There is no way to sugar coat it… relocating to another country is an exceptionally stressful situation. Not only do you have to try to figure out the ins and outs of a whole new currency, tax systems, legal systems and culture, but you also have to consider the impact on your child. Changing schools within the same curriculum and same country itself presents many challenges in and of itself. Schools move at different paces, cover different sections as the Head of Department sees fit (particularly in the IEB). So what happens when you not only change the timeline but change the entire context?
The short and honest answer is your child will struggle.
The reasons, duration and intensity of this struggle are very student and situation-dependent, however, the causes of the academic struggle are very much the same. There are vast differences in the curriculum, learning outcomes, school structure, testing styles, grading systems and subjects on offer. Moreover, unlike in South Africa, all of your child’s high school results (Grades 9, 10, 11 or 12) are accounted for when applying to colleges. The change is intense and, we have found, quite overwhelming for a child or teenager.
The fact that children and teenagers tend to be resilient cannot be contested. Young people have an uncanny way of adapting to their environments. The issue as it pertains to relocating a child abroad is that the amount of change experienced is massive, and children can experience high levels of uncertainty and change-related stress. It is for this reason that we have found one of the best ways to help a child cope academically after an international move is to minimize the gap between their current and new curriculum.
Once a child knows what to expect and bridges the differential between the two syllabi, the uncertainty associated with that particular change gets minimized. If the child covers the work before they go, academics will not be another aspect of their lives that changes completely with no guidebook on how to survive the change.
So, what exactly can you, as a parent, do to help smooth this transition?
Firstly, you need to check your child’s progress and abilities according to the age-appropriate common core standards. The common core standards are predetermined sets of academic standards outline for Mathematics and English Language Arts. These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. As of 2020, 41 of the 50 states have adopted these standards, and even if you are moving to a state that has not adopted it, it offers a great way to baseline your child’s skills.
By having your child take a common core standards test, you will be able to get the just of the size of the differential your child will experience, i.e. the magnitude of the academic gap that exists. In doing a gap analysis, you can find the areas where your child is lagging, and a catch-up program can be created.
In the many relocation assessments I have done, I have found that Maths and English are usually the two subjects where the biggest gaps exist, followed closely by science. Science, unfortunately, does not follow the common core standards and need to find the state-specific outline for the subject. Some states have standardized end of the year tests in science that can be a useful metric, such as the STAAR exams in Texas and the CAASPP exams in California. If your child is in high school, however, science will be one of the most significant gaps as Physics and Chemistry are taught as two separate subjects and, thus, cover a lot more content than our combined subject of Physical Sciences.
Furthermore, you need to consider the first additional language your child will be taking. Unfortunately, none of the African languages are offered in the US and so your child will have to take a language they have likely had no exposure to prior. Different states and districts offer different languages. The common languages that are, however, offered include French, Spanish and German. A good idea would be to have your child sign up for a language learning app (such as Duolingo) as soon as the decision has been made to move. Most of these apps require less than five minutes a day and will offer extraordinary benefits.
It is also important to note, as a parent, that almost all of the curriculum outlines and required standards are available online and that a roadmap of checkpoints to cover can easily be created. We recommend you start as early as possible in order to give your child the smoothest transition.
If your child is currently in a Cambridge International School, they could possibly continue with this, no progress lost, as there are 427 CIE schools in the US.
Relocating is an extremely stressful experience, but there are ways that the stress you and your children feel can be reduced. Have your children start early, commit to the process and work diligently while they are here in order to have more energy and time to cope with the other emotional changes once they get there.
And hey, if all else fails, you can always give us a call and we would be happy to talk you through the process.