Why I said yes to my child changing schools

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock 

I thought long and hard about which school I would send my 14-year-old daughter Sophie* to. Even when she was a baby, I was weighing up the pros and cons of local high schools and private schools, eventually electing to move house so that I'd be in the catchment of an excellent state school in the inner city. 

The high school in question has an excellent academic record and a string of high achievers who have graduated from its classrooms and gone on to noteworthy achievements in business, science, sport and the media. It's not that I particularly want Sophie to achieve big things, I just want her to know that doors are open to her in whatever field she's interested. 

Real estate is expensive in the catchment of this school but that was the sacrifice I was willing to make in order to ensure Sophie could be whatever she wanted to be. But now she's told me she wants to leave this school I worked so hard to get her into, and I have to agree it's the best thing for her.

Sophie went through the local primary school and made a lot of friends, before most of those same kids all moved on to the corresponding high school. So she's known a lot of these kids for most of her life. Each child has their place in this microcosm of society and, for better or worse, that's where each of them stays.

The sporty kids from primary school are now the sporty kids in high school. The academic kids are still smart. The popular girls are still the popular girls.

Sophie was always one of those kids who just got along with everyone. She wasn't one of the popular kids but she was generally well-liked. She was bookish, not sporty. She was arty and creative, and played in the school band. She volunteered to be in all sorts of committees and groups. She just had an enthusiasm for life that meant she got along fine with everyone.

That was until she began to suffer from mental health issues, which eventually made her depressed and anxious, leading her to attempt suicide. This was a low point in Sophie's life – as well as the whole family. She struggled at school and, as she thrashed about, fighting her demons, her struggle became more and more public.

Teenagers can be cruel, and Sophie was bullied in her time of weakness. Kids told her she mustn't have wanted to die that badly if she tried and failed to kill herself. More than one told her she should try again.

Those that never overtly gave her a hard time tended to avoid her. Her fragile and sometimes volatile mental health state meant they didn't know what to expect from her, and being a teenager is hard enough to deal with, without getting involved in someone else's battle.

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Her closest friends found her too much hard work. To be honest, I see their point – she was hard work. But slowly, eventually, Sophie started to recover. With weekly psychologist visits, a course of anti-depressants, supervision by a psychiatrist and some time and space to recover, Sophie began to emerge from her dark place.

Over a year since she tried to take her own life, Sophie is a different kid. She's back to being involved in drama club and the school band. She's interested in her school work, and she wants nothing more than to get on with her life and look ahead.

Unfortunately, the kids at school won't let her do that. To them, she's still the weird kid who tried to kill herself. She's still the kid that isolated herself and didn't want to get involved in anything. She's still the kid who is volatile and unpredictable.

I never wanted to teach Sophie that running away helps any problem, but I've seen how hard she's worked to get better, and I saw the crushing disappointment on her face when she told me she didn't want to have a birthday party this year because she had nobody to invite.

All she wants is a fair go – and a chance to start fresh. Sophie continues to work hard to get better, and she's still got some progress to make before we can relax, but I want to see her at least on a level playing field. 

I want kids to decide whether they like her based on who she is now, not who she was during her darkest time. I want to see her laughing and joking with friends her age, so I told her she can change schools. It's time for us all to start again.