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Hello, Public High School (Goodbye, Homeschool)

A Big Transition: Hello, Public High School (Goodbye, Homeschool)

By Mir Kamin

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! 


M writes:

I am transitioning my daughter who has ADHD to public high school (9th grade) this week and just wondered if you had any tips for me? I don’t know how well received she will be because I’ve only had her take the IOWA Tests at the end of the year. (She did get grades at the homeschool program she attended once a week, but I didn’t hold on to all of that.) I really don’t want her to stop homeschooling, but she has been insisting she wants to go to public school for years, so we figured we would give it a try. Thanks in advance for your input.

Okay, so I’m trying to tease apart the different issues, here, and I’ll address best of them as each I can.

Issue 1: ADHD in public school

The degree to which ADHD impacts your daughter’s life is something you may have already figured out—and managed—while homeschooling, but changing up the setting may prove a challenge to whatever system you’ve been using so far. Typical management of ADHD may include any or all of the following: medication, increased movement and/or outdoor time, “chunking” of high-concentration activities, extended time for assignments and/or tests, assistive devices (such as the RE-vibe), and alternate study environments (one-on-one teaching, quiet room, etc.). She may want to try some of these now, even if she didn’t use them before. Or she may currently be using some of these but will either be reluctant to use them in a public school setting or will be denied those options unless you get her set up with a 504 Plan or IEP. In order to get the ball rolling for her to receive services (and I would say she will need something beyond the norm, mostly likely), you will need to speak with the person in charge of Special Education at her school.

Be aware that the initial placement on a 504 or IEP can be an extensive process, so the sooner you begin, the better. If your daughter has a formal assessment and diagnosis from a medical professional already, the school may allow you to set up a planning meeting straightaway, though even that may be a month or more off. More likely is that the school will ask to do their own assessment, and that can take up to 60 days, and then a meeting can be scheduled after that. Point being: Call the school now, before any problems arise. ADHD is a disability and special education plans are designed to provide disability support. If she doesn’t need it, she doesn’t have to use it. But better to have it in place and not need it, than to realize she desperately needs it and you’re going to have to wait several months.

Issue 2: Being “on track” academically

I’m not clear from the information you’ve provided whether your daughter appears to be in a good place academically, but let’s assume she is. Let’s assume she got good grades at the program she attended and did fine on the IOWA tests and she should—by those measures—be on par with her peers in 9th grade. She may still have one or more areas of relative academic weakness simply because she’s been in a different schooling system. Don’t panic if this turns out to be the case! We have some federal guidelines for school achievement, but individual states and even school districts can set their own guidelines, and the result is that moving from one state to another, or one system to another, may render a student “behind” in the new situation, maybe just because you were doing a subject in A-B-C order and the new school does it as C-B-A. Make sense?

I would recommend asking the school what sort of help they offer all students, and then utilizing that as needed. For example, at our local high school, I can’t think of a situation where if you asked a teacher for help they would say no; you could find a mutually-agreeable time and go in for tutoring with almost anyone. Many teachers also run regular “help sessions” on a given day (Tuesdays before school, or Wednesdays after school, or whatever) for particular classes. And finally, I know we run a general “student success” program that is generalized tutoring, available every weekday, where students can get help with anything. See what her school offers, and use it if she needs it.

Issue 3: Transitioning from homeschool to public school

As a parent who’s done private school, public school, and homeschooling, my biggest concern in this scenario would be social adjustment, personally. Not because, as many non-homeschoolers believe, of any nonsense about how homeschooled kids are feral and/or unsocialized, but because public school is an entirely different animal. I know it was an adjustment for my kid after being out for just a few years, and if your daughter has been homeschooled all along, it may be an even bigger shock.

The more you plan ahead for bumps in the road, the less likely she is to go splat.

Homeschooling tends to give kids a bigger voice in their education, and more flexibility. Your daughter may find that adjusting to the “sit down and do as I say” mentality that is often part and parcel of a single teacher facing a room of 35 rowdy kids is difficult. Homeschooled kids tend to be more tolerant of differences in their peers than public school kids. Your daughter may find her new cohort very different than the kids she’s used to. All of this is normal, and only your family can decide (though I’ll encourage you all to give it some time) whether any difficulties are growing pains or insurmountable.

And before you get to a crisis point of “this is so different and I just don’t know if I want to do this,” lay out some ground rules, if you can. Agree that if she heads to public school, she’s there for a full semester or a full year, for example. Agree that she will join at least one extracurricular activity (sometimes people like to insist on one activity and one sport; that’s up to you). Talk about a game plan for dealing with obstacles: whom should she approach first (you, her guidance counselor)? What’s the next line of action if a resolution doesn’t come quickly enough? Stuff like that. The more you plan ahead for bumps in the road, the less likely she is to go splat.

Issue 4: Freshman year

On the one hand, 9th grade is a great time to transition, because the start of high school is new for every student, and it makes your daughter less conspicuous (especially if it’s a situation where the high school has several feeder middle schools). On the other hand, 9th graders… well… let’s just say that’s not my favorite age. It can be very hit or miss, as kids jockey for social position and wrestle with their hormones and changing lives. Be aware that this can be a rocky time for any kid, no matter where they go to school, is I guess what I’m saying.

Issue 5: Communication

I’d say that for all of the aforementioned issues, communication is key. Encourage your daughter to talk to you and to her teachers. Drop an email to her teachers to let them know she’s new, she’s transitioning, she may have some challenges, and you would be so grateful if they would email or call you any time if they have questions or concerns. If everyone is talking to everyone else, it’s less likely that a problem can fester until it’s huge. Don’t worry that you’re “bugging” teachers, provided that you’re not showing up unannounced or emailing multiple times each day. Let them know you view them as vital players in the team behind your child, and that you’re ready to help however you can.

Good luck to both of you!

Photo source: Depositphotos/pyzata

More Advice from Alpha Mom:

  1. Globetrotting and Homeschooling and More, Oh My!
  2. Getting Help for Your ADD/ADHD Kid
  3. Bye Bye Homeschooling: Heading Back to Public School


About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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