Prepare children for transition to secondary school
By VERDEL BISHOP Monday, July 4 2011
It’s over! The after school lessons, gruelling exams, the graduation pomp and ceremony, the exam results. While many parents are celebrating the successes of their young children in the recent Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA), and looking forward to their bright futures, they should be mindful that their children are making the transition from primary school to secondary and are about to embark on a major life change.
The primary-secondary transition represents a major milestone for all children. According to experts, there are many changes involved in this transition and parents and educators must take the necessary steps to prepare their children for the major changes ahead.
Principal of The Athenian Pre-Secondary School, Kezia Reece, said it is natural for some children and their parents to feel anxious and a bit afraid of what lies ahead in the new school year. She noted however, that after SEA, most schools are not equipped with programmes which prepare children for a life in secondary school.
Children are going to face a much larger school; their journey to school is going to be more complicated; they will be mixing with a potentially wider and larger range of other children and adults. Then there are other curriculum demands which become more challenging and more diverse and peer pressure is going to take its toll. These, according to Reece, are just some of the changes which may have a negative impact on children if they are not physically and psychologically prepared for secondary school.
Reece warns that the focus has been on drilling children for their first choice for so long that the idea of preparing them psychological and socially for secondary school has been totally ignored.
“In preparation for SEA there is a total focus on academics; however, a lot of what these children need to prepare them for a secondary school existence has been ignored and most schools have no definitive programmes in place for children to enter secondary schools,” Reece said. She noted that after they write the SEA exam, most children are not mentally engaged, leading to a condition which she described as the Post SEA Syndrome.
“After SEA, this is a period when most parents decide to take their child out of schools because they believe that SEA is over and there is virtually nothing being done in the classroom. So some of these children remain idle for most of March and April and then throughout July and August. Some of them are lucky to travel abroad and to go to camps. This means that some of them return to school without purpose after just lulling around.”
She continued, “The Ministry (of Education)has never mandated that children should stay away from school after SEA. They should be in school enrolled in preparation programmes for secondary school instead of at home just waiting for results.
“These children are drilled to pass SEA and after that they are ignored. These children are not machines. They are pummeled and pulverised just to sit the SEA; after this they do nothing for months. Imaging having a muscle stretched to capacity until you can’t move; then you suddenly become inactive; it becomes even more strenuous for that muscle to adapt again; it becomes like jelly and this is what happens to some children. This is what these children are experiencing, it makes it harder for them to adapt to change,” Reece said.
She believes that reintroducing the Post Primary system will holistically prepare children for secondary school.
“These young individuals are getting ready for a whole new way of life; they are going to face all types of issues. I believe that the Standard Six or Post Primary class should be reintroduced. These classes were there for children who have failed Common Entrance long ago; they should be reintroduced with an aim to mould young students for secondary school,” Reece said. “A lot of independence has to happen rapidly when they enter Secondary schools. It’s a culture shock for most of them.”According to Reece, although a lot of children will be happy and excited to begin their journey in secondary schools, they will be faced with a myriad of social issues. She explained that relationships with adults in the school context will be forcibly different. Moving from the primary level where they are accustomed to one key teacher to suddenly be dealing with a whole range of subject specialists can take its toll. Peer pressure, according to Reece is also another area of concern.
“These children are accustomed to one teacher. Now they will have about ten subjects to think about for the week, which means they will have that number of specialised teachers to deal with.” Reece noted that a geographical switch can also be intimidating and it is also important to evaluate gender issues.
“Sometimes children come from a primary school with one gender and then go to a social situation where males are teaching them. That male influence in the class room may seem to be trivial issues (to) parents but these are young students who have been under the umbrella of a primary school system.
Reece contends that Post SEA Syndrome should be taken seriously to address the social and psychological issues that young individuals will encounter after SEA has passed.
She said her school has taken the Post SEA Syndrome period seriously and have implemented programmes to help their children make the transition from primary to secondary school a smooth one.
“We have a programme where after SEA the children are coming to school with a purpose and we actually use it as a motivational tool before and after SEA to remind our children that when SEA is over they still have so much to look forward to. They understand that SEA is just one hurdle. We introduce history, geography, literature and form one maths to them and we facilitate field trips
“Some schools do it but it is not standardised and each institution will do things differently. Some institutions do not introduce this at all; it is not taken seriously in most schools where some parents don’t see the point of sending their children to school. Some parents actually let their children spend hours in the mall liming; they get into trouble and that opens them to a whole other situation that they are not prepared for.”
Guidance Counsellor Camille Swapp agrees that in most cases the transition from primary to secondary school can be difficult for most children. She said that going to a new school is like entering a new country. She offered tips which parents and educators can implement during their children’s July/August vacation time to make transition easier. Swapp noted: “Adults must be mindful that while we have a percentage of high scoring children in our school system, many children need adults in society to work at improving the school system so that they will enjoy schooling. Then, she said, the transition from the primary to the secondary level will be an exciting adventure.
Swapp offered these tips:
* Use this vacation period to allow your children to engage in supervised play dates with their primary school friends. It could possibly assist them in dealing with the heightened emotions of the aftermath of SEA. Physical unstructured play, board and card games can be encouraged as these assist with developing attention span, listening skills ,self esteem and working with others.
* Try also to make it a “Fun Reading Summer”. Parents read to them (rather than saying ‘pick up a book’). Encourage them to read appropriate books and magazines that they have interest in. Please do not tell them that they are choosing a book below their level, allow them to choose an easy book if they wish. Spend fun time with your children and try not to frighten them about grades.
* Try to speak about the positives of secondary school before some of the negative realities. Give the child time to acclimatise to a new culture – it is like going to a new country.
* Continue to work at being very positive about your child’s learning possibilities regardless of the SEA results. Child Development expert Dr. Jane Healy in her book “Different Learners” notes that “in childhood although lots of development is taking place, there should be respect for the brain’s transmission speed as in the primary to early secondary years, research shows that development of the neurons in the brain can seem a bit slower as they are working at making good connections(that’s why grades can fluctuate). Children’s brains are still relatively immature in comparison to adults, so children might score high on SEA exams, yet score low at Form 1. Likewise the child might have attained low scores for SEA but higher scores as they move up the grades at the secondary level-especially if the home and school environment is nurturing, helpful and encouraging.
* The primary school graduates need to be encouraged to forget about SEA exams /results and focus on the joy of going to the next level of learning in secondary school, and making learning fun for themselves.
* The School Staff should try to limit their bias about who they consider to be bright or not based on the school the children got placed in. For example, try not to assume that because children got their first choice, they don’t need to be taught and be assisted to settle into Form 1 or that based on entry into a second, third or fourth choice school, children might lack the capacity to achieve high grades.
* Teachers should try to have presentations for form one children and parents re the history of the school, including information on all the exciting reasons why the children will enjoy learning in this school. Additionally the school staff can work at dialoguing among themselves re the need to coordinate the amount of homework assignments, with a view to not having the same due dates.
* Parents should also be advised that it is not necessary to overwhelm Form 1 children. All over the world children transitioning from primary to high or elementary to middle school is difficult. They are in a new environment with more teachers,subjects, new friends and going through physical changes
* Parents try not to scare them about new friends but to encourage the children to introduce their friends to you. It would be wise for parents to have a day to meet and greet parents and children of their child’s Form 1 along with the form teacher. Develop a realtionship from early so children know that the parents know each other.
* Have a talk with them about their growing bodies and that they can ask you questions re what they want to know and hear at school. Teachers have regular meetings with form one parents and assist them in how to help their children understand requirements such as grades,rules, activities etc. Parents try to attend these meetings.
* Remember – the child is a human first,then grade after.