All students worry a little about going back to school after the summer break whether they are new or not. Arriving at a new school in a different city or country can be an especially daunting experience for both students and parents alike. A change of scenery comes with a mixture of excitement and nervous energy that needs to be channeled in a positive manner, and here are some suggestions.
The most important thing for a child is to have a wonderful holiday before they embark on their new journey at school. Too often both kids and parents get anxious before the start of a first term at a new school when they should be enjoying the break before this new beginning.
It is crucial to be mindful of the student’s past as well as of their future. There should be plenty of opportunities for them to keep in contact with old friends, whether by Skype or phone, especially if your family has just moved to Shanghai. This is where those important conversations happen between children about their new schools and where they can share their worries and expectations with someone who isn’t in their immediate family. Keeping their friends back home in the loop about their new life will help them feel more connected with someone they trust.
Although you want to stay supportive amid the change, it can be helpful not to make the move to a new school the primary topic of conversation over the dinner table or in the car, as this can make the child more anxious.
‘It can be helpful not to make the move to a new school the primary topic of conversation over the dinner table’
When a child comes to us on the first day of the new academic year, teachers want them to feel at home and understand that any change needs to be managed so that all the family feel at ease. Ideally, schools should provide an environment that allows the student to adapt outside of the classroom and come to terms with their new surroundings.
Traditionally, British schools have what they call a ‘House System,’ which is an excellent example of a way schools can better support students’ needs in a trusting environment. It is a great benefit because it allows students to feel that they are part of something tangible at school apart from their regular classes and these systems can be found in many of the British international schools in Shanghai. Students are assigned to a ‘House,’ which is a tight knit community of students and tutors. The goal is to make the environment as enjoyable as possible, so that the children are happy and free to go about their school life knowing there is support from within their House if they require it. The House rooms are an area where students can socialize or sit and read quietly, all under the watchful eyes of the House staff who enjoy chatting in a more informal fashion outside of lesson time.
Students need to be supported as individuals and encouraged to feel like they are part of their House community, in addition to being valued members of the school. At the same time, parents should be part of this process by helping out at different events to make them feel that they are integral to the success of the school.
The key to doing well in any new environment is to ask if you are unsure and to allow others to guide you in the right direction. Schools need to try to ensure all students and parents are happy and feel that they are valued in their community.
Dominic Vipond is the Deputy Head Pastoral at Wellington College International Shanghai.