How to help students navigate new school environs

The start of a new academic year marks a time when learners find themselves on different paths. Some embark on a journey to a new school while others progress to the next grade within the familiar walls. These changes are not just logistical shifts, they elicit a range of emotional, psychological and sometimes physical effects on the learners.

The first term of the year acts as a transition period for learners as they progress to the next grade. It marks a significant milestone, but it also signals a sea of changes that can stir up a myriad of emotions. The anticipated challenges of separation from old friends, new study schedules, facing unfamiliar teachers, increased workload, just to mention a few.

The complex emotional and psychological landscape that students navigate during this period is intense and there is a need for parents and schools to acknowledge and address these feelings to avoid rebellious outcomes throughout the year.

Learners need to embrace the process of loss, new gains and challenges as an integral part of personal growth. The ability to sustain, or bid farewell to current friendships to forming new connections while worrying about fitting in and the fear of rejection can be a handful. Students need to grasp that this is all part of growing up and understanding the intricate dance of social dynamics.

Moving beyond changes in friendships, the shift to a new academic year introduces learners to a fresh set of educators and subjects adds another layer of psychological complexity. The strain of adapting to different teaching styles, meeting varied expectations and facing new evaluation methods can be overwhelming. This psychological toll may lead to self-doubt, imposter syndrome and heightened pressure to meet academic standards. In unfamiliar academic environments, the need to prove oneself intensifies, contributing to increased stress levels and a sense of vulnerability.

The emotional and psychological effects of this transition can manifest physically. Stress, anxiety and the pressure to perform can disrupt sleep patterns, alter appetite and even result in somatic complaints. Headaches, stomach aches and fatigue become common companions as students deal with the demands of their academic journey. Recognising and addressing these physical manifestations is crucial not only for the student's well-being but also for their academic success.

Effective coping strategies such as open communication about their feelings, the creation of a supportive home environment and access to mental health resources if needed, can significantly impact a student's ability to navigate the challenges of the first term.

Learning institutions also bear the responsibility of providing support through orientation programmes, mentorship initiatives and counselling services to help students navigate the emotional terrain more smoothly. By fostering a holistic approach to student well-being, schools can actively contribute to creating an environment where learners not only survive but thrive in the face of the emotional rollercoaster that is the new academic year.

Mr Muriithi is Crawford International School’s head of Marketing and Communications.

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