As a sixth grader, Mark DeNucci, Jr., recognized just about all the faces in the hallways and classrooms at his school, Larchmont Elementary.
Heading into seventh grade this week at DeVeaux Junior High School, he knew he'd have some different territory to learn.
“There are new people to meet, and you've also got to get used to the new building where you go for different classes and learn your way around,” he said. “It's kind of exciting. It can be kind of scary sometimes.”
As thousands of students in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan return to school this month, nearly all of them have new teachers, new classrooms, and new classmates. Some even have new schools as they move or graduate from elementary to middle school or junior high and high school.
John Foley, school improvement leader in Toledo's Rogers area, said every school year has pressures for returning students, and not just when they face proficiency tests or new school buildings.
“I don't think we give kids a break at any grade - the expectations are so high. For years, kindergarten was a place where you learned how to socialize. Now we're having academic expectations. I think there are important things they learn at every grade level,” he said.
Sue Lonsway, a Sylvania clinical counselor in private practice, said parents can help their children adjust to new educational settings by meeting teachers, visiting schools, and talking to their children about school.
Mark and his fourth-grade brother, Andy, have had those benefits: Their parents said they have pushed the importance of education; Mark walked around DeVeaux last week, learning the routes he'll take between classes; Andy has found his years at Larchmont getting easier as he knows more people.
“I'm not scared. I know my teacher because my brother had him,” Andy said.
He remembered one way a teacher made it easier for his class to return one fall. “When I was in second grade, at the end, my teacher let us open our report cards and see who was in our class [the next year],” Andy said.
Not only elementary-age pupils can benefit from a little extra attention in the early days of the school year. Ms. Lonsway recommended the same kind of attention for older children and teens. “A lot of times, parents just assume they're going to take care of it themselves. They still need to be helped a little bit with getting prepared for school, getting the supplies, and getting on a regular schedule,” she said.
As the year progresses, parents and teachers should be watchful in case the normal stress of a new school year turns into bigger anxiety.
“Maybe there's numerous changes going on and that might top it off: a new house, new school, parents not keeping in touch with old friends. The child might begin to feel isolated, especially if you're already starting off with a shy child, a quiet child, or a loner,” she said.
Ms. Lonsway said bullying can be a major problem, something Sandra Vollmar's son is worried about as he begins his freshman year at Bowsher High this week. “He's nervous because of the stories you hear - that the freshmen are treated differently,” she said.
While some students may be stressed at the idea of a new building, Mrs. Vollmar said her son and other children she's known are more worried about their peers. “I think it's the students and how he'll be treated,” she said.
Still, she'll try to step back. “As a parent, I want to hold his hand and make it an easy transition for him, but he has to do it,” she said.