This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
If you are apprehensive about the transition to high school, you’re not alone.
Many students and parents get overwhelmed at the thought of the application process and having to navigate all the other steps involved in the transition process, so starting as early as you can is important.
Some parents start talking to their kids when they are in the 6th and 7th grades. Guidance counselors have often said that it is not ideal to wait until the 8th grade to get started. Students should use the middle grades to visit schools they may be interested in attending, research potential high schools, and talk with their parents about their future goals.
Guidance counselors are often a valuable resource for helping students map out their high school years, but many schools are without one this school year due to massive budget cuts in the District. Still, there are many things that you can do to help you successfully make the transition, whether you have a counselor at your school or not.
The Notebook has listed some tips to help families and students get off to the best possible start on their high school journey.
Tip #1: Research potential high schools
High school applications are due early in the fall of 8th grade, so start researching schools before the beginning of the school year.
The District’s high school fair had become a popular spot for parents and students to attend to figure out their selections. Due to budgetary constraints, the high school fair was canceled this year, but the District’s chief of student support services, Karen Lynch, said students and parents can take advantage of other available resources to help them make their high school selections.
“Students and parents also have access to the high school directory, which is electronically posted [on the District website] each fall,” said Lynch in an interview with the Notebook about the expo being cancelled.
Lynch also added that students and parents should visit the schools they’re considering.
“Visiting prospective schools gives the student an opportunity to have a full sensory experience in the school before they complete an application for admission,” she said.
Tip #2: Be prepared for more work
Being in high school often means a heavier workload.
Angel Santiago, a senior at Edison High School, said that being organized has helped him handle all the additional assignments.
“How I went about it was with a planner and an agenda,” he said. “I put stuff in there that I knew was important.”
Elizabeth Levitan, a high school transition coordinator at Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a Latino-focused community group, said that she works with students in helping them figure out how to prioritize their assignments.
“One of the things I’ve tried to do with my students is give them assignments and encourage them to think about what they’ll do in a given situation,” she explained.
“So [I will say to them] you know you have all this homework when you get home, what are you going to do first? [I tell them to] make a plan to deal with it and talk to them about what that difference is going to be.”
Tip #3: Be outgoing
It’s normal to feel shy when attending a new school with new faces. Make yourself more comfortable by simply being open to meeting people and letting your peers get to know you.
“The first day of high school, everybody’s stressed about the rosters. So you make friends by asking, Do you know where this class is at?” said Santiago.
“It’s just about how you put yourself out there.”
If you’re having trouble finding people with the same interests, join clubs and participate in extracurricular activities. There are several, local youth advocacy groups, like Youth United for Change and Philadelphia Student Union, that could be helpful in introducing you to your peers in your school and other schools throughout the District.
“When I talk to my students about where they’re going to school,” Levitan said, “one of the first things we talk about is what they are interested in.”
“You want to make sure you can do art, you want to make sure you can do sports, because these are the things that keep kids engaged and out of trouble. It’s also a good social outlet and a way for kids to make friends,” she said.
Tip# 4: Don’t be afraid to ask for help
In addition to getting more work in high school, incoming 9th graders are also faced with having to become more independent and self-motivated. But students should still ask for help when needed. Start with your teacher.
“If you show the effort and show that you want to do good, [teachers] will help you,” said Santiago.
“A lot of times, it’s not that you’re not doing the work or you’re not trying, but you just don’t understand.”
Students who need help with their subjects can also consult tutoring programs that might be available at the school, or a neighborhood branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia for additional resources.
If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), request an IEP meeting with District officials to troubleshoot any issues.
Tip #5: Keep lines of communication open
Along with the teachers, counselors, and other support staff that might be in your school, you should also consult with your parents or guardians about your plans for high school. Santiago said parents should also maintain consistent contact with the school.
“The biggest problem, I think, is communication between the parents and the actual school,” Santiago said.
“Parents are not going to go up to a school unless they get a phone call. You want to keep them involved [regularly] so they have an idea of what’s going on.”
One of the ways for parents to stay informed is through the District’s FamilyNet, an online system in which parents can track their child’s progress in school.
“[FamilyNet] helps parents keep track of what their kids are doing, what’s going on in school, what their grades are, the assignments that we have to get done, our attendance, if you cut class … everything is on there,” Santiago said.
Tip # 6: Visit a counselor, if possible
Due to District budget cuts, many schools do not have a guidance counselor this year, making the path to choosing a high school for the 2014-15 school year that much more difficult. But if your school is one that still has a full-time counselor, request a meeting no later than the fall of 7th grade to make sure that your child is on track to qualify for the high schools that interest him or her.
After that initial meeting, parents and students should stay in regular contact with the counselor and develop a rapport that allows both parent and student to feel comfortable consulting with him or her throughout the year.
“Most students don’t even know who their counselor is [at the start of high school] and still don’t know who their counselor is right before they graduate,” said Andrea Granados, a District case manager.
Santiago said “A lot of kids don’t even know what they want to do [so] counselors are usually the ones pointing them in the direction they want to go.”
If possible, connect with your counselor right from the start of middle school. It will give you a head start on many of the issues that affect students throughout their entire high school careers.