The school year is in full swing as are the jitters that go with it — both for new students and parents. Spartan Startup Orientation Day and the first-ever Freshman Parent Coffee helped ease the transition.
Nervous excitement filled the air as groups of Bainbridge High School freshmen toured the halls of their new school during orientation day. Link Crew student leaders gave the ninth graders a sneak peek at their new classrooms, new schedules, new opportunities — and the roller coaster of emotions that will come with them.
But they weren’t the only ones feeling the newbie nerves.
Nearby, more than 100 anxious parents — about half of the ninth-grade class — gathered in the library to get tips on how to support their kids’ jump from middle school. It was the inaugural Freshman Parent Coffee — a joint venture of Bainbridge Youth Services, BHS and the BHS Parent Teacher Student Organization.
“It’s scary,” says Lisa Brisson, who moved to Bainbridge Island with her husband and two kids from New York last year. She and her husband, Paul, came to the morning event to find out more about the high school culture for their son, who is an incoming freshman. “When you have a kid going into a new school in general, and especially going into high school, it kind of feels a little bit like a black hole because you don’t know what to expect regarding school expectations and or the level of pressure.”
Just as the students became more confident once they found their new classrooms and heard from kids who were in their shoes last year, Brisson and many of the other parents breathed a sigh of relief after hearing from a panel of BHS teachers, school counselors, administrators and Bainbridge Youth Services mental-health counselors and staff.
My welcome message to parents was: “We want to inspire hope in our youth. Let’s show our youth that we can be trusted to help hold their fears, dreams, thoughts and emotions as they go through high school.”
The morning started with a greeting from BHS Associate Principal Joe Powers and JoAnna Rockwood, school district behavioral health specialist. BHS Principal Kristen Haizlip was busy addressing the new freshman class. In a message to parents, she wrote: “This space is not just a holding ground before ‘the real world’ hits. High school is the real world for the adolescents that spend most of their waking moments here each day. As the adults at school, at home, and in the community, it is our work to help guide, mentor, support, and encourage high school students through every moment along the way — the mistakes and missteps, the accolades and accomplishments. Each moment matters.”
Meanwhile, the eight panelists, many of whom have school-age children, shared with parents how they helped their own kids deal with the excitement, fear and anxiety that comes with the transition to high school. “I wish someone would have told me just how fun high school is,” said Kirrin Coleman, who teaches English at the high school and has children in first, fourth and 11th grades. She reminded the parents that these next four years will be among the best times of their kids’ lives.
Also sharing advice was BHS teachers Ashely Crandall and Emily Eigen, BYS counselors Erika Dorsey and Courtney Peck, BHS counselors Cara Tebo and Krista Pal and PTSO Co-President Shannon Amelang.
Brisson’s husband, Paul, could relate to what the counselors shared with the group: Everyone is in the same boat and it’s normal to be anxious. “We’re all raising kids,” he said, adding that the morning session was a good reminder to allow his son to discover his own independence. “It’s embracing his world and letting him make his own decisions, while at the same time, letting him know that: You’re about to walk off a cliff and I’ll be here to catch you this time, but next time, it’s really going to hurt.”
While high school is a time to make new friends, Ashley Crandell, who teaches English and has two daughters at the high school, warned parents that this new grade also brings social pressures and the potential to disrupt friendship bonds. She urged parents to encourage their kids to explore the vast opportunities that high school offers, including clubs, sports and activities.
Bainbridge Youth Services had a resource table at the coffee to remind parents that there is plenty of support both from the high school and BYS, which is located on the high school campus and offers free professional counseling, free tutoring and job skills for ages 12 to 21.
Emily Eigen, whose daughter is a junior and son an eighth-grader, said it’s important for kids to unplug and have “time to check out,” especially at night. To ensure they have quiet time, she suggested a “no electronic devices” rule for the evenings.
She also said parents can help their kids by sharing their own struggles and how they cope with them. “Be open about your own challenges,” Eigen said. “Our kids need to see that we struggle too.”
One of the worst things we can do as parents is flip out when something goes wrong. “We don’t want youth feeling like they need to manage their parents’ emotions,” said BYS Counselor Courtney Peck. “They need to know we can hold the hard stuff.”
Giving kids space to make their own decisions is something both Peck and BYS counselor Erika Dorsey have been through with their own kids. Peck shared that her older daughter decided not to play soccer but was worried about what her friends and her parents would say. “When I gave her the space, she realized it would be OK.”
And that’s what Dorsey did when her 12th-grade daughter decided to do Running Start, a program that allows juniors and seniors to enroll in tuition-free college level courses at Washington community colleges.
“This is not the path we thought she would take but it’s OK,” Dorsey said. “Their journey through high school does not have to look like Susie’s or Joe’s or even yours. You need to give them the space to make their own decisions.”
Finding a balance between parenting and giving kids their independence is not always easy, says BHS academic counselor Cara Tebo. “As a parent, it’s easier to just fix the problem, but we need to help our kids figure it out.” Tebo and fellow school counselor Krista Pal said it’s important to let teens know you care more about their feelings, than their classroom accomplishments
PTSO co-president Shannon Amelang, who has three kids in college and a junior at BHS, agreed, adding: “Be demonstrative with hugs.”
She also joked with parents to not take their kids’ insults personally. “You reach a period in your child’s life where you are an idiot,” she says. “But then, when they’re in their 20s, they’ll thank you for being patient.”
Cezanne Allen is executive director of Bainbridge Youth Services.