Counselors are often the primary people to dole out advice to students and parents, and several counselors at Sparks schools shared some advice to help with the start of the 2009-2010 academic year.
Starting with the very youngest students, counselor Jen Harvey at Alyce Taylor Elementary School said kindergarten might be harder on mom and dad than on little Johnny or Susie, who are excited about starting at the big school.
“A lot of times parents are more nervous than the kids, letting their babies go,” Harvey said. “It’s definitely hard when they let them out the door to go to school and have no control for a couple of hours.”
Kindergarten is very safe, Harvey reassured, and said that if there were any problems beyond a few natural childhood tears or fears the parents would receive a call. When dropping off their student, Harvey recommended parents remain calm and not show their apprehensions so the jitters won’t rub off onto their children.
“Give them a kiss and let them go to school,” Harvey said.
For students who are progressing from one grade to another in elementary school, changing teachers and classrooms can still have its challenges even though it’s on the same campus with many of the same classmates. Harvey said it is very important for parents to talk to the teacher and to their student about the changes.
“Classroom rules can be different and there are higher expectations as they get older,” Harvey cautioned.
One of the biggest changes comes when students move from elementary to middle school after sixth grade. While elementary school counselors do what they can to prepare students for the move, most of the challenge falls to the middle schools themselves. Harvey said middle school counselors visit the sixth graders while still in elementary school to talk about the different classes and having a locker and other changes.
Cindy Raymond, the lead counselor at Shaw Middle School and an 18-year veteran of counseling Washoe County students, said parent involvement becomes even more critical at this transition time. She suggests that parents stay connected with their student in several ways. First, ask them about their day and discover something the student found interesting or liked about their new school.
Second, she said, parents need to get connected to their student using the EdLine system, which is an Internet-based communication tool where teachers post assignments and grades and other information parents can use to track students’ progress. Students and parents each have their own EdLine account, but parents see the same information as the student and can also use it to contact teachers. EdLine accounts will follow students through high school, Raymond added.
Raymond said parents also need to be aware when their kid is trying to pull a fast one and avoid a school assignment.
“Don’t always believe your kid,” Raymond said. “Get the full picture. There’s your student’s view and the other person’s view and the truth is usually in the middle.”
This can entail such measures as checking a student’s backpack or monitoring a student’s planner, which is a new organization tool employed at this age. With no “mother hen,” as Raymond called the single classroom teacher from elementary school, organization can be a challenge for new middle school students. With these new challenges will come mistakes, such as not being able to open a locker or find a classroom, and parents should reassure their children that if this happens they won’t be alone.
“It’s OK if they get lost or don’t know how to open their lockers,” Raymond said. “They’re going to get the support to get that going.”
On the social side, Raymond said the students often have to cope with not seeing their friends all day in class and have to make new ones. Cliques often start to come more into play as boys vie to be the “big guy” and girls get more into hair and makeup and clothes, Raymond said, and whatever social phenomenon were happening in elementary school often get magnified in middle school.
“Socially it becomes the queen bees and the wannabes,” she said.
“We have a saying around here that when you’ve gone from sixth to seventh grade, it’s like you’ve gone to Australia,” Shaw principal Dave Fullenwider said Wednesday night at the school’s seventh grade orientation. “You kind of understand what they’re saying and they’re really nice people but you have to get used to it. The students go from one classroom and one teacher to six teachers and they’re not just one student on a small campus. Now they’re one student among 1,100.
“And when you go from eighth grade into high school, it’s like going to France,” Fullenwider continued. “It’s really tough because then it’s a different language.”
Helping students learn the language of high school is Mike Quintana, lead counselor at Sparks High School. When freshmen start their final leg of mandatory education, he said, they receive initial guidance from a group of high school seniors called the Link Crew who tell them about academics, sports and clubs on campus. Part of the academic adjustment for incoming ninth graders is understanding that they no longer just receive grades for completing classes, but credits that are required for graduation, Quintana said.
Also, following up on a weekly 40-minute middle school class that focused on social and organizational skills, high school students of all grades take a daily 30-minute advisory class that helps them with study skills and focuses on the fundamentals of math and reading and writing, Quintana said.
Freshmen also take career tests that help give them, and school counselors, guidance on the high school path they should take toward college or a vocation or possibly a military career.
“They have to start thinking about what to do after high school even though it’s four years away,” said Quintana, who counseled students at Hug High School for 15 years before coming to Sparks high two years ago.
With more opportunities for clubs and athletics, Quintana said, students are challenged by high school to be much more efficient with their time — from getting up and going to school to practicing their sport to eating dinner to doing homework to sleeping and then doing it all again.
“They have to learn how to plan their day every day from the time they get up to when they go to bed,” he said.
When students are coming to school for their senior year, Quintana said, a new set of challenges looms with graduation in sight. Some have to overcome challenges, or perceived challenges, to college aspirations.
“A lot of our job is to help parents and students believe their son or daughter can get into college,” Quintana said, referring mostly to the cost of a post-secondary education. “Not having money is not an excuse to not go to college. There is money out there.”
For those who have to front some of the college bill themselves, Quintana said he often has to drive home the fact that students don’t have to go to school full time and can fit an education around other work. He also works to help students get into careers that will be around for many years. Some former students, he said, got into computer jobs that were hot for a while but then faded away when the trend that created them ended.
Seeing their own parents battle with unemployment has made some high schoolers wary of their own futures.
“We have to keep them from getting too discouraged,” Quintana said. “They still have to work to try to make a better life for themselves.”