Gilbert started high school this week.
Gilbert ready for high school -

Image courtesy ABC Newcastle

It’s been something we’ve been planning for, dreading and awaiting, for quite a long time now.
In some ways, the long summer holidays were a cruel test for Gilbert. While, he enjoyed having time away from school, it gave him too much time to think and worry about what lay on the other side of them. He spent months watching videos and reading books about fictional stories of high school, which made him all the more anxious when the time came for him to start.
He worried that he’d be sent to detention. That his head would be flushed down the toilet. That he’d be kicked out of school for not doing his homework.
It’s been hard to overcome those fictional fears without actually showing him what high school is really like. The holidays have been particularly tough, this time around.
I must confess, we were all highly strung, worried and scared on Sunday night, as final preparations were made and the ever growing anxiety hit its peak.
Monday morning, understandably, was fraught with anxiety. Nathan stayed home so he could come along too and support Gilbert on his first day, yet we struggled to get organised after months out of routine. After somehow getting everyone ready and out of the house, it was a tense car ride to the kids’ schools.
Thankfully, the girls went off to school really well. We were concerned Matilda would struggle with the start of school, having lost her closest friends at the end of last year. However, she made us proud by walking into school with Delilah, who was consumed with excitement at seeing her friends again after the holidays.
I just wish I could have truly enjoyed watching them walk together through the gates, but I was consumed with worry about Gilbert and the next drop off.
It was daunting for us (let alone him!) to walk through the high school gates, amid a sea of white uniforms. Even though only Year 7 students attended on Monday, they seemed to be everywhere. It turns out, Gilbert’s year is bigger than the entire population of his previous primary school – nearly 300 students make up Year 7 in 2017.
Coming from a school of less than 260, it was a big shock.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long until his two best school friends appeared, giving us comfort that he wouldn’t be alone. However, their appearance seemed to upset Gilbert more as he was forcibly reminded that they would never be in their old haunts again. Reality hit him and he buckled under the weight.
It was so hard watching him walk along with his friends, furtively trying to hide his tears. He was terrified. I felt helpless as there was nothing I could do to reassure him. He needed to see what high school was going to be like for himself. And, as difficult as it was, I had to let him go, so he could find out.
Carried in a surge of students, Gilbert was separated from us and sat down with his friends as the welcome assembly began. We watched him from the entrance to the hall, nervously looking for tell-tale signs of upset.
As hard as we looked, there were none. He sat quietly and attentively, and responded appropriately to prompts from the speakers.
Although this was an encouraging sign, I was still relieved to see his Itinerant Support Teacher Vision (ISTV) arrive to make sure his first day was a good one. At least there’d be someone there with him all day, making sure he was coping and not too overwhelmed.
The next moment, the parents were dismissed from the hall. I didn’t even get the chance to say a full goodbye to Gilbert!
Nathan and I spent the day keeping busy and checking our phones for any updates or news (or worse!), but none came.
Despite knowing that no news meant good news in this case, it was with an even greater feeling of anxiety and trepidation that we returned to the school in the afternoon. We saw his ISTV and saw him prompt Gilbert to wave to us (although he couldn’t see us from that distance).
Then over he came, sharing that his day had been good. Apparently his maths teacher is funny and nice, he finally got to use his new laptop and he even made a new friend.
His ISTV followed, together with two of the learning support staff who had been keeping an eye on him all day. They confirmed he’d had a good day too.
I felt like crying with relief. It wasn’t until that moment that I realised just how stressed and anxious and worried I’d been about his transition. Suddenly, seeing him with all this support, I felt free to breathe, although I hadn’t even noticed I wasn’t taking in enough air.
That feeling of release continued the next morning when we visited the library to grab his laptop for the day. Positive interactions with the Principal, his Head Teacher and the Special Education coordinator while we were there, made me feel even more supported, relieved and optimistic for the future.
It’s only day 3 and there are approximately another 797 days to go at this school. There’s plenty of time for things to go wrong, and I know they will.
I just hope we’ve laid the groundwork so we can deal with whatever comes in the days ahead.
Gilbert at the end of his first day of high school -
Meanwhile, I’m so grateful Gilbert is appreciated, supported and valued for who he is – that’s all I can ask for as a parent x