Families make the big decision to change schools for many reasons.
But how do you know when it’s time to make the move? Will the potential benefits outweigh the hassle and possible setbacks?
Unresolved issues with bullying, a harsh teacher or a child who starts to hang out with an unfavorable crowd can all put parents of school-age children on edge. Reach out to school administrators for help resolving the issues if you haven’t already. Consider if these social issues are likely to improve by switching schools, and make sure it’s not something that would continue elsewhere.
Academic boredom or struggle is another reason families might switch schools. Does your child need more personalized attention in a certain subject? Before you make a change, talk to your child about why they are unhappy at school and think about how they will adjust to the new environment.
Determine what you are looking for in a school
Making a school change is a big life event for both the child and parent. “It is not a decision to be taken lightly, or made on a whim,” says Dr. Dana Altemeyer, director of communications for Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township.
That said, families have more choices than ever with regard to education, so it’s important to thoroughly research the options online and also solicit feedback from friends, family, neighbors and community groups. “If appropriate, talk to your child’s school or district candidly and find out what opportunities may exist within the current structure,” Altemeyer says. “There may be a program or school available that families have not considered.”
Visit prospective schools and have your child shadow
Based on a school’s reputation, educational philosophy and social environment, you may decide to add it to your short list. “When a program or school stands out, take time to see the school in action,” Altemeyer says. “Don’t just take the word of a website or online directory. Schools are more than test scores; they are an extension of the family and a partner in the development of the whole child.”
Prepare yourself to make the best decision possible by visiting schools and having an in-depth conversation with admissions about your child, your experiences and your expectations. “There are many schools in Indianapolis with varying educational philosophies,” says Angela Gray, chief enrollment officer at The Oaks Academy. “As you tour the classrooms, ask yourself if you can imagine your child and yourself in this community.”
Once you have your list narrowed down, Gray recommends taking your child to shadow the final one or two schools for a full day. “A typical school day is best, and not one filled with exams or field trips,” she says. “Have your child shadow at their current grade level, which will allow them to work alongside their peer group and meet new friends.”
Leave on a good note
Choosing a new school is only one part of an important transition. Starting a new school on a positive note starts with ending at your previous school on good terms, Gray explains. “Even if it wasn’t the best experience, say goodbye to friends and teachers, and acknowledge what was positive.”
Remember that your conversations around the house, both positive and negative, will set the expectations and anxiety levels when your child is switching schools. “Most importantly, parents should be on the same page when switching schools,” Gray says. “When parents offer differing opinions, it can derail expectations and smooth transitions. It will also raise the anxiety level of the student.”
Aim for an easy transition
Create a safe environment for your child to talk about their feelings during the process of switching schools. Also try to switch at the beginning of the year, when possible, or after a break, to make changing schools feel more natural, Gray suggests.
To help your child feel more comfortable, you might try meeting up with kids from their new school or explore extracurricular activities. Ask if the school can connect you with the Parent Teacher Organization or a current family to make this happen.
Finally, take time to meet with each of your child’s new teachers and share important information about your child and family. “This will open the lines of communication and help the teachers know how to help your student settle in,” Gray says.
As a family, try to manage your expectations about the new school and remember that transition isn’t always easy. But it is manageable.
Changing schools is often more difficult on the parent than the child, Altemeyer says. “Children are resilient and generally adapt quickly. That said, take time to talk to your child about the change and involve them in the process, if age appropriate.”