All Schools are Not Created Equal
All high schools are not alike. If the receiving school is structured markedly differently from the old school, it might be reason enough to find a way for your student to finish out high school before moving. If that isn’t possible, it’s important that you and your teen know what to expect. Work with school personnel to smooth the transition.
Emma, for example, always did well in her old school which operated on a long block system with two academic classes per trimester. Last winter, in the middle of her junior year, the family moved to a town where the high school is organized on the more traditional four major classes plus an elective plus a study hall per semester.
Emma wasn’t used to juggling the assignments for 5 classes. Once a confident teen who actively participated in every class, she became overwhelmed and depressed. Her role in her classes and her positive sense of herself as a learner were seriously challenged. The struggle made it very hard to even think of a social life. “I wish I’d really understood the difference between the two schools before we moved,” her mom told me. “We would still have made the decision to move but at least Emma would have known what to expect. Maybe we could have figured out a way to make that first few months easier.”
Academics isn’t the only factor when moving teens. A kid who has worked hard to excel in sports or theatre or music may find it impossible to participate in the same way when he or she moves. If the family has the option for the teen to stay behind and finish out a stellar extracurricular career, it might be a positive choice, both in terms of the child’s mental health and in terms of family harmony.
Darnal was a basketball star in his small town. His family moved in early January last year to an urban area with a bigger school and more athletes. He did get on the team but he wasn’t a star anymore. In his first three games, he got to play for a total of 15 minutes.
Darnal couldn’t stand it. He contacted his best friend’s parents and begged to stay with them to finish out his senior year. After a weekend of phone calls, arguments, debates, and finally, good talk, everyone agreed it was best for him to leave home early. Not only was he happier (and more successful in school) but his family didn’t have to weather his anger and frustration.
Finally, senior year of high school is for many kids a year of closure. It’s a year of “lasts” that helps the teen transition to a new life of “firsts.” The last game, the last biology test, the last dance, lead to the first day at college or the first day of an adult job. For some kids, finishing out high school and graduating with their class in front of people who have known them for a good portion of their lives is a ritual that ties up one life stage and opens another. How important it is depends on the child and the family. Sometimes it’s important enough for the teen to be left behind while the rest of the family establishes a new home.
Elaina stayed behind when her dad was transferred by his company and the family moved 500 miles away. She has been with the same friend-group of four girls since kindergarten. They’ve gone to school together, hung out together, gone to the same dance classes, been in the same community theatre group, and on the same field hockey team. They’d always talked about their senior year as a year to celebrate together by being in the senior class show, sharing a limo for the prom, and going to the annual big bash graduation party that is put on by the junior class. They knew they were going to be off to different colleges due to their different interests and goals. They knew they wouldn’t be together as a clique through adulthood. They just had it figured that senior year would be a year of bringing their time together to a close.
Elaina certainly loves her family but she also has developed an important bond with these best friends. When one of them suggested she just finish out the year living in her house, it seemed to her and her family like the natural thing to do. Her family will be coming back to town for graduation weekend to be part of the extended “family” that these 4 families have been for each other for the past 15 years.
Moving mid-year can work with a minimum of teenage angst if it is done with care and while taking the young person’s needs into account. Time spent assessing your child’s personality, talents, and emotional needs, researching the receiving school, thinking through consequences for future goals, and exploring options is time well spent. When teens are treated as the emerging young adults they are by taking their lives into account, they can become partners in this new stage of family life.