Get ready for high school!

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High school: the home stretch.  With nine years of elementary and middle school behind you, you may think you’ve got this “back to school” thing down,  but high school brings new challenges for teens and parents alike.

High school can be a rude wakeup call for many teens – literally.  “5:30 a.m. comes extremely early!” says Jennifer Allen, whose daughter gets on the bus at 6:30 a.m. to make it to Independence by 7:15.  It’s a big change considering her middle school, Northeast, started at 9:15.  

Just like the switch from elementary to middle school, the shift from middle to high school brings increased responsibility.  “Students are expected to have a much higher level of independence,” says Middle School Counselor Christina Brown. “There is no more hand-holding. For example, if a student does not turn in an assignment, the teacher is not going to hound them for it.”

Moreover, everything starts to carry more weight in high school from course selection to academic performance.  High schoolers are selecting their own classes, and grades are recorded on a transcript that colleges will see four years down the line.  “Students are exploring classes that may be a career interest for them post-graduation,” says Brown. “These are conversations that should start in middle school or earlier, but really become a focus in high school.  

“Students transitioning from middle to high school really need to begin thinking about the future,” says Carmel Christian Middle School Principal Leslie Southerland, who is also mom to rising ninth and twelfth graders.  “Although they aren’t off to college yet, they need to understand that their academic performance in high school will affect their future. They need to start thinking about not only what classes they are good at but what they like to do, as this can affect what career they choose to pursue.”

The increased independence of high school can be a blessing for parents, especially those juggling children at multiple schools.  “By the time they reach high school, they are old enough to be independent. That means they are choosing all of their own supplies and new clothes, but that also means that they are preparing their own lunches and waking themselves up in the morning,” says Allen, mom to a rising ninth and eleventh graders.  “Not having to be up and make sure that the kids are up and doing what they need to be doing is a huge thing, especially if you have other kids to get ready later.”

As your children enter high school and progress along a path that will eventually lead them into the real world, keep the lines of communication open.  “Continue to have crucial conversations as students become more aware of world and social issues,” says Brown. “It’s all about relationships and open dialogue as students continue to learn who they are and what they believe.”

“For parents of students entering high school, I would say to start giving them some freedom to allow them to earn your trust,” adds Southerland.  “Set limits but be willing to flex on some, as teenagers become frustrated by rigid rules and may rebel more when they are never given any wiggle room.”

Although you’re turning the reigns over to your child in many ways, stay connected with the school community in any way you can.  “What helped every stage of our transitions regardless of situation, from elementary to middle to high school has been connecting with the local community,” says mom of rising eighth and eleventh graders Abby Kotze.  “Either the school directly, meeting other students in our neighborhood and Facebook groups for the schools, it helps to connect with people who have recent experience. I feel as a parent, the more educated and connected I feel to the school, the more comfortable and successful the children are.”

The start of high school can be stressful and overwhelming, but it can also be a welcome new beginning for kids who struggled through middle school socially or academically.  A vast selection of courses and extracurriculars allow everyone to find his or her place in high school, and in no time, you’ll be wondering where your kindergartener went as you prepare for the transition into college!

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her eight-year-old daughter Hannah and her six-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: