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Transitioning Into High School – Jennifer Oaten

The start of high school at Santa Maria College was a daunting time for me. I came from Margaret River Primary school, where I was a big fish in a small pond, was awarded the Rotary Citizenship Award and was known by everyone. High school commenced in Year 8 and having come from a small country town to boarding. I know exactly how it feels to feel a little bit lost.

Entering high school from primary school is an exciting time for children and their parents, but it can also be challenging for your child. Some children cope with change better than others. As parents, what we say and how we respond to challenges they face can significantly change how a student settles into high school.

Week one is so exciting, but by the end of week two, the novelty may have worn off, and the reality of high school may have presented some challenges. We are sure our girls will enjoy high school once they feel comfortable in their new environment and have established a group of friends and a sense of belonging. Being happy is the key to successful learning. Here are some suggestions to help your child’s transition during the first term.

The Challenges

Some students will have already embraced high school, while others may take a little longer. Some of the challenges of high school include:

  • Being part of a much bigger community compared to primary school can feel intimidating, especially for our boarders.
  • Understanding their timetable and finding different classrooms for different subjects, especially when we have a 10-day cycle (Week A and Week B).
  • Becoming more responsible for their own learning and completing homework more independently.
  • Using a laptop as a tool for learning and communication.
  • Knowing what items to take to each class and being organised for learning.
  • Remembering teachers’ names and getting to know a number of staff rather than one teacher.                    
  • Establishing new friendships or friendships groups that change.
  •  Learning different rules about the uniform and expectations about how they conduct themselves.
  • Increased travel time or travelling more independently.

It might ease your mind to know that most students find some things a little difficult at first, but they soon settle in. COVID-19 does not help, nor does wearing a mask! Facial expressions are so important in classrooms and in Homeroom to enable teachers to evaluate how their students are travelling. It is easy to hide behind a mask, so your communication with us if you have concerns is important.

Parents can greatly influence their child’s transition to secondary school. If you are positive, calm, and organised, we tend to see this in our students. It is always hard as a parent not to immediately think the worst but the most important thing we can do is help our children problem-solve, so students learn to resolve issues for themselves, at least as the first step. If you are calm and reassuring, you will help your child feel confident to face any situation or ask for help.

How can parents partner with us?

  • Make a plan for homework, co-curricular and sport. Don’t take on too many activities in Term 1; rest time is essential during the transition.
  • Sleep is a significant factor for success at school. Tiredness leads to heightened emotions and makes small challenges seem far worse than they really are. Sleep is one factor parents have much control over.
  • Ensure your daughter packs her bags and has her uniform ready, especially sports uniforms, the night before. This is her responsibility, not yours. She may also start to pack her own lunch.
  • The student planner is a very useful tool so ensure she refers to this for timetables and homework.
  • Help your daughter set up an organised, quiet study space away from distractions. Check-in regularly with her about what homework she has. Talking about learning is an important role for parents. Set times for homework also helps.
  • Teachers will assist your daughter in how to revise for assessments, but your support and guidance will be invaluable. Knowing how to study is as important as what to study.
  • Be prepared for ups and downs. Adjusting to change takes time, but if things don’t settle down after the first term, talk to your child’s Homeroom teacher or Dean. Talk to other parents to see if their daughter has had similar experiences and what has been helpful.
  • Encouraging a positive attitude is very important. Encourage your child to develop positive thinking about themselves, others and school.
  • Consider your own expectations of your child. Ensure that your expectations of your child are reasonable.
  • Plan for unexpected events, such as what to do or say if she:
  • Gets lost and arrives 10 minutes late for class.
  • Arrives at her maths class and realises she has brought the wrong book.
  • Misses the bus and arrives 20 minutes late to school.
  • Gets off the train and realise she has left her sports bag on the train.
  • Leaves her Science book at school and needs it to do her homework.
  • She is trying to complete her English homework but is unsure what they are asking her to write about.
  • Does not understand what the Maths teacher is saying about how to solve a problem.
  • Has sport before school and forgets her school shoes.
  • Leaves her lunch on the table at home.
  • Is not sure what to wear for an excursion or the swimming carnival.
  • Is still waiting at the Figure 8 to be picked up, and all the other students have gone.
  • Is unwell and has missed school for two days, and is not sure what work to do.
  • Respect your daughter’s need for independence and her ability to make decisions for herself. Offer advice and support but allow her to solve her own problems. This helps to build resilience in our girls.
  • Celebrate her wins. Cheer her on when she does something great at school, such as performing well academically, participating in a sporting event, or making a new friend. Rewarding her positive behaviours will strengthen her confidence and motivation to do well in the future.


New students need to be realistic and recognise that it takes a while to develop good friends, but new acquaintances will be made from day one. At Santa Maria, our Orientation and Transition program enables students to get to know others.

The following ideas might help with developing new friendships at high school:

  • Encourage your child to keep in touch with their old friends, so they feel socially connected. Different friendship groups are important rather than just one best friend.
  • Talk to your child about how to introduce themselves and start a conversation. Some children may need more support than others, depending on their temperament and social skills. Encourage her to take a risk and say hello.
  • It is easier to make friends with individuals than with a group, so often, having a chat in class or on the bus is more productive than approaching a large group.
  • Have conversations about asking questions of others and listening to what they have to say. Being friendly and interested and making eye contact is essential.
  • Encourage your daughter to explore new opportunities such as music, sport or other co-curricular activities where she will meet like-minded students.

Teens may want more independence as they transition to high school. This can be challenging for parents. While it’s good to give your teenager the freedom to form their identity, make new friends, and explore their interests, you will still play a key role in their journey throughout high school. The high journey is a partnership between the students, parents and staff.

The great thing about high school is that it provides great opportunities to explore, grow and flourish in so many different ways. These are exciting times.

Jennifer Oaten | Principal

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