Caedmon School Explains Negotiating School Transitions K-13
By Sybil Maimin
It’s “Admissions Season” in New York City-- crunch time for families with children who have applied to new schools. Letters and emails of acceptance and rejection have arrived. Exhilaration or disappointment may follow, but decisions must be made fairly quickly. Complicating matters for some families, independent schools send word before public schools do. To help diffuse the stress and help families and students negotiate the admissions process, The Caedmon School hosted “Supporting Our Kids Through School Transitions K-12” with a panel of experts who looked at the issues and suggested ways of coping.
Sharon Thomas, director of the MAIA Education Resource Center and Educational Consultant at the Brearley School, tells parents to “drown out the noise about what is the best school” and “find the best school for my child.” She said: “It is the student’s job to feel good in school, to have enough comfort to do well.” Fit isn’t always apparent right away, and a parent and child may differ about its meaning. A parent may seek an institution that meshes with a child’s interests, while his child may look for a place with a special “personality.” Matthew Stuart, Head of School at Caedmon, a pre-K (2.8 years) through 5 Montessori-based school on the Upper East Side, explained that the parent selects the school at kindergarten level, the child’s voice is part of the process in fifth grade, and the student makes the choice by eighth grade. The biggest challenge, he noted, is that “the right fit” may compete with school reputations. While advice from friends and family is plentiful, “admissions offices know what they are doing and look for kids who will succeed and thrive” in their institutions.
Todd Germaine, a psychotherapist and owner of Practice for Reflective Parenting, spoke of the anxieties and fears associated with changing schools. He spoke of young people’s needs for autonomy, choice, and involvement in decisions. Many students nurture highly developed ideas and expectations about a new environment. His own daughter’s mythologies about middle school involved mean kids, popular kids, crushes, sex, and drugs, causing her great anxiety. Reassurances and a pull-back to reality, are necessary. A common mythology about entering high school is that students will be completely on their own and mistakes will follow them through life. Clarification of new responsibilities and expectations are needed. Erika Nagy, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker, spoke about the Special Education journey. “Learning differences are nobody’s fault unless they go unaddressed,” she stated. Parenting a child with special issues is complicated, but finding a place where they can thrive produces a sense of relief. When transitioning a child from a mainstream to special-ed school, speak positively about the new situation, talk with the child about fears and reframe them, try to arrange play dates with friends from the old school, stay calm, and, when necessary, get help from professionals. When moving from a special-ed to mainstream school, involve your child in trying to find a good fit, help her strategize about the new situation, speak with the school learning specialist, and arrange for any necessary accommodations.
Sherri Maxman, owner of College Maven, counsels high school students. Going to college is a huge time of transition for youngsters, she said. At age 18, they are not yet adults but are often expected to act like adults. Ideally, the letting-go process should occur throughout high school. Teens should learn to take care of themselves, from doing their own laundry, to health care, to learning. They must be given the freedom to take responsibilities and to make mistakes. They must also learn when to ask for help. If an issue arises, the parent should let the child take the lead and, for example, be the person who talks to the teacher or coach. On college visits with parents, a teen might take a separate tour to feel free to ask his own questions. Special needs students should know the nature of their issues, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. They should go over their evaluations (with someone other than their parent) before they go to college. “They are leaving home. It’s scary,” said Waxman. “Let them know it’s okay to be scared their first year.” Despite the initial anxieties, declared Caedmon’s Stuart, who helps a class of graduating 5th graders negotiate the search process each year, “I hear lots of wonderful stories of acceptances, happiness, and success.” #