Easing the stress of switching schools as students advance

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Transitioning from elementary to middle school is a big adjustment for students. They are required to navigate the hallways, walking from class to class in a short period of time, sometimes with a stop at their lockers and a bathroom break along the way.

They are expected to speak up when they need something and to work more independently on their assignments.

"There's definitely a lot more independence than elementary school," Beaufort County School District lead school psychologist Dr. Kristin Anderson said. "We have to help kids to be their own advocates."

Anderson said kids generally worry about the logistics of beginning middle school - finding their lockers, learning how to open them and getting to classes on time. They also worry about the social and academic aspects.

Anderson said parents should talk with their children to understand any anxiety they might have, then work with them to develop strategies to alleviate that anxiety.

She suggests that parents review the school's website with their children. If there is a map of the school, print it out and mark where their classes are.

She also said to practice time management skills prior to the first day of school to eliminate a child's anxiety.

She suggests making a game out of it. Give the child a watch and tell him he has three minutes to walk from one side of the house to the other, with a brief stop at the halfway point to put down his books and grab some others.

Anderson said social skills are important too. Parents should remind children to look at people in the eyes and pay attention to what they say.

Bluffton Middle School principal Pat Freda said it is often the parents who are the most anxious about the change in schools.

She said parents should try their best to maintain a positive attitude to improve the likelihood of a smooth transition.

"Let (your children) know that it's going to be a safe environment," Freda said.

In an effort to alleviate some of the anxiety students have, Bluffton Middle School gives rising sixth graders several opportunities to visit the school and become acquainted with their new surroundings before the first day of school, which is Aug. 17 for public schools in Beaufort County.

Students heading to any of the high schools in the Beaufort County School District have the opportunity to acclimate to their new surroundings during orientation and open house, May River High School principal Todd Bornscheuer said.

Bornscheuer encourages rising ninth graders at his school also to visit the school district's website to find their bus routes prior to the first day of school.

He advises new students to get involved in clubs and attend school events to help with the social aspect of moving to a new school.

"It's normal for a child to be anxious about going to a new school and moving on and different expectations," Anderson said. "Help the child understand this is normal, but what are we going to do so we feel better about this? Let's put a plan into place."

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

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