Starting Secondary School in a Post-Pandemic World

Date
Category
Anxiety Tips, Tips for Parents, Tips for Students
Author
Mary Lonsdale
Starting secondary school in a pandemic

There have been many challenges for pupils, parents and teachers alike during 2020 – and September brings a new mountain to climb, as new Year 7s prepare to return to school in a very changed environment. Not only will they have to deal with the new atmosphere of secondary school, but also they’ll need to grapple with brand-new Covid-19 guidelines and the changes these unfamiliar structures will bring to day-to-day school life.

Transitioning to Secondary School in 2020

The move from primary to secondary school feels like a big change in normal circumstances.  However, in September everyone in the school will be adjusting to change – not just the new pupils! Justine Williams, senior assistant principal at Wykham, recently spoke to The Guardian about the ‘new normal’: ‘By this stage in a normal year the new Year 7s would have been into school to look round for a couple of days. They’d have met their teachers, and they’d have met the other pupils in their groups. They’d have tried the food and found out where the toilets are, and their parents would have been in for a meeting and to hear about what to expect.’

But this year, things already feel a little different, with much of the induction processes conducted online or streamlined to fit Covid-19 guidelines. “We had a virtual parents’ evening, we’ve made videos about the different departments, and we’ve even managed to film a student’s eye view of what to expect, all of which is on our website,’ Williams commented. ‘We’ve set fun transition projects for the pupils to do in subjects like art and science, and we’ve tried to answer as many questions as possible ahead of term starting.’

For some children, not being able to get used to their new school in person – and missing out on some of the usual induction procedures – will make the first day of secondary school seem even more daunting. It’s a new environment; they won’t be with all the same classmates or the same teachers; often, campus is bigger and this can be confusing. However (as an unexpected bonus), there are certain pandemic precautions which may in fact ease this transition. For example, in order to comply with social distancing guidelines, ensure that unnecessary mingling does not take place, and to keep communal spaces as germ-free as possible – thus reducing the risk of transmission – pupils are likely to be more confined than normal. Staying in one place – or travelling between a limited number of classrooms – will make it easier for new pupils to get used to their new school, and reduces the risk of getting lost or struggling to get bearings in an unfamiliar environment.

Preparing for a New School in a Pandemic

Coronavirus or no coronavirus, the move to secondary school can seem a like a big leap. As well as navigating the challenges of a new, unfamiliar – and often bigger – campus, secondary school children are on the cusp of adolescence: soon, they’ll be trying to figure out where they ‘fit in’, trying to make new friends, and becoming more aware of their changing bodies. It’s a real rite of passage!

Thankfully, there are some ways in which you can prepare your child and help them manage this exciting yet strenuous time.

Encourage them to acknowledge and celebrate their feelings. It sounds obvious, but one of the most important things you can do to prepare is to keep talking with your child. Reassure them that it’s normal to feel scared – nervous energy and excitement are closely linked, and they shouldn’t hide from that feeling. In fact, feeling nervous is our body’s natural response: it’s preparing us for the challenge ahead.

Reassure them. Let them know that it’s okay to get things wrong: no-one is expecting them to adapt to the changes instantly. By the same token, they’ve already been through many big changes, so you know they’ll be able to cope with this one. Try to think of a particular change or challenge they’ve faced, and reminisce about how they got through it.

Take the pressure off. Whilst it’s really good to keep talking, sometimes children don’t like to feel they’re under pressure. Try to check in and ask them to think about how they’re feeling whilst carrying out other tasks, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming: perhaps whilst you’re out for a walk, or cooking, or making something together.

Focus on what will remain the same. If your child is in a state of nervous excitement, it’s easy for them to become fixated on the big changes – and challenges – ahead, and this can ramp up their anxiety. Remind them that much of their routine will in fact stay the same. They’ll still have lessons in their favourite subjects; they’ll still be going to and from school every day; they’ll still be getting homework; they’ll still be coming home during the evenings and weekends and/or during the holidays.

And, finally… let them know you’re always there. It’s a testing time for any student, but we all have to remember that Year 7 children aren’t only potentially going to a new school in September – they’re going back to school after an unusually lengthy period of absence. Every child will have had a different experience of Covid-19, and every child will feel differently about the new school year: whether they’re worried about health and safety, feeling confused about social distancing, concerned about having to make new friends, or simply excited about getting to see their peers again, knowing they can always count on your support – as well as the support of their school and tutors – and that they can discuss all their feelings with you without fear of reproach will make a big difference to those first-day nerves.

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