situation. My guess is that there are quite a few of us!
Sincerely, Freshman Mom
Dear Freshman Mom,
I put your question to a number of people – the mother of a high school student who did transfer after freshman year, a mother of two graduates of specialized high schools, a mother of an 8th grader who is researching schools right now, and the 8th grader himself. Here’s what the student had to say: “No one is going to like school the first day.” That is more or less what the others had to say as well. It takes time to adjust to any new situation and 9th grade especially is a huge change in a kid's life.
Your daughter’s reference to creative and analytic thinking, and school community sounds like she is a product of a small middle school that must have fostered these qualities. High schools, especially specialized high schools, tend to be more traditional and put more responsibility on kids to navigate the system. At the same time there is perhaps a loss of independence in class work. But even in big schools there is usually at least one teacher who will value a student's creativity, pique her interests and with whom she’ll find rapport.
One of my informal panelists suggested that you identify the problem. Is there too big a homework load? Are there supports for floundering students? Is the social scene mean? Life among students outside the classroom makes a big difference in adjusting to high school. She will no doubt find a kindred spirit, perhaps through a club, a team, or an after school activity. If she is traveling a distance to school, she may encounter a buddy on the same route.
If she won’t be specific about these issues, make an appointment with the dean, guidance counselor or grade adviser or whichever staff person seems to have the best connection with students. There may be some fairly easy ways to save the situation – good schools don't want to lose good students! Or there may be a good reason that misery trumps all the advice we can give you. Should this be the case, you’ll have to look into alternatives such as non-specialized high schools or even transfer schools like Urban Academy, It is more realistic to consider a mid-year transfer than to push the panic button right now. It is even more realistic to do the high school admissions process for sophomore year. In any case, holding out the possibility of transfer is an incentive to your daughter to keep up her school work so as to be an attractive candidate to a new school.
If the situation does not improve, it's up to the Education Department's enrollment office to decide whether your daughter can move to a different school. Transfers are not easy to come by. My suggestion: Identify some schools that might be a better fit, talk to the guidance counselor about helping you make a case, and then prepare yourselves to persistently advocate for her. You may find that the alternatives they suggest are not to your liking.
Let’s hope you are right about the “jitters,” and all goes well. And for a dose of good advice from someone who's been there not so long ago, read Liz Willen's High School Hustle.
Anyone with a similar situation please weigh in with an opinion or advice!