Helping your students bridge the gap

Category: Schools

articlesI had an interesting conversation with a TCK university student the other day. She was reflecting on her first days in an American school. She arrived in the 10th grade. As she told stories of the cultural blunders she made, she laughed robustly, but quickly added that those days were some of the most difficult of her life. She said the 10th grade was a replay of the movie “Mean Girls”. My heart immediately began to sink for her as I recalled Cady’s first day of school in the US after spending almost all of her life as a TCK in Africa.

The movie shows Cady’s first day as a nightmare. After nearly getting run over by the big yellow school bus, Cady (played by Lindsay Lohan) makes blunder after blunder until she finally gives up and spends her first lunch break in the girls’ bathroom stall. Extreme? Just Hollywood? No, I have known TCKs who have done just that.

I asked a group of 3rd graders at a TCK school in South Korea what their favorite time of the school day was. Their response: a resounding “lunch time and recess!” “Why?” I asked. “Because I get to be with my friends.” Then I asked when the worst time of the school day is when you are brand new to a school. You can guess their response. With sad looks on their faces, ”lunch and recess”. Most TCKs clearly remember being the new kid at a school. And just as it was difficult for Cady in “Mean Girls”, it was a painful adaptation for these 9 year olds.

It has been my experience over the last several years after visiting countless international schools, that the TCK school has a handle on the “new kid in school”. After all, international schools are pros at admitting new kids and transferring kids into the system. Leaving those international schools is sometimes a different story. Results show that academic preparation by international schools is for the most part fantastic, and hopefully a “farewell” process is in place. But I wonder if there is enough (or any) emotional preparation for entering the next school. Are we helping our students develop the skills to build an emotional bridge between the old and the new? We must be teaching our students not only how to say “goodbye” but also to say “hello”.

Here are just a few suggestions to help your students bridge the gap from school to school:

  1. Help your students normalize the grieving process. For middle school and high school students, it often benefits the student to understand how grief works, and to know the cycle of grief especially as it plays out in the stages of transition.
  2. Suggest strategies for working through the first week in the new school, including determining a safe person to talk to. Suggestions may include a parent, a friend, a trusted teacher or counselor from the school they left.
  3. Ask what he/she has enjoyed in the school they are coming from and help to find out if the same things are offered in the new school.
  4. Have your student reflect back to when he/she was new at your school…”How did you feel?” “How do they feel now about your school?” “Why and how did your feelings change?” Help the student see the connection between the experiences.
  5. Ask , “If a new student was to come to this school today, what advice would you give them?” Ask if he/she is willing to follow the advice just given when going to the new school.

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