Preparing a child for the beginning of a new school year typically involves a whirlwind of registration dates, classroom tours and shopping for supplies. But when all of these events take place in a new town, first-day jitters are often compounded with numerous questions and uncertainties from both children and parents. Helping your child adjust to a new school is something that you should initiate well in advance, and the summer is a great time to begin planning for this big change. Indeed, summer moves, unlike mid-year transfers, afford plenty of time to get ready, socially as well as academically. If you have a game plan, it will ensure a smoother transition and help to ease your child’s mind. So, be prepared to hit the ground running, even before your moving van arrives in Atlanta.
Do Your Homework
It is important to acknowledge the type of school that is best for your child, whether it be public or private. Several reports have surfaced in recent years, stating that smaller is better when it comes to educating today’s students. Generally, teachers favor small settings and believe that having fewer students at a time improves overall learning. This is especially true for the lower grades—pre-kindergarten and kindergarten—where students require more space, less crowded rooms and minimal distractions. If small class size is important to you, consider moving to an area in Atlanta with schools that can meet this need or look into private schools, which tend to enroll fewer students.
Metro Atlanta offers a wealth of education options, so you should research beyond public versus private and get to know the wealth of options that exist, including charter and magnet, which are public school programs; single-gender schools such as the Atlanta Girls’ School; international schools that incorporate a global perspective into their teachings, such as Atlanta International School; and schools for children with learning differences, such as The Bedford School in Fairburn.
In addition, be sure that your child is able to meet the state’s expectations at his or her level. The Georgia Department of Education’s Web site for performance standards (www.georgiastandards.org) contains detailed descriptions of each grade’s knowledge requirements for math, language arts, social studies and science. Identifying where your child stands will help with placement in middle and high school. Before your big move, ask your child’s current teachers to review the standards for specific course descriptions and then write letters of recommendation regarding placement.
Once you have selected a school for your child, make sure you do a bit more research on it. Find out when open houses and/or personal tours take place, whether the school hosts camps and if there are summer workbook or reading requirements. At most public and private schools, students—even new ones—are required to complete some summer schoolwork before the first day of the new year. Reading lists, book reports and math packets are common assignments. Many schools feature summer reading lists on their Web sites and some duplicate these lists at local bookstores and/or office supply stores—ask a school administrator where you can locate these lists. To make certain that your child is as prepared as the other students, schedule a meeting with his or her new teachers ahead of time to discuss the required summer homework.
Finally, there are some important questions that need to be answered well before the first day of school: What time does school begin in the morning? Where is the bus stop, or how does car pool work? Is there a uniform, and if so, where can it be purchased? Be sure to ask a teacher or school administrator for answers to these questions, as well as any other questions you feel need to be answered. And also make sure you share the answers with your child so that he or she is also informed and feels part of the preparation process.
As soon as you are settled in your new house, take a trip to the school and familiarize your child with its campus. While there, request the names of families living near you with children who attend the school, and contact them for the scoop on play dates and other goings-on in your neighborhood. Also, ask about ways in which you can get involved at the school. Amy Glass, former newcomer and current director of admissions at Greenfield Hebrew Academy in Atlanta, volunteered at the school during the summer of her move, which enabled her to meet other parents. “It also helped me figure out where the school was, so I was less nervous trying to find my way on the first day of school in a new city,” she says. Glass recommends that parents meet as many families as possible. “You may not necessarily end up being involved with them socially, but it helps you begin to feel like you’re connected to the school community,” she says. Parents should also inquire about PTA buddy programs as a way of getting acquainted with both the school and its families.
Additionally, some schools hold summertime orientations or social activities that serve as casual forums where members of their communities can get to know one another. For example, Eastside Christian School in Marietta throws a Back-to-School Fiesta for parents and teachers every summer and organizes get-togethers for each grade level that allow students to socialize as well.
You may also want to look into enrolling your child in community summer programs, such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, sports leagues and YMCA classes, so that your child will feel a part of his or her new community. Samera Sheikh, a guidance counselor at East Cobb’s Mountain View Elementary School says, “This will not only build their confidence, but will keep them busy, which takes time away from missing their old environment and dwelling on insecurities about the new road ahead.” Local summer camps are also great places to get to know new schoolmates and neighbors.
Be sure to participate in summer activities that allow both you and your child to get to know the new school and community. Getting to know other students before the first day of school can give your child the confidence needed to cement a successful transition.
Make the Grade
Differences in curricula may exist between your child’s old and new schools. And while private schools’ entrance exams can point out areas of weakness, gaps in learning aren’t always evident.
A number of schools distribute or sell textbooks to students who want to do a little academic preparation over the summer. Brushing up on difficult subjects and becoming accustomed to the new texts will dispel some of the nervousness your child may be feeling. In your initial meeting with his or her new teachers, ask questions about their particular teaching styles. Knowing about this ahead of time and preparing to learn by the teachers’ methods will greatly benefit your child when school begins.
Tutoring may help, too. “Parents who have recently relocated often call us to get their child on level with the state’s published education standards,” says Dennis Freeman, director of In-Home Tutors of Atlanta, which employs instructors for a variety of subjects, from reading to chemistry to SAT prep. “Fortunately, a few weeks of tutoring are usually all that is needed to bring a child up to speed.” To find the tutor who will work best for your child, start by consulting new friends, co-workers and your child’s new school for referrals. Another reputable source is the Atlanta School Guide, which offers detailed information about schools and educational resources, including tutoring, in Metro Atlanta. You can pick up a complimentary copy at numerous locations in Metro Atlanta, including any Kroger, Blockbuster or Whole Foods store.
A number of summertime tutors are also full-time teachers and therefore are familiar with Georgia’s standards at each grade level. Some schools even maintain lists of their teachers who tutor. The benefit of pursuing their help is twofold—not only will your child be taught by someone who is familiar with the school’s curriculum, but he or she will also recognize a friendly adult face on the first day.
Earn Extra Credit
So, you’ve done some research and chosen a school, familiarized yourself and your child with a new community, and taken steps to prepare your child for academic success at a new school. Of course, there is much more to summertime preparation for a new school year, including fine details such as deciding whether to pack or purchase daily lunches and researching available after-school activities. Another important aspect to consider, particularly in Metro Atlanta, is becoming completely comfortable with your routes to get your child to and from school every day.
Indeed, there is one major issue for which new residents to the city are never truly prepared: traffic. The typical Atlanta traffic jams and bottlenecks often exacerbate the problem of coordinating morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups with busy job schedules. Before tackling your first rush hour, memorize school bus schedules or look into organizing or joining a carpool. And on your child’s first day at a new school, rest assured that steps taken over the summer will ensure an easier transition.