This reflection is from Caroline Wolfe, who has had 2 children graduate from Opal School and move on to middle school:
I remember that I began by asking Davis what he wanted in a middle school. What would be his idea of a dream school? What would it look like, be like? In what ways would it feel similar to Opal? Different? I didn't necessarily ask these questions before we began looking at schools, but definitely early on in the process. I found Davis to be very clear and articulate about what he wanted. Of course, there was no such school, but at least now I had his thinking as part of the process. From his responses I asked him more questions to flush out some of what he was saying. Some of those questions were things like, is it important to you that you know anyone at the school beforehand?, What are the most important elements for the school to have/be (in response to his list)? As we visited schools I would ask him to share his thoughts about the school. What did he like? Why? What did he wonder about? Why? Could he imagine himself in the school? In what way?
I had my own questions and wants of course, but really I believed that it was most important for me to listen to Davis and what he wanted, what he was noticing, his responses to the visits, what he didn't highlight as important, etc. I felt strongly that it should be a partnership in decision-making. I knew that if I made the decision without him that that would leave a door open to blaming me if he ended up not liking the school I picked.
When it came down to making our 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice, I had to put my trust in Davis. His first choice was not necessarily mine. It wasn't that I didn't like his first choice, but it was an unknown school to me. I asked him many questions to help me understand what it was that he saw in this school, to better understand his perspective. Although it was an unknown school to me and that felt risky, I trusted him to know himself best.
Has his middle school been what I would hope for him? Yes and no. There have been aspects that I am thankful for, such as, it is a small school and this has lessened the opportunities for some of the "yuckier" social dynamics that can happen in middle school to be present. I am thankful that he has a good relationship with his teachers and that they know him well. I am thankful that because of both of these things, Davis has felt confident to take risks at an age where many children begin to take less risks.
As for the transition to middle school, there were some minor bumps, but with Nick's and my support, he acclimated. Mostly he didn't have shared language and experiences that the other children had. This is true for any child who begins a new school. It is a matter of being comfortable in asking questions to try to understand, and to be patient with yourself as there is so much new information to assimilate. The homework part was not new for Davis, but how to manage his time was. He didn't necessarily know how long something would take him to complete. This only took a short time to figure out some strategies to make this more successful for him.
It has been difficult for me to not be as connected to the school community. I would suggest that if you can, to volunteer in some capacity at the school. Get to know the teachers, the kids, and hopefully some parents too. It makes a big difference. I think it is a time to be really available to your kids, not less available.
One last suggestion is to allow yourself to be your child's advocate still. This happens in many ways, but I will highlight 2 that I think are important: 1) I hope you find ways to ask questions of and inquire with your child's teachers. If things feel challenging, confusing, unsuccessful for your child, try to ask the teachers to share their perspective. By forging a relationship with your child's teachers, you can all work together to make your child's school experience the best that it can be. Do not feel afraid to speak up and ask questions and share perspectives while remaining open to learning from the teachers' perspectives as well. 2) support your child to not be afraid to speak up and ask questions as well. This is really important! Their relationships with the teachers will most likely not be as connected and deep as your child has experienced at Opal School. This will only continue to become more true as they get older. It is important that they learn how to be their own advocate as well. Please encourage and support them to do so!