As the end of grade school approaches, many students have mixed feelings about starting middle or junior high school in the fall. They’re both excited and nervous about the changes ahead, such as:

  • Going to a new school where every subject is taught in a different classroom
  • Being among the youngest students in school again after being the oldest and most savvy group in grade school
  • Finding their way around a school that’s so much bigger than the one they’re used to attending

The Year Before Graduation

Concerns like these may be more intense for visually impaired students. To help your child make the transition with confidence, it’s a good idea to start preparing her at the beginning of her last year in grade school. Here are some tips.

  • If your child hasn’t had an assistive technology assessment by the beginning of the school year prior to starting in a new school, have that done now. If there are tools that might help your child in her new school, she’ll have time to get and learn to use them while still in the familiar surroundings of grade school. Talking to your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments and IEP team would be a good place to start.
  • Because technology is now such a key factor in daily life and education, your child may already be comfortable using a computer. If not, talk with her educational team about the best way to bring her up to speed before she starts her new school.
  • Work with your child and her teacher of students with visual impairments to decide on the best way for her to track her schedule and assignments (electronic or not) and then practice using it to keep track of appointments, homework, tests, meetings, etc.
  • Navigating the halls, classrooms, labs, auditorium, cafeteria, and multiple floors of a bigger school is a challenge for all incoming students; however, having a visual impairment complicates learning the new environment. Ask your child’s orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor about giving her practice sessions at her next school while she’s still in her current school. That will boost her confidence and prepare her to move around the school efficiently.

What’s Different After Grade School

  • In middle or junior high school, most of your child’s teachers will expect her to take notes. If her skills aren’t up to par in this area, she’ll need to strengthen them before leaving grade school. She may hand write or braille notes or use an electronic notetaking device, and you can encourage her participation by asking to see her work. Recording her class lectures and discussions, in addition to taking notes, may be an option to help her study and prepare for tests. Again, her teacher of students with visual impairments is probably the team member who can be of most help to her and to you in this area.
  • The amount of reading that students are expected to complete increases following grade school. If your child’s reading speed and comprehension aren’t at the level of her classmates, listening to audiobooks may help her as a supplement to reading print or braille. Discuss this option with her educational team members. If you all agree that it’s appropriate, encourage her to begin using audiobooks while she’s still in grade school.

Helpful Tips

There are several other steps you can take to help your child make a confident transition to her next school.

  • During the summer, before your child starts at her new school, see if you can get her course schedule for the fall. Doing this will give her an idea of what to expect and how to prepare for the semester ahead.
  • The beginning of the school year is a hectic time for administrators and instructors, so it may not be possible for your child to meet with her guidance counselor or teachers before she starts going to classes. But your daughter can send the counselor a letter outlining basic facts.
    • Who she is (an incoming student) and what her visual functioning is like
    • Her current academic and extracurricular strengths
    • Any special needs she might have
  • Encourage her to take the lead when it comes to letting her educational team, her counselor and teachers, and other key people know about any difficulties or barriers related to her visual impairment that she needs to overcome. This is an opportunity for her to express her independence and develop her advocacy skills.
  • If your child is working one-on-one with a paraeducator or teaching assistant, she may have mixed feelings about going on to her next school without that person. You and she should talk with the other members of her educational team to decide what to do. During her last year in grade school, one course of action would be to gradually decrease the amount of time she spends with the teaching assistant. This would help to prepare her for working independently and taking on the responsibilities of an older and more mature student and can also help prepare her to be more independent overall.