"I'm 11 and i've been homeschooled for 2 years now. this year I'm starting school again, and I'm feeling nervous. help!" -- Sophie
Starting at a new school -- whether going into middle or high school for the first time, switching schools, or going back to school after some time homeschooling or unschooling -- can feel absolutely terrifying. It can feel like everyone else knows what they're doing, or knows each other already, and you're the only one who is nervous. It can also feel like too many things are changing at once. When you're meeting new teachers, getting used to a new schedule, making new friends, and adjusting to a different workload all at once, it can be totally overwhelming.
But good news! This is a really common problem, and starting at a new school can be fun and exciting, not just nerve-wracking. When I was 12, I went into 7th grade at a new school after having been homeschooled for my 6th grade year. I was excited to be back in a traditional school, but I had no idea what to expect. The thing that scared me most was making new friends. My new school was kindergarten-8th grade, so most of my new classmates had gone to school together for years already -- and I was the only new student in my class. My new school also had a reputation for being really challenging. But in the end, I found that my classmates were very welcoming, and after years of being in school with all the same people, they were really excited to have a new kid in class. I loved my teachers, had a ton of fun being back in a classroom environment, and found that my new school gave me plenty of the academic freedom that I was worried I would lose by not being homeschooled anymore.
Later, when I went into high school, I was nervous all over again. This time, I was going from a very small school to a very big school, and I was worried I'd completely embarrass myself by not knowing how to use a locker or use a planner or change classrooms during passing periods. But I had an advantage this time: all the other freshmen were also new to high school, and so I had hundreds of peers who were going through the exact same thing. Of course, some of them knew how to use lockers and change classrooms and things -- but plenty of them did not, and even those who did were still just as nervous as I was to be in a new school with new people and different expectations. We all got to learn together, and it was a great way to make friends.
Here's what I learned from starting at a new school in 7th grade, and then again in 9th grade:
- Use what is unique about your new school to your advantage. If it is a big school, think of it as even more people to make friends with. If it is known for its sports teams, try out for one of them to meet new people. If there are clubs, join one that interests you. If your school is organized into homerooms, talk to your teacher about adjusting to the new environment; if you have lots of different teachers, find one or two who you particularly like. Any school will have its ups and downs -- try to find your new school's strengths and make them work for you.
- Know that, even though you may be making a bigger adjustment than others, everyone is nervous, and everyone is going through a change. Even if other people have been at your school for five or six years already, they are still going into a new grade, probably going into a new class or set of classes, and even if they seem confident and comfortable, they are likely a little nervous about everything from friends to grades. Don't be afraid to talk to your new classmates about how you feel!
- If you already know people at school, that's awesome! As a group, you can meet more people and find others who share your interests. If you don't know people yet, don't worry -- you'll be surprised by how open and welcoming most people are. Find people who are willing to reach out to you, and don't be scared to reach out to others.
- Keep up friendships from other schools, from your homeschool group, from out-of-school activities, etc. Sometimes it's really nice to have people who you know out of the context of school, so you can talk about school with them without having them know all the same people, and so you can stay connected to people that are important to you even when you don't see them every day.
- Go into this school year with confidence and a positive attitude -- any school year has the potential to be amazing, and you have a lot of control over what kind of year you have. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, ask questions, and be vulnerable. You're going to have a wonderful year!