When families move across the state or across the country, an important consideration is how good the local schools are. In the best-case scenario, you would have weeks and months to do your homework on the schools available at any potential destination.
In many cases, however, families don’t have the luxury to do this kind of research in advance. Instead, it’s all about learning as much as you can about your child’s school options once you arrive.
This post will help you make those decisions as quickly as possible. We will look at
- how parents can assess the schools in their new neighborhood,
- what wiggle room they have if they don’t love the schools available,
- and what they can do to help their children transition smoothly into a new school.
How to Evaluate Area Schools Quickly
Before you start looking into local schools systems or finding online reviews about specific teachers, take a minute to envision what you expect and what you want from a school where you would send your child, Connie Matthiessen at GreatSchools writes.
“You probably have ‘must-haves’ that will help narrow your search,” she says. “For example, if your child requires support for learning differences or you want her to attend a language immersion school. Consider your child’s abilities, interests, and learning style.”
From there, think about what kind of school would be a good fit, Matthiessen says. That could mean a smaller school, one with a good football team, one with a rich theater program, or one with a less rigorous structure in how educators approach teaching.
Then, you can begin to identify what schools match that vision. Matthiessen suggests reaching out to local teachers to get their opinions. Also, there are a handful of good websites that can give you loads of intel on a given school. Start with sites such as Public School Review and Schooldigger.com.
What If You Don’t Love the Area’s Schools?
Don’t be surprised if you feel a little pushback — either from yourself or your child — regarding the schools in your new home. In all the stress of relocation, it can be easy to romanticize just how great your child’s old school was.
But as Amy Crispino writes at the My Military Life blog, parents and kids both need to focus less on what they perceive as negatives and more on the potential opportunities available at a school that might be a little smaller, or might have a less prestigious football team, or might not have the academic reputation.
“Change your focus from one of searching out the negatives, and instead, point out the good in the situation to your kids,” she advises parents. “This change in mindset can go a long way in not only helping them seek out opportunities in school, but also in life!”
Crispino understands this first-hand: As a military spouse, she’s had to navigate more than a few new schools on behalf of her family.
However, this isn’t to dismiss the very real concerns some families have about a school system’s fit with their own needs. In some cases, particularly during a temporary move, it might make sense to homeschool.
Jeanne Faulconer at TheHomeSchoolMom points to several reasons that short-term homeschooling might be a better option:
- Perhaps the school isn’t as responsive as it should be to bullying, and your child doesn’t feel safe there.
- Perhaps you’ve had to move a few times already, and homeschooling will let your child catch up academically at his or her own pace.
- Perhaps your child or someone in your family has a chronic health issue, and it simply makes sense for the child to be at home during school hours.
If you feel homeschooling might be the best option, the first thing you must do is seek out legal resources. Every state has different laws regarding whom you should inform about your decision to homeschool, and what steps you must take to ensure your homeschool efforts meet official requirements. You don’t want a visit from CPS just because you filled out a form incorrectly.
TheHomeSchoolMom has a helpful state-by-state resources page that can serve as a useful jumping-off point in that research process.
What Parents Can Do to Make Moving to a New School Easier
Once you have decided on a school and enrolled your child, you have a duty to ensure your child’s transition into that new environment goes as smoothly as possible.
Easier said than done, for sure, but if you follow the three tips below, you’ll be taking steps in the right direction.
1. Listen to Any Reservations Your Child Has, But Reinforce a Positive Attitude
The Ohio Department of Education has several useful tips for navigating a move to a new school, and a few of those tips fall under the broad idea of simply listening and being supportive.
So, you’ll want to sit down with your child and have a conversation about his or her expectations. What fears does your child have? What misunderstanding might your child be communicating? Listen carefully.
In the back of your mind, you’ll want to continually imagine that the transition will be successful, though it might take some time. As you walk through fears, hopes and expectations, compare those to the vision in your mind of what a successful transition would look like.
In your responses to your child, communicate that vision and your own confidence in his or her ability to handle any challenges that will arise.
2. Reach Out to Teachers — They Will Be Receptive to Your Need for Feedback
Dr. Wendy Rice, a psychologist in the Tampa Bay area, says children often struggle when they move to a new school, but it’s important not to wait for report card day to get a feel for how your child is doing.
Instead, she says to communicate with teachers early and often. The combination of a communicative teacher and an engaged parent is one of the best deterrents to academic problems in children, she writes.
And teachers are open to feedback. They’ll welcome it. The challenge for them, most often, is finding the right way to open a line of communication with parents. The team at Planbook mentions, as one example, how a teacher in Colorado Springs had tried to share classroom progress with parents, but the teacher was bulk-sending grades and notes every few weeks.
That kind of information dump overwhelmed parents, who didn’t know how to process that much information.
What this ultimately amounted to was a broken feedback loop. If your child’s teacher is sending you overwhelming or irregular information about your child’s performance, simply reach out and mention a few ways that it would be easier for you to stay updated. Maybe it’s a weekly in-person meeting or phone call. Maybe it’s just an email at the beginning of the week.
Teachers will be more than happy to work with a parent who shows this kind of initiative.
Give Your Child Opportunities to Make Friends — And a Little Room to Struggle
Grades can slip when a child moves from one school to another. That’s normal and nothing to get alarmed about (within reason). Be patient but engaged with how your child is doing academically, and you’ll be able to right that ship in time.
In the meantime, you can help take the pressure off of academic stresses by opening up opportunities for your child to meet other kids, to make friends, and to have fun. Diane Schmidt at The Spruce offers a few ideas:
- Get your child involved in school programs and clubs, community events, or group activities at a local place of worship.
- Let other parents know you’re available to drive groups of friends to the mall or to a movie.
- Let other parents know your home is open for playdates and sleepovers.
The more you can do to help your child fall in with a new group of friends, the easier the transition to that new school will ultimately be.
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