As my daughter’s eighth grade year accelerated forward, so too did my anxiety. After 11 years of attending a small private school (less than 500 Pre-8th grade students), how was my “little girl” going to survive a large public school of 2600, 650 of those being in her grade alone. We’ve only just made it through the first semester of freshman year, but here are some of my first impressions and learnings.
For perspective, let me begin with a quick background of how she ended up at a private Christian school and why that is significant to who she is:
My daughter began City Tree Christian School at the age of 3, in their part-time preschool program. There she made fast friends, was nurtured by caring teachers, and learned about Jesus. In her second year of pre-school my life took an unexpected turn, and I knew that meant huge changes for her. The strengths of this small school and it’s strong community made it clear to me that keeping her there would give her the stability, love, and security she needed, and in an environment that would always remind her of God’s love and real presence in her life. And, that is exactly what she experienced. The biggest gift she gained from her 11 years was her spiritual growth and strong faith foundation.
Making the transition
Her Preschool and Middle School environment are very different from her High School environment, but that isn’t necessarily a negative. What she learned from her 11 years at City Tree, I see helping her navigate the change and even preparing her for the even bigger transition of living in a secular world. Looking both backwards and forwards, the key aspects I see helping her transition are: strong character and resiliency, connection with community, and a faith foundation.
Strong character and resiliency
Like any teenager, my daughter wavers between having great confidence in herself to feeling like she isn’t good at anything. As she adjusts to a different learning environment and being in a larger pool of gifted students both in academics and sports, those feelings will continue their pendulum swing. The key is to get her to recognize her own strong character and resiliency. Not an easy task, but something I do see at play as she experiences and shares new challenges. She views the behaviors of her peers against what she values as Christian character, and that gives her perspective on the character she wants to reflect back.
For resiliency, I think of the Merriam-Webster definition: “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.” The transition for any student, whether coming from a large public middle school or a small private school, exposes them to “compressive stress” in one form or another. As parents, we hope our children have resiliency to bounce back and retain the essence of who they are. For my daughter, this is keeping her connected to her faith and church community. It gives her the elasticity to explore who her high school self is, while still remaining connected to her faith community—many of whom are the same students she has known since she was 3. This leads me to my next topic, community connection.
A sense of community has been ever-presence in my daughter’s school experience and, for her, this has felt like the biggest loss in her transition to a big public high school. In truth, it is both scary and exciting to move from a class of 10 students to 650. My daughter, who has always been sociable, in reality has become quite shy. She’s used to a small community and finds making friends to be her biggest challenge. You want your child to feel connected and have friends to talk to and experience high school with, and of course you want these to be the ‘right’ friends. For someone used to such a small group of friends, it is important to find smaller communities within the school. For her, this has been via show choir, field hockey, and soccer. And, most recently she joined a club she had been wanting to be part of but had been intimidated to join. Once she discovered a favorite classmate was a member, she found the courage to join, giving her a small group of students who share a common interest in a non-competitive environment, something she needed. She’s still not quite there, but is slowly building her own small community of friends and network at school.
Faith foundation: “Hold on to what is good”
Throughout my life, if attending church with my father, during the benediction he always put his arm around me and squeezed me tight as the Pastor says the words: “Hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). To this day, when I hear those words it re-centers me and reminds me of my dad’s love and the faith foundation his has planted in me. This is something I now do with my daughter, and if she is not with me for the weekend, I still text the words to her. I think they are so integral to what I want her to think about throughout the challenges of high school.
I’ve always been touched by my daughters quiet, yet steadfast faith. She still wants to pray together before she goes to sleep, and recently shared with me that she has been doing the same with her younger stepsister at her dad’s house. She has deep love for Jesus and shares it with others. It is in these moments I see the foundation that has been laid, and to my mind this underpins everything else. It’s given her a strong sense of character, it’s shown her what being part of your community means, and above all its taught her to love all people.
I don’t know what the next 3 ½ years have in store, but I do know I am thankful for the foundation her her faith-based school years has laid in her.
From Matthew 7: 24-27 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”
For those of you with higher schoolers who have made a similar transition, does this resonate with you? What advice would you offer middle school parents about to embark on the same transition with their child?