A+ Advice for Parents

Son's Unfortunate Experience Not a Reason to Change Schools

Q: My son, Malik, who is just finishing first grade, and another boy got into trouble at school. Their teacher sort of kicked them to get them to move faster in line and they reacted. Another teacher reported her and the principal got involved. It was stressful because no one believed the boys. The principal moved them to another teacher, whom Malik likes. But now Malik wants go to a different school. While I want to support him, and it would just be a transporation issue, should I let him?

A: I'm sorry Malik experienced this unfortunate incident in first grade. While he learned a couple of life lessons (even when we tell the truth, sometimes the adults we trust don't do the right things), those alone don't give a rising second-grader the wisdom to decide where to enroll in school.

It sounds like the principal acted decisively and Malik ended the school year in good hands. Meet with the principal, if you haven't already; discuss Malik's overall performance, your expectations for him and what teacher he'll have in the fall. This lets the principal know you want to stay closely involved, if you decide to keep Malik in this school.

Assuming that apart from this encounter you've been happy with the school, turn the incident into an opportunity to grow, says Diane Stephenson-Moe, an elementary counselor at Jeffers Hill Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland.

"Unless you've detected a lack of leadership or a pattern that suggests a troubled school," she says, "I don't see why one bad experience should be a reason to uproot him. When we allow children to run away from something unpleasant, it doesn't teach them skills such as resilience and problem solving."

Several factors should go into a decision to change schools. First, compare available options. How do they compare on academic performance and other factors that matter to you?

"Think about your child's needs and your family's needs and values," says Bill Jackson, the founder and CEO of GreatSchools. "Consider Malik's personality. Would he be better in a smaller school ... one with a special program that might engage him more fully? Does location matter? What are your before- and after-school care needs?"

List the pros and cons of your decision. Find further guidance at greatschools.org/gk/articles/choosing-a-school.

Life always throws us undesirable situations, "but we have to learn to deal with them," says Stephenson-Moe. "I understand that parents want to support their child -- that's good -- but I'm not comfortable giving a child this much say in such a big decision. Parents can oversupport to the point where we do children a disservice. We can't rescue and shield kids from every unpleasant experience in life."

Whatever you decide, take some time to help Malik reflect and put first grade in perspective, suggests Stephenson-Moe. Help him consider the year. What was his proudest moment and his toughest challenge? What was the most fun? What was something hard that he had to learn that he's now mastered? Who are the new friends he made?

All of this will help him see what he did to get better this school year and what he wants to get better at next school year.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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