School redistricting causes many changes beyond a new building

Melissa Grubbe's oldest daughter Madeline was excited about rejoining her longtime friends for her last year in elementary school.

But when the ever-growing Olentangy school district in Delaware County drew new building boundaries, Madeline had to transfer to another school. Most of her friends didn't.

"Kids kept calling her the new girl," Grubbe said. "But she wasn't the new girl. She had been in the Olentangy district all along. That was pretty hard on her."

Children form strong and often lifelong bonds on playgrounds and in classrooms. When those ties are severed, whether through redistricting or by moving to another town, the first day of school can be pretty traumatic. Students miss their friends and even their old school buildings.

That doesn't mean they won't thrive. Grubbe said she thinks the change was harder on the anxious parents than the redistricted kids. All three of her children -- Madeline, now 13, Adelaide, 12, and Sam, 7 -- are doing well in school, she said.

"Kids are adaptable and malleable," said Kat Eden of Education.com, an online resource that provides parents with free information about learning issues. "Even kids moving all on their own can be fine."

Parents can help with the transition.

School counselors said a tour of the new school is essential and helps the child feel more comfortable on the first day, when the unfamiliar halls are filled with students.

"As parents we worry about test scores and student/teacher ratios. Kids worry about, 'Where is my locker? How does the cafeteria work?' Just spending a couple hours there will help," Eden said.

Parents should tour the school and meet the teachers, too. And they should check back with the teachers often to make sure the adjustment is going well, Grubbe said. "Those first couple months are going to be crucial," she said.

But above all, experts advised, be honest about the situation.

"Instead of trying to spray sunshine on the situation, have an honest discussion with the child. Ask them what they're worried about. Assure them you'll be there for them," Eden said.

Extracurricular activities like sports and clubs also are critical. Keeping them involved in sports, churches or other groups outside school can help them stay connected with their old friends.

"We teach our kids, 'When you make a friend, you make a friend for life.' It doesn't matter if they go to a different school," Grubbe said.