GETTING STARTED AT BIS
Note: The information below was written several years ago by AJ, a BIS Mom and strong contributor to the BIS community. She has since moved on and is part of the Burlingame High community. If you have thoughts or would like to contribute to this page, we would welcome your input.
As new BIS parents, we're often lost and have many questions. Many of us often turn to a friend (let's call her AJ), a parent well-versed in all-things-BIS, who always has great insight. AJ points out that her early years at BIS were also spent asking questions of every amazing parent she knew and reading every book that Pam Scott recommended.
You may already know AJ (perhaps you’ve also harassed her with your own questions), or know your own AJ. For those of you who don’t currently have an AJ, this section offers some of the guidance she has offered many of us in an effort to collectively support each other as a community, and to continue to pay the knowledge and experience forward.
*Note: These answers are only provided to offer general guidance. No one piece of advice fits all, but we hope this provides helpful insights and gets you/your student started in navigating BIS.
Can you recommend a way to help my child advocate for him/herself with teachers?
Here is one way that really helped one of my kids: after agreeing when he/she was going to talk to a particular teacher, I wrote a note to the teacher via SchoolLoop (with both teacher/student copied) beforehand detailing that my child was coming in to talk, the general subject matter, and to please follow up if there are any additional questions or concerns. This way, my student was held accountable to meet with the teacher and the teacher could help my student initiate the discussion.
Communication: Why didn’t I hear about X, Y, Z from my child?
Hello, welcome to the club — your student is officially a pre-teen/teen! One of the best things about BIS is the school’s efforts in guiding your child to develop their maturity and independence. That being said, you will not get as much communication from school as you may have during elementary school. BIS offers a lot of info to students directly so that students may make their own decisions.
This is an adjustment for many of us. Along with this change, the social aspect is different for many parents in middle school than it was in elementary school (no kids on the playground while parents chat, kids now walk to school with friends or take the bus… plus your kid(s) may not want you around as much anymore!). Word-of-mouth communication amongst parents drops. And now you have to rely on your pre-teen/teen for info??
Hard truth: yes. It may be frustrating at times. But your kid will adjust to this new responsibility, as all of ours did — and you will too.
Here’s a general lowdown for communication:
Most student-specific announcements are made at school during first period. Signs are also hung around school and in buildings promoting events and activities. Student-specific events include student election dates, BIS Spirit Days, Genius Olympiad deadlines, ultimate tryouts, etc. It’s up to your student whether or not they want to participate and/or let you know about it. Do they want to do Block B Society? Do they want to run for Student Council? Do they want to wear crazy socks for Crazy Socks Day?
BIS administration values communication and collaboration with families. All major school-wide events are posted on the school calendar. If you are ever confused about an event or schedule, contact the BIS school office.
You may feel you’re getting too much or maybe too little information from BIS or PTA (we’ve heard both). We do our best to let you know about all parent- and family-related information through the weekly newsletter, so please sign up if you haven’t yet. We’ll also update this site as much as possible.
Please note that we do not always write about student-specific events in the newsletter as we follow the school’s lead in allowing the students to make these decisions themselves. Again, these events are always announced and/or posted at school. If your student misses an announcement and wants more info, encourage them to ask/email a friend, a teacher, or the front office.
Can you recommend one way to handle situations where my student is getting overwhelmed with homework or is going over the district guidelines?
I assume that this means a student is having an ongoing struggle with a particular subject/class or overall workload (not just a one-time occurrence). If your student has consistently been going over the district homework guidelines, I would reach out directly to the teacher (via SchoolLoop, phone call, or in-person meeting) and communicate what you are seeing at home as well as how it is affecting your student. I believe that our staff really supports the homework policy guidelines/vision. They need to understand what is going on with your particular student in order to make any necessary accommodations and collaborate on a plan going forward.
Does my student need a laptop or phone/smartphone?
No, your student does not need any of the above. In fact, the school's official electronics policy does not allow for any personal electronic usage during school hours (only personal device usage for teacher-approved projects/times.) BIS has electronic resources for students to use (although not 1:1 for each student). Students may also print out assignments at school, or oftentimes hand them in digitally. So while some students bring in their electronics to use, it is truly a personal choice and is definitely not required.
Do I need to buy school supplies?
Principal Erica Gilbert addresses concerns about extensive school supply lists and reiterates that students are not required to purchase anything. Many families choose to buy individual notebooks, binders, folders, paper, filled pencil cases... However, needed supplies will be provided for students that do not have them.
What are the most important skills I want to instill in my student during these three middle school years?
There are a few critical skills that I strive to (or strove to with my older kids) instill in my middler schoolers. First, I feel like BIS is a good place to learn through mistakes about time management. They need to learn how to balance the demands of multiple classes and homework priorities with after-school activities, family responsibilities, and socializing. By making mistakes, and correcting those mistakes, my kids are hopefully developing a growth mindset (this is a concept from Carol Dweck that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems; here's a link to Dweck's TED talk, if interested). Middle school is a perfect place to take these risks and learn this skill.
Second, I want my kids to learn self-advocacy. In high school, most parents only get involved when big issues arise, so students need to learn how to productively and effectively interact with teachers and other students, address problems, and deal with consequences of their small daily challenges.
Finally, I want my middle schooler to be independent and take ownership of their own learning, as this will also be crucial in high school. When my student forgets to complete or turn in an assignment, I want to hear him/her say, "I made a mistake," instead of, "the teacher forgot to remind me."
I am unclear of what to do when social emotional challenges come up for my student. Any advice on how to think about this?
This is definitely a tough subject, and as we are touching on developmental issues, it must be acknowledged that this is generally best left to the experts. But what I can say is that I have yet to find a single person that did not experience at least some emotional pain in middle school. Kids are figuring out who they are. Social groups change. Most middle schoolers are going to get their feelings hurt, feel left out, and are not going to get to do something that they want to do. I think it’s important to remember that this heartbreak is universal and exists in all stages of life.
When other friends ask me about this, I usually encourage them to think about what they want their role in the discussion with their child to be. For me, I don't see my role to fix the problem for them. I try to listen, help them problem solve, and provide a context of the "bigger picture" (if they are open to it). I find that it can be extremely frustrating when my child's solutions differ from what I would choose to do! But in those times, I always remember something the former BIS Principal, Pam Scott, said to me years ago: "It sounds like your student is doing a good job of ensuring his own needs are being met; which in this case, is probably more important than ensuring your needs as a parent are being met."
Of course, if the social emotional challenges seem to consistently be overwhelming your student, you'll probably want to bring in a larger support system. There are campus resources: teachers, school counselors and administrators. Please reach out!