With school beginning in just a few days for two Washington County districts, it's the time of year that can be filled with anxiety, hopes and fears-especially for first-time students and those transitioning to new schools.
Alicen Teer, 11, of Marietta, said she's anxious about moving to Marietta Middle School this fall. Last year she was a fifth-grader at Phillips Elementary.
"I'm kind of nervous," she said. "It's a bigger school and I'm afraid I'll get lost."
BRAD BAUER The Marietta Times
Vanessa Binegar, 6, stands Wednesday outside Washington Elementary School with her mother, Rebecca Merrill, 35, of Marietta. The girl was home schooled last year but will be starting first grade at the school when classes resume Aug. 24.
That's a typical reaction, said Karen Waller, a guidance counselor for Belpre City Schools.
"Transitions to new schools can be one of the most difficult times for students," she said. "There are social pressures, fears of not fitting in or belonging and academic expectations."
Classes in the Belpre and Fort Frye districts resume Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, while students report back Aug. 24 to Frontier, Wolf Creek and Marietta Schools and Aug. 25 to Warren schools.
How to make the first day easier
Remind your child that he or she is not the only student who is a bit uneasy about the first day of school. Teachers know that students are anxious and will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.
Start getting back into a bedtime and morning routine at least a week before the start of school.
Get up a little early on the first day of classes so there isn't a rush, which can add to first day jitters.
Point out the positive aspects of starting school: It will be fun. They will see old friends and meet new ones. Refresh the positive memories about previous years, when your student may have returned home after a first day in preschool or a camp in high spirits because he or she had a good time.
Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your youngster can walk to school or ride with on the bus.
If you feel it is appropriate, drive your child (or walk with him or her) to school on the first day.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics and Times research.
Waller said parents can help ease some anxiety by taking their children for a school visit in advance of the start of the school year.
"There are always fears of getting lost or that teachers will be mean and not like them," she said. "Most schools welcome students to come in for a tour and meet their teachers. Taking advantage of those kinds of things can really ease a lot of first day fears."
Rebecca Merrill, 35, of Marietta, took her daughter, Vanessa Binegar, 6, for a tour of Washington Elementary School on Wednesday. The girl was home-schooled last year but is set to start first grade at the school when classes in Marietta resume Aug. 24.
"I'm not as nervous as I probably should be," Merrill said. "She's been in a preschool setting and did really well ... I decided to home school last year because I didn't want her to be held back just because of her age. She missed the cutoff date by just one day. I guess it isn't uncommon for kids to start at (age) 6, but I felt she was ready."
Waller said for younger students, it's usually the parents who are more worried than the students.
"Younger kids may come in scared but after they look around a bit and connect with a teacher or another student they're completely different kids, usually within 20 minutes," she said. "Younger kids adjust pretty quickly."
To help reduce anxiety, especially with younger children, Waller suggested parents get their students back on a bedtime and morning routine at least a week before the start of classes. Also, she said everyone should try to get up early on the first day so no one feels rushed.
With a new pink Barbie backpack ready to go, Binegar said she's excited about the start of school. She said that's because her older sister, Marissa, 8, also attends Washington Elementary.
"She's going to walk me to my classroom," Vanessa said. "And I'm going to like the part when you get to go outside to play. I might be able to find Marissa."
Tiffany Robinson, 25, of Lowell, said she's nervous for her 4 1/2-year-old daughter, Breaunna, who is starting kindergarten this fall.
"I'm a little worried. She's usually attached to my leg or right at my side," she said. "I don't know how she's going to do."
Robinson also expressed hope that her daughter will follow directions a little better in a classroom setting.
"I worry about her listening and paying attention," she said. "I want her to do well and succeed but right now I'm having a hard time getting her to listen or do what she's told."
Breaunna seemed excited about back to school shopping.
"I want a blue Dora (the Explorer) backpack," she said.
The girl's mother said a new backpack is in the works.
"That's all she talks about," she said. "She really wants that backpack."
Waller said the tougher transitions are for new middle school and high school students.
"There's more pressure to fit in and belong," she said. "A lot of kids worry they're going to stand out or be different."
Waller said she generally suggests students join sports teams, organizations or service clubs that surround them with other students with similar interests.
"Students should always assume they're going to have to approach other people to make new friends," she said.
Teer, starting at Marietta Middle School soon, said her older brothers and some friends who have already been through the transition have given her some advice in recent weeks.
"They've all told me I'll be fine but that some teachers are a little more strict than others," she said. "My first day plans are to make a good impression, learn where my classes are and meet some new people."
Haley Brookover, 10, of Marietta, said she's also nervous about her first year at the middle school. She'll be one of the youngest students there after skipping ahead a year in elementary school.
"I just don't want to be called a nerd," she said.
After finding her locker and the best routes to her classes, Brookover said there's really only one thing left to do: "Socialize."
"There will be a lot of new kids from other schools. I think it should be fun," she said.
Waller said the transition from middle school to high school is often the most difficult transition for students.
"Elementary and middle school students are more managed by adults," she said. "By the time students reach high school, there's an assumption they are more independent and on a course track. There are also increased social pressures."
Waller said some students struggle more than others.
"To calm fears, students should think back to who they can depend on-'Who were my friends before?'" Waller said. "Also, they should be looking into what contacts they can make before the start of the school year and know that everyone is feeling the same way."
Lauren Martin, 14, of Marietta, is set to transition this fall from Marietta Middle School to life as a freshman at Marietta High School.
"I'm excited because I'm moving up but my fears are of getting lost in a big school and how I'll be accepted by other students and upper classes," she said.