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Should you consider a school transition for your teen?

When a high school student is struggling in school – whether for academic, social-emotional, or other reasons – it could be time to consider other school options. This isn’t a decision to be made lightly since a school transition, even when it’s the right approach, is a big deal for a teenager. However, finding the right school environment could be the key to helping your child thrive during these critical years.

When should you consider a transition to a different high school? Below are a few common scenarios:

Your teen is struggling across multiple subjects in school. If you’re regularly seeing lower than usual grades in more than one class, it’s worth looking into – especially if your child’s teachers have come to you with concern. Some helpful questions to ask include:

  • Is there consistently a gap between what teachers are asking of your child versus what your child is able to achieve academically?

  • Does your teen have a tutor but remains behind academically?

  • Are you, as the parent, often trying to problem solve for your child when it comes to academic performance, without ever getting to the root of the issue?

Prevalent, prolonged academic issues might point toward a need for a psycho-educational evaluation or other type of assessment to rule out learning differences or other conditions, such as ADHD.

Your child needs certain resources or support that the current school doesn’t offer. If your child has a learning difference, access to academic resources and supports at school is critical. If your child has recently received a diagnosis, you may find that your child needs different resources than are available at his current school. If you’ve encountered issues with your child’s school not using recommended accommodations, you may want to consider moving to a more supportive educational environment. Also, keep in mind that public schools are required by law to provide accommodations set out in an IEP or 504 Plan.

Your teen has interests or aspirations not available at the current school. If your child wants to pursue sports, high-level academics or arts programs not offered by the current school, you may want to consider a transition to a school offering specialized instruction or programs.

Or maybe the fit is just obviously wrong. You know your child, and you know when she’s constantly unhappy. If your teen is experiencing mental health issues, receiving treatment and continues to struggle, perhaps the school environment is not the right fit and worth reconsidering.

Exploring a School Transition for Your Teen

Once you have decided to explore a school transition, focusing on finding the right fit at a new school is paramount. After all, even when a transition is welcome, it’s a HUGE event in a teen’s life, and of course you want to get it right the first time. High school is a significant component of a teen’s world, and switching that up has the potential to impact relationships, self-image and how a student views himself as a learner.

As you embark on the process of identifying school options, go into the process with your eyes wide open. Ask yourself: WHY is my child not thriving at their current school? What does he need to have a better experience? What biases might be in my way as I explore the breadth of options? The more you understand about your child’s learning profile and the goals behind a school transition, the better positioned your family will be to find the right fit. Also, keep in mind that there are many ways to educate a child. The more open that families are to that reality, the higher the chances are of finding a new school that’s a great fit.

Even when teens are struggling in a school environment, they can be resistant to the idea of switching schools because change is intimidating. Teens can have many complicated feelings about this process — try to keep an open conversation about it or encourage your teen to speak with another trusted adult, such as a therapist or family friend.

Although this can be a daunting process, it helps to keep the end goal in mind: finding a better solution so that your child can thrive in school. As much as possible, reframe this transition time as exciting as opposed to stressful. When the school transition is a good one, often a completely different teen emerges on the other side – one who is more confident, comfortable, engaged, and happier. And that, after all, makes it all worth it.


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