That first year transitioning from grammar school to high school can be daunting for young teens.
If anybody is familiar with this, it’s Jill Gomez, a guidance director and formation director at Brother Martin High School. She is in her 26th year as an educator and has a master of education degree in counselor education.
“We’re helping our parents and students, academically and socially, make that adjustment,” Gomez said.
For parents, the most difficult transition is letting go and allowing their children to take responsibility in school. In elementary school, parents are intricately involved in every aspect of a student’s life – knowing what homework or projects are due, when tests are scheduled and having friendships with other parents.
High school presents a different ball game.
Brother Martin’s hallmark is teaching responsibility to male students, Gomez said. An unstructured period is incorporated into each student’s schedule to learn time management.
Most students quickly learn that grammar school preparation for tests, papers or projects isn’t always adequate in high school. But some need more help adapting, she said.
“We teach strategies on how to learn new study habits and time management,” she said. Using a pro-active approach, the tutoring and guidance and counseling offices work together “so we don’t have kids falling through the cracks.”
New homework policy
Gomez and department chairs established a new homework policy in the 2015-16 school year. If a student misses homework, a teacher refers a student to the Formation Center to make sure the assignment is correctly completed. The center also offers tutoring from teachers and National Honor Society students.
“Parents have really appreciated this,” she said. “It takes the pressure off them and puts it on the student.”
After sophomore year, she said it is rare to see upper classmen missing homework.
Teaching students how to advocate for themselves in a professional way with teachers without having their parental intervention is another tool given.
“Sometimes, we have to model and give them that language,” she said. “Some kids naturally have that, others don’t.”
She said parents, who once controlled their children’s lives in grammar school, often feel left out in high school. They find it hard to step back and let the process of self-reliance happen. They have to strike the right balance of when to intervene.
“I find it hard for parents to let their children make mistakes,” said Gomez, a mother of an eighth grader at Mount Carmel Academy. “They are going to trip up. It’s part of the life lesson.”
Gomez said the counseling and guidance departments often act as a sounding board for parents – making suggestions on how to work with situations at home.
“Sometimes, it’s just normalizing their behavior, so parents don’t feel it’s a strange situation,” Gomez said. “We advise parents to give kids the opportunity to solve their own problems before they step in. It’s a hard place for a parent to be, but they have to let their child do that.”
At Brother Martin, counselors retain the same students in eighth and ninth grade, and then again in 10th through 12th grade. This allows relationships to establish among them, the students and their parents. If a major issue arises, it’s easier to discuss since trust has been established.
Gomez doesn’t think teens have changed much over the years, but says this generation is introduced to issues well before they are mature enough to handle them.
The ease with which they use technology exposes them to things they may not be mature enough to handle.
“Technology has opened them up to so many worlds, and they haven’t even left their homes,” she said. “Often, teens are confronted with making adult decisions they are not equipped to handle.”
They also are surrounded by a lack of morals and role models. Catholic high schools step in to fill some of this void with strong charisms and missions. At Brother Martin, it’s “teaching boys not only how to make a living but how to make a life.”
Another issue that Gomez has noticed cropping up among students, especially since Hurricane Katrina, is anxiety. It doesn’t help that, from an early age, this generation has been rewarded for almost everything they do, whether earned or not.
“Sometimes, I think, we have to teach our children more strategies to cope,” she said. “We need to let them learn how to deal with disappointment. That’s the real world.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached email@example.com