Transitioning Your Children into the US School System
Moving to the US is exciting, and perhaps a little scary, but if you have kids they add a whole other dimension to the challenges. Getting them settled into their new US school is probably your top concern, and you likely have worries about how easy that will be. Any change of school is stressful for parents and kids alike, but more so when you’re also changing country.
The scale of the challenges depends on the ages of your kids and where you’re moving from. Almost certainly though, the system will be different. Academic standards could be higher or lower, as could expectations for student behavior. Timetables and schedules may be unlike what you’ve known before, the language may be hard to deal with and you’ll probably see a greater emphasis on sports. Topping the list for most parents though is school social life.
You might think you know about US High Schools from TV shows like Glee and Gossip Girl. Of course those have some basis in reality – hallways lined with lockers, a bell signifying the end of each lesson and an absence of uniforms – but those won’t prepare you or your kids for the challenges ahead.
The best way of preparing is by learning from those who’ve been through the process. To help you do that, this blog post was written by someone with direct experience of moving kids to the US.
The US School System
Each State does things slightly differently, but every student receives 12 grades of schooling before graduation. Grades 1 through 5 will be at Elementary School, 6 through 8 or 9 at Middle School, and 9 to12 at High School. Most kids are 18 when they graduate although some will be 19. You can get more details from the Department of Education in the State you’re moving to.
Busing is an interesting aspect of the school system that impacts the ease with which you can meet other parents. Unless kids live close enough to walk to school, they will be assigned a bus that picks them up from a stop near their home. This applies even to those at Elementary school.
The downside of busing is that it isolates parents from the school. If you want to meet teachers or other parents you will need to make an effort to go in to the school. This is something to consider when looking for a place to live.
Elementary Schools in the USA
Moving younger kids, while still stressful, is easier than relocating teens. As parents of Elementary Schoolers your main concern is probably helping them build friendships. You can do this by arranging “play dates” with other parents. Of course, meeting those parents can be difficult, but most schools hold after-school events like Ice Cream Socials where parents can get to know one another. Treat attendance at these as if it were mandatory!
Challenges for Middle School Students Coming to the US
Middle schools are usually larger and draw kids from a wider area. Consequently your children are more likely to be “riding the bus” and you’ll have less opportunities for interaction with other parents.
Middle school is also the time when extra-curricular activities are offered, and these are good places for your kids to make new friends. Sports are some of the most common activities with swimming and running two that are relatively easy for non-Americans to pick up. With more “American” sports like softball and basketball it helps to have some knowledge of the game.
Some schools offer strong music and theater programs, and these are a great way for your child to make new friends. Remember that while not every child is a natural musician, singer or actor, theater clubs are always looking for people to work backstage. Parent volunteers are much appreciated too, and this is a way for you to get to know your kid’s friends and their parents.
Transitioning into US High Schools
Most High Schools are dominated by sports, and some parents take them very seriously. (Outstanding student athletes can win sports scholarships to university.) You’ll find football, (that’s American football, not soccer,) basketball, hockey and swimming in most schools, and many also offer running, (track) and field events along with tennis and lacrosse. Some schools even have rowing (“crew”) and golf teams. Be aware though that funding cuts have left many schools asking parents for sometimes substantial financial contributions towards sports costs.
If your child has a natural talent for sports, getting involved with a team is a great way of making friends. As a bonus, you’ll know they’re also paying attention to their health and fitness. But not every child is destined to be a sportsman. For these kids, as at Middle School, there are usually multiple music and theater activities they can enroll in. Many schools also have other after-school clubs such as a school newspaper, a science club, and increasingly, a FIRST Robotics club.
Parent volunteers are sought for most of these activities, and this is how many parents stay socially involved with their kids. Fundraising is often a big component of this volunteering though, so be prepared to join in with popcorn sales and manning the concessions stand, (where food and drink is sold.)
Join In and Get Involved
Relocation is never easy, but when you have kids, helping them adjust to a new school and make new friends is a top priority. While TV shows have made US High Schools familiar to people around the world, the reality is rather different. Parents can help their kids adjust by encouraging them to find and participate in school activities they enjoy. And by getting involved themselves, parents will know who their kids are mixing with and will meet other parents. A new school is a great opportunity for new friends!