Freshman year of high school may begin with excitement for some but apprehension for others. Students are often faced with a new building, usually a larger, sprawling one, more teachers and a lot more kids roaming the halls. "Many parents are apprehensive as well, which is completely normal," said Barbara Butler, principal of William Floyd High School. "But parents need to be confident about their children entering high school, which in turn will help ease their children's fears."
Upon entering high school, the intensity of academic expectations soars, and the pressure is definitely on. "Parents should start now helping their children understand that they are responsible and accountable for their actions, which is a direct path to their future," said Gordon Brosdal, assistant superintendent for secondary instruction and administration at the William Floyd School District.
Parents should also communicate at the beginning of the freshman year with their child's guidance counselor, as that's frequently the person who will guide the child through high school and aid in selecting colleges. "Kids need to know that their parents are still going to be in contact with guidance counselors, teachers and administration," said Butler. "In high school, parents tend to back off a little, but they can't be intimidated by high school or the course work. Make sure as a parent you communicate with the school staff and take advantage of local resources."
Time management and organization are also crucial for parents to help their children, not only in the classroom but also in their social lives. "When kids get to high school, they want the social freedom," said Stanley Pelech, assistant to the superintendent for secondary instruction and administration at the William Floyd School District. "Parents need to push even harder and stay on top of their children."
It's arguable that during sophomore year, many high schoolers become a little more relaxed, since the school, work and other students are more familiar. "Parents still need to be very attentive to their kids and be proactive in their school work," said Butler. "Students are encouraged to get involved in extra-curricular activities, but they still have Regents and a lot of work."
"Sophomore year is also the start off of new social groups," said Pelech. "Freshman year, they still have their friends from middle school, but by sophomore year, they have often met a wide range of new friends, which may not always be positive," he said. "Most sophomores are trying to reinvent themselves and parents should be keen on watching the social changes in their children, for example, the way they dress and what they do after school."
Many get into junior varsity and varsity sports, which demand enormous effort on the part of the players, who practice every day after school. The teammates develop an intense camaraderie as they share time on the field, the locker room and the buses to games. "Extra-curricular activities are what will draw the kids to school everyday," said Mark Mensch, athletic director at the William Floyd School District. Whether it's sports, clubs, music, or art, there are so many different avenues that students can get excited about being a part of. "They can really capture the meaning of school spirit," said Mensch.
But it's important to remember they are students before they are athletes, musicians, or anything else, Brosdal said. As a parent, it's important to help them focus on time management and using their time efficiently. "Your daughter may not want to do her homework because she has dance class after school, but, as a parent, it's your responsibility to help her balance her academic and social life," said Butler.
Junior year is the time when academics are most important, because they reflect the students' most up-to-date assessment on college applications. This is the year students take the PSATs (although many districts are encouraging students to take them for the first time sophomore year as practice) and wrestle with the Regents exams in earnest. At the same time, they are still juggling extracurricular activities and may also have part-time jobs. Many get their drivers' licenses, introducing the double-edged sword of greater freedom and greater peril.
Parents also have a lot of responsibilities junior year, getting their children ready to decide a post-high school path. "From a parent's perspective, you really want to understand the importance and the relevance of the PSATs and SATs," said Robert Hagan, the assistant to the superintendent for secondary instruction and administration at the William Floyd School District. Parents also need to work collaboratively with the school. "It's a partnership," said Butler. "When parents and the school are on the same side, it gives your kids a clearer message as they work more toward their future."
Senior year might as well be split in two: The first half is jammed with college applications, essays, recommendations, SATs and college campus visits. Parents attend financial aid nights and planning sessions with guidance counselors. Oftentimes, one of the mistakes seniors make is that they relax too much, said Pelech. "Some students think colleges aren't going to look at their final grades," said Hagan. "But as colleges are more and more competitive, they are looking at the third and fourth quarter grades."
But the second half of senior year is a whirlwind of social activities including prom and that pinnacle of the school experience: graduation.