Welcome to the world of secondary education for your Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing child! In this helpful hint I hope to share a few useful tips to make the school year start on a confident note as your child adjusts to the curricular, social and logistical changes that all middle and high school students experience. It is important for you to become and stay visible, and to be focused on success and high expectations
Compared to elementary school, middle and high school campuses are physically larger, full of strangers, and each class has its own set of students for your tween or teen to fit in with. Further, the school day is uncompromisingly scheduled. This can be liberating or terrifying. Your child’s personality, the presence or absence of like peers, and realistic expectations of the new routine are a just few factors that will influence how the scale will tip. Encouraging your child to join a school-based or other extra-curricular activity is a great way to establish a familiar friend base.
It's helpful for you, as a parent, to have knowledge of the new environment. Wandering the campus outside of school time is a simple start for familiarization. Don’t do it with an agenda, just browse about. Cruise the hallways, wander from building to building, and see what announcements or projects are posted in classroom windows. Check out the sports fields, common areas, lunch tables, etc. Later you will have useful visual anchors to help extract information out of your tween or teen. Your child’s daily feedback, often difficult to procure, is key to preventing problems and maintaining success. If you ask your child a question, be sure that it's an open-ended question that encourages dialogue (not a question that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no"). Try to keep things positive.
Take time to visit the school site and personally introduce yourself to the teachers and staff. Waiting for an IEP meeting or Back to School Night can sometimes be ineffective, impersonal or feel rushed. Better to start establishing rapport as early as possible. You can initiate the meeting via phone or email. If by email, include your child’s first and last name in the subject line. In the body of that email, give your name and your contact numbers. Putting your child's name in the subject line makes it easier for a teacher to sort and store messages. Make these introductory meetings brief and positive, and have your student accompany you if possible (and if he or she is willing). Simply introduce yourself and your student and indicate your appreciation and optimism for the coming year. This initial exchange will set the tone for clear and positive communication that will need to happen with each teacher for a successful school year.
This level of involvement serves two purposes: 1.) You need to be aware of an issue in order to react to it, and 2.) It is better to catch a issue early, when it is small than later when it is big ... because small issues are easier to resolve than big issues.
Maintain your teacher connection periodically, so you have a finger on the pulse of your student’s progress, their classroom interactions, and access to the class content with each teacher, not simply the IEP coordinator. Do not let the IEP, school events or just negative concerns become the only arena for meeting a teacher face-to-face. You can briefly drop by the school from time to time in order to donate classroom supplies (hand sanitizer, tissues, copy paper, etc). Be sure to keep these subtle check-in visits both friendly and short. Remember, these visits are not conferences so don't make them into one. Knowing and honoring that will be the difference between you be perceived as a parent partner or an overbearing helicopter parent.
If at any point you DO identify a potential problem, then follow-up with an email to arrange a time to specifically discuss it.
Establishing communication early allows you to avoid unpleasant "surprises," and helps maintain high expectations of your student and the quality of their middle or high school experience.
Have a great year!