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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Here Come The High School Years

Even though we are still in the dead of winter most middle schools around the country have already began preparing their 8th grade students and their parents for High School. In my district, they have already hosted a parent information night and visited the High School. Next week our students take their placement test. Most private High School and alternative High School applications were due in December and students are anxiously waiting to see if they get in. Moving on to high school is a big deal for these kids and most are ready to move on. However, I guarantee that most kids are thinking about what their social status will be in High School, not “am I going to be able to do the work or will I be successful?”

Students will enter high schools at a variety of different academic and maturity levels. High School placement tests are fairly good at placing students in the proper academic level. Public Schools will usually offer 2-3 different academic levels for students to enter. Private Schools will often offer 4-5 different academic levels. Parents need to understand that just because their middle schooler was an honor roll or even high honor roll student that does not automatically mean that the student is placed in the highest academic level. “A” work in middle school is very different than “A” work in high school. So don’t be too concerned about your child’s initial placement but do keep an eye on your student’s progress. You and your child will realize quickly if the work is too easy or too difficult. At that point, your child can speak to their teacher or guidance counselor about moving levels. Always let your child try to work things out on their own before intervening, it is high school after all.

By the end of 8th grade, kids are starting to feel really grown up. Parents occasionally seem to think it is the right time to back off completely. Don’t think they don’t need you because they do. They still need guidance, support and supervision in High School. What they don’t need is hovering. It is a fine line but you still need to know what your child is doing in school and how they are doing in school. Supervision after hours is just as important. They are experimenting with new friendships. Keep tabs on who their new friends are and don’t assume every parent has the same rules and values you do.

Homework becomes more important in high school. Usually a good percentage of a student’s grade is based on homework completion. If your school keeps grades on line, continue to check assignment completion, often. Your child should be doing some homework at home if they are not I would check in with teachers or review teacher expectations (usually provided as an outline). Some district might even have a homework policy. There is some controversy among teachers and administrators around homework. Let’s face it not all parents can do calculus or even algebra for that matter. We are probably all a little rusty on our French or Spanish. The controversy is that students do not go home on an even playing field where homework is concerned. However, by High School shouldn’t expectations be raised and shouldn’t students be more independent around homework? If your child is having difficulty academically in high school, encourage them to get help from their teachers before you step in. At the same time make sure they are doing the work.

I think it is important for all parents to have a basic idea of the school curriculum. You need to make sure of what they are taking and when they are taking it. If you have a child who receives special needs services it is a lot more important for you to be involved. You need to know exactly what your child is suppose to get, when the services take place, who will be providing the services and a direct contact person for any special needs concerns. Most schools will go out of their way to review programs and educational plans with parents of special needs students. If your child’s high school balks at this, pay even closer attention to their services. Any school I have ever been involved with as a Speech Language Therapist or as a parent has tried their best to design appropriate service plans, listen to students and parents and respond appropriately. Schools are not always perfect but remember you also have to work at developing a good working relationship with them. Education plans should be ammended or updated to dovetail with the high school schedule.

Don’t be too worried about your baby going off to high school. They will probably be ok. It’s scary for us parents and I know I’ve been on pins and needles those first few days of high school…..just worrying and wondering if everything is ok. Rather glad I don’t have to go through that again. Try to know what is going on with your child. Keep talking to your high schooler even if they don’t want to. Find something you can both feel comfortable talking about or do together, and then sneak some serious discussions when you can. Let your child know your expectations for their academic performance and behavior in general. You don’t have to set expectations at an impossible or stress inducing level but set some expectations. I’ve seen one child through high school and off to college and enjoyed almost every minute of it.
The picture above is of my son's 8th grade graduation last June. I no longer have a middle school student. A little sad I have to admit.

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