In retrospect, Niko was ready for high school and his readiness has made my heart at peace. Don’t get me wrong, he was nervous (as was I). However, I witnessed a transformation in him that reminded me we are wired to evolve, grow, and change.
In November, I wrote about our journey in choosing a high school and how I was not emotionally ready for my first born to go to high school. It was around this time we began looking for Niko’s next home-away-from-home. Now, he is thriving. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Know (or meet) someone. Especially if your child goes to a large school, it’s important he/she knows someone there. One of Niko’s biggest factors in choosing a high school was where his friends were going. Moving from a school with 40 kids in his class to one with over 700, this was critical. Luckily, four of his best friends are attending the same school. This safety net is so very important – they walked to school together initially, they eat lunch together, and they have someone with whom to walk with after school.
- Experiment with independence. Last year, Niko and his friends were allowed to spend time on their own at ACL. He was like a bird taking flight. This gift of independence is so important. Later he and his friends ate at a restaurant without adult supervision (they even had to figure out how much to tip). Right before school, I took Niko and a few of his friends clothes shopping at a nearby outlet. They had 2 hours and $150 each to buy some “high school” garb. All of this helped prepare Niko for finding his classes among 1,600 students with only 5 minutes in-between classes dispersed around a large, 3-floor campus; and walk home from school with a burger stop along the way at what would be our modern day Peach Pit.
- Use your tools. The “Find Your Friends” app has saved my sanity and worry. Other mom friends use Life 360, another location-based service that allows you to see in real-time where your child is and has been. I use the school’s platforms to check grades and homework assignments and set a notification to be alerted when a grade goes below a 70; or for any absences.
- Show your child how to self-advocate. Unlike Niko’s previous school, the terms are only six weeks. So staying on top of homework and tests are especially important. He had a few low grades mainly due to missing homework assignments, and I coached him to email his teachers to rectify the missing homework or low test grade.
- Get involved…both of you. Part of our agreement in choosing Anderson High School was that Niko participate in three activities. He choose Speech & Debate, guitar, and Young Men’s Service League (YMSL). There are sports, groups, and clubs to get involved in before school starts, which is a great way to meet other kids. This is huge – Niko went to Anderson’s Speech & Debate camp a few weeks before school, which helped the transition to his new school. Everyone needs a place to land and belong, and being part of a group is the best way to do that. Even though our kids are much more independent, staying involved is important, and there are so many ways to do that. I volunteer in the counselor’s office every other Friday for two hours. There truly is something for everyone. Go to your child’s high school’s website and you’ll find everything you need to be involved, from PTA to Booster Clubs to onsite administrative help. In addition, subscribe to the school’s newsletter.
- Give your child space, but stay engaged. Let her/him walk with friends after school to get something to eat. I’ve found this a good way for my son to decompress. Niko and his friends have found their own Peach Pit. Get your child a debit card. Not only it is a good way to teach budgeting, it also saves frequent trips to the ATM. Lay out clear expectations about communication. I ask my son to text me as soon as he is leaving school at the end of the day to let me know where he is going; and to text me when he arrives at the location. Keep communicating with your child, ask questions, and listen. Encourage your child to have friends over, it’s one of the best ways to learn about their lives. Ask about the kids in their classes – it’s another place where my son has met friends. Go to the school’s open house. You’ll meet each teacher and get a feel for their schedule. Set a consistent time when devices are off and a bedtime. Even though our kids are teens, they still need reminders about what is healthy for them.
- Expect bad decisions. Yes, they will happen, but you still have an amazing kid.
- Sign-up for driver’s education. Austin Driving School has options based on your preference of teacher-led versus parent-led instruction; and offers transportation from high school to driving school. Kids can complete all classroom instruction anytime, obtain a permit when they turn 15 and then complete their driving instruction. Try and register your child with a friend – it makes the experience much more fun. By planning ahead, you’ll be sure she/he will be able to legally – and safely – get a driver’s license at 16.
- Stay up late (or set an alarm). Whatever activity or social event your child is attending, expect it to go late. I find that Niko is most talkative late at night, after a debate tournament or football game, so I find joy in picking him up. I’m not a night owl, so there have been times when I take a snooze and set my alarm to be sure I pick him up on time.
- Stock up on good food and drinks. Some favorites include pizza rolls, taquitos and Capri Suns. Enough said!