Transitioning to High School

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October 20, 2020
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Transitioning to High School

Sue Minto

Our second child entered year 7 this year. She’d been home educated from Grades 3 to 6. Prior to that, she was in the school system. Here’s our story of her transition from home education to high school. 

Her older brother, who was also home educated, is now in year 10, having started high school at Year 7. Both our children decided they wanted to attend high school. As parents, we barely got a say in the matter. 

Before I delve into how our daughter is coping, I want to provide a background for this school, as a reference point. 

They attend an alternative school, where the principal views each student’s learning independently of other students. They offer a wide variety of electives and subjects. They have been in the media recently, for offering different starting times to suit student’s learning needs. They have developed individual learning plans (ILPs) for each student. These plans customise the student’s learning to match with what they are interested in. This school focuses on what interests the students, as opposed to the students struggling to improve on their weaknesses. They do offer tutoring for that, but it’s not their main focus. 

The school has done away with year levels, so that students can focus on their own abilities. Students of any year level are incorporated within electives. This allows learning to happen alongside a broader age range of peers. 

Students play a key role in their learning. What they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and who teaches it to them. Students choose their own staff mentor whom they meet with each day in small groups. This is the first person they turn to when they need clarification. There is a set chain of command, and students are aware of this. Students are encouraged to find solutions to their own issues. Parents are very much part of their child’s learning. 

In the early years, they focus on home learning rather than homework. Studies have shown that homework for the sake of ticking that box is useless. Home learning is broader than that. Students are required to complete ten hours of home learning. This includes extra-curricular activities, sports, family activities, cooking, reading, visiting, volunteering, making and doing just about anything. It’s teaching students that all areas of their lives are important and provide opportunities to learn and be fulfilling. Pretty much the same way home educators approach their learning. 

Now that you have the background of what this school is like, let’s dig deeper into the transition process for our daughter. 

At first, she was very nervous. Prior to orientation day and the information sessions, she knew of only one person, plus the familiar faces of her brother’s friends. Our daughter can be outgoing and interactive with people, but only once she knows them. On first meeting someone, she can appear withdrawn and softly spoken. Her father and I were surprised at just how nervous she was. 

She attended “taster days” prior to orientation day. These give students a chance to try subjects and meet their peers. She enjoyed those days and greatly benefited from them. Her confidence was building. She had made some new friends. By the time orientation day came along, she had made two friends she is now inseparable from. They’ve since added more members to their group. This is the social side and it’s working well for her. She texts her friends regularly and they have developed a close bond. She is learning from girls her own age. She often brings home questions sparked from conversations. With our open discussion policy, we have further discussed topics surrounding sex, boyfriends, and how to handle herself in different situations. Some kids seem to know quite a lot about it. Our daughter felt isolated in these peer group discussions. Her home-educated friends didn’t speak so freely about such topics. It’s not a concern to us, because we explain things in a matter of fact manner. It dilutes the potency of any topic. 

In the third week of term she attended camp. This was a turning point. She made greater connections with both students and staff. All levels of staff deliberately include students and treat them as equals. They share conversations about their genuine interests. This school is run more like a university campus in that way. 

As for the academic side, we noticed a couple of things. By being around her friends, she suddenly became more interested in learning. On her own, she could lose interest quickly because she only had me to stir her thought processes. Despite our best intentions, kids learn a great deal from each other. This can be both good and bad. Currently, this is working more in her favour. 

She has teamed up with a few classmates to organise a fundraiser to provide care and facilities for the animals in her elective program. They presented their ideas to the principal and my daughter handled this in a mature and organised manner. 

One of the most obvious things we’ve noticed is how exhausting school is for her. She’s staying up later to get things done, or just to have some downtime on her newly acquired laptop. This interferes with her much needed sleep. Mornings have never been her favourite time of day. We still have snuggle hugs in the mornings, like we used to, but they are shorter and we both know they have to end in order to get to school on time. 

Another thing we noticed is how well she can cover her tracks. She’d be a natural secret agent! She managed to convince us for the first term that she was on top of all her work. However, after attending the parent teacher interview together, we found out otherwise. She hadn’t submitted various pieces of work. She hadn’t asked for help because she didn’t want to disappoint us. She was trying to be more independent, like her brother. But her organisational skills let her down. The consistent clutter of her room would attest to that. In fact, clutter is an understatement. The realisation that she was trying to do it all alone is admirable and frustrating at the same time. Her teachers were very supportive in helping her to help herself. We have now had discussions about this, and she’s currently seeing her maths teacher once a week for tutoring. 

Our intentions with her starting high school were always very clear: we wanted to give her the freedom to adjust at her own pace. Having done that, we discovered that certain elements needed our assistance. 

Her current electives are ‘working with animals’ and ‘drama’. Next semester she intends to try ‘food technology’. In the animals program she has watched a rabbit have babies, and seen two of them die due to infection and the others thrive due to good care. This has sparked her interest in wanting to introduce and breed mice at the school. She has three pet mice and suspected one may have been pregnant. She wasn’t, but now she’s keen to follow the life cycle of mice. She needs to put this proposal to the school and they will consider it. Their default is to say yes, unless it’s too costly or it negatively impacts on others. 

We are adjusting to her being at school; it’s a different life again. Her learning is being directed from outside the home, but it’s being cultivated from within, as it always has been. We introduced a family game night that’s purely about having fun and connecting. It brings up great topics and demonstrates that our children are capable of sustaining good conversations. We laugh out loud a lot on those nights. 

To be honest, our daughter needed to go to school. She needed to be engaged in a group setting. One- on-one worked well for a time, but she’s the type of person who needs others around her to ignite her motivation. She likes being part of something bigger. As parents, we encourage our children to follow their passions and to do the best they can wherever they find themselves. For now, it’s at a school we are very happy with. However, I do miss my partner in crime; sneaking off to a café for something yummy isn’t the same when you’re on your own. 

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