The start of a new school year is an exciting and scary time for all children. However, for children living in foster care, the start of a new school year can be overwhelming.
First, foster youth move frequently, which puts them at least six months academically behind their peers. The frequent moves also mean that many foster youth are beginning the year in a new school, without the safety network of returning friends, familiar teachers or an understanding of the school culture.
In addition, these students face enormous personal emotional challenges. First, is the abuse or neglect that put them in care, but there is also the embarrassment of being in foster care, being separated from siblings and parents and living in a strange home. All of these factors weigh heavily on these young people. It is imperative that teachers, administrators, foster parents and all of those in the foster youth’s life to pay special attention to how these students assimilate into the classroom and watch for any bullying or shaming that may occur. Any additional emotional trauma would devastate an already fragile situation.
Research shows that youth living in foster care are more likely to drop out of high school and are least likely to attend college. An organized effort to safeguard a smooth school transition for these youth is the key to a positive educational experience that can offset some of the damage done by the abuse, neglect and the barriers that these youth experience. Additionally, and most importantly, an improved educational experience will enhance the overall wellbeing of each student and provide a pathway to self-sufficiency and a successful adulthood.
It is finally September, and that means back to school! We put together a list with back to school advice for foster and adoptive children, as well as all children, teens, and college freshmen as they start school this fall. To see a version of this post that color-codes advice by grade level, click here.
For Foster and Adoptive Children
When children are in foster care or with an adoptive family, sometimes their peers will ask them personal questions. Therefore, it is useful for parents and guardians to come up with a plan for their children to answer these questions ahead of time. About.com provides many useful examples:
When someone asks, “Why didn’t your mom want you? Do you know your real mom?” A child can say a few different things: “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” “I don’t share personal information.” “I know who my parents are, and they love me very much.”
“Why are you in foster care?” A child can reply, “I need to live where it’s safe right now.” Walking away is always an option, too.
“Why are you adopted?” Child: “My parents adopted me because they love me.”
The article also mentions how learning to develop a sense of humor can help a child in responding to these peer questions. For example, if a student asks, “Why don’t you look like your mom or brother and sister?” The child can say, “Because I’m better looking!”
It is important for children to learn the importance of privacy, and this is a great way to teach them.
Write all homework assignments in a planner. For new middle school students, it is also helpful to write locker combinations in a planner as well.
To prevent children from forgetting their homework, it is a good idea to always keep backpacks in a designated area of the house. It is also helpful to pack backpacks, lunches, and select outfits the night before school, so that mornings are relaxed and no one is late in the morning.
If you are out sick from school, do not forget to makeup your homework. Ask a classmate if you can also copy the notes you missed in class.
Be aware of and utilize resources that are available to you. Does your teacher post assignments on her website? Is there a homework hotline, tutoring service, or does your teacher have office hours?
Read your entire syllabus for each class, and then write all of the due dates for papers, quizzes, and exams in your planner. This way, you will not need your syllabus on hand to know when assignments are due.
Ask the teacher if you do not understand something or if you are confused!
For classes that require memorization, like history, biology, and language classes, make flash cards! Study a little each day.
Try your best, but do not beat yourself up for mistakes. No one is perfect.
Professors are required to have office hours. Write the office hours on your notebooks for each class, or write them in your planner. Form a study group with your classmates.
Review your notes right after class! This reinforces what you just learned, and it only takes 10 minutes or less.
Try to learn new things. For the classes not required by your major, take those that will open you up to new ways of thinking.
If you are not sure what to major in, see if your school has a career center with resources that provide students with a better idea of what career paths are out there. Ask lots of questions to professionals in fields you might be interested in.
Extracurricular Activities & Socializing
It is great to get involved with new activities, like soccer or cheerleading or football, or art classes and karate. But be careful not to overdo it. More than two activities can sometimes lead to stress and burn-out.
Befriend students who make you feel comfortable and accept you for who you are.
Join clubs to meet new people! Do you like hiking? Join the Ecology Club!
Be confident. Sometimes “Fake it ‘til you make it” really works in terms of gaining self confidence.
In college, make time to socialize a couple days a week, even if it is just grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend. Life will get busy, but you need to have some down time.
If you live in a dorm, introduce yourself to the people on your floor.
Keep in touch with close family, friends, and mentors. This can also help if you feel homesick!
Join at least one extra curricular activity to meet new people. The options are limitless in college, and they go way beyond what is offered in high school. Do you like Ultimate Frisbee? Chances are, there is a group for that at college.
Sleep. Did you know that after studying for a test, going to sleep helps people to better retain that information? Additionally, not getting enough sleep can contribute to lack of focus, depression, and weight gain. So making sure students of all ages are getting enough sleep is a key to success and health.
Recommended hours of sleep for different ages:
Children between ages 5-10: 10-11 hours of sleep
Children and teens between ages 10-17: 8.5-9 hours
Adults: 7-9 hours.
Set an alarm each day! This is especially important in college when it is 100% up to you to make sure you arrive to class on time.
Eat breakfast! It is common for youth to skip this meal, but it is important. It helps students focus better in class, and it prevents them from feeling extremely hungry before lunchtime. (Tips for teen girls).