Back-to-school success

My daughter, 11, is starting middle school this fall, and my son, 13, is starting high school. Although, I know they’re both excited, I sense a bit of apprehension at the mention of a big step-up year. 

They’ve both heard the horrors of far more work and academic challenges at their next levels of school — the older one, of course, adding to the drama by telling his younger sister: “Middle school is not like elementary school: It’s a lot harder.”

Perhaps your tween/teen is also feeling some apprehension about the amount of work they might face, or maybe they had a hard year previous and want to do better (and are already feeling overwhelmed). 

Paula Erbisch, a school counselor at Minnetonka’s Middle School West in Excelsior, offered four steps students can take:

1. Attitude: This is a new year! Take the opportunity to show your best self. This year is another chance to do great work.

2. Create your own organizational system: You may be someone who needs one binder for every class. 

Perhaps you’d rather have everything clumped into two large binders, one for morning and one for afternoon classes. (My daughter loves an accordion folder to keep everything ready in one spot.)  

Erbisch says, “Start with a plan from Day 1 — and stay on top of it.”

3. Set reasonable goals: Generic goals like, “I want all A’s and B’s” are admirable, but tend to be too broad. 

Think tangibly: My goal is to spend two hours on work every night. My goal is to turn things in on time. My goal is to work on projects a week ahead of time. 

4. Talk to teachers and counselors: They’re busy, but they want to help. Go to them after class with questions, or drop them an email. They want you to be successful!

Erbisch also urges students to get to know their counselors. “Our No. 1 job is to be your advocate. 

We help you determine if your needs are being met holistically. Think of us as the 911 you’d dial for help — not as the office that tells you you’re in trouble.” 

And, remember, middle schools and high schools often offer more educational assistance opportunities than those at the elementary level. 

Erbisch says students should take advantage of programs that offer academic support. Go to zero hours before first period, learning labs and before- and after-school support sessions. 

Many high schools have writing and testing centers staffed by students who are focused on preparing classmates for all the papers and tests that come their way. 


Parents: How can we get our kids emotionally ready to face a new year head-on with anticipation — and not fear?

1. Send them to camp: Summer camp experiences, whatever they are, encourage not just socialization (and a break for us) but maturity and growth. 

2. Shop smart: Keep in mind that schools have a dress codes. As Erbisch says, “It’s such a bummer to show up in the cutest outfit ever and have to be told to change.” 

Make sure they get their hands on those class supply lists as well. Things tend to run out quickly, so getting them a few weeks out is helpful. 

3. Get them on campus: If your kid’s going to a new school this fall, make sure he attends orientation — or have him walk his schedule at the end of summer with the school’s permission. 

And get your young middle-schoolers practicing on their padlocks as summer draws to a close. 

I believe getting through school — and parenting through the school years — shouldn’t be about perfection, but about helping each other shine in the face of our imperfections. 

If we can all remember this, I think this will be our best year yet. 

Jennifer Wizbowski is Minnesota Parent’s new Teens and Tweens columnist. She’s a freelance writer who — if she isn’t driving her kids around — is likely reading, walking the dog or out on her paddleboard. She lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 11 and 13.