'What is your idea of life in a secondary school?' asked Grace Tung Man-yan, a fresh social work graduate from Baptist University, to the group of primary children around her. 'We can go out for lunch,' came a reply. 'Triads. Drugs,' said another child. 'Lots of work and not enough sleep,' piped up another uneasy voice. This was the last session to prepare new King's College pupils for the school term on Monday - and the often bumpy transition from primary to secondary level. The school, along with Caritas Child and Youth Centre in Shek Tong Tsui, ran eight English-language sessions and an adventure-based counselling workshop over three weeks of the summer holidays, to help students develop social skills and establish self-esteem. 'What else?' probed Ms Tung. 'Having to learn in English,' said a child sitting next to her, leading to nine of the 15 boys to add their anxious thoughts about the new medium of instruction. More local schools and social work organisations are providing support to students facing this difficult stage. During the past four years, the Caritas centre has also been working with another secondary school, St Louis, and four primary ones in the district to offer counselling and bridging sessions. 'We encourage children to talk and share more during these sessions,' said Cheung Kwok-che, social worker-in-charge at the Caritas centre. 'Because once school starts a teacher has to face 40 students. There will be fewer opportunities to talk.' Most students faced some problems when they found themselves in the unfamiliar secondary setting, said Mr Cheung. 'They used to be the proud big boys and girls, now everybody else is taller than them. It is worse if they are bullied by senior students.' Children who were entering English-medium schools faced an additional problem of having to learn in a language they were not confident with, he said. They might not understand what was taught in class but not tell their parents until they lagged behind. 'I am following up on a case in which a child quit an English-medium school by the end of Form Two because he could not get used to the new medium of instruction,' said Mr Cheung. 'It was a bit too late by the time his siblings referred him to us. He's now wary of studying and wants to stay away from it. It would have been better if we could have intervened earlier.' To help students adjust, social workers at the Caritas centre visit primary schools in June to tell Primary Six pupils about the life and learning styles in secondary schools. 'For example, many of them are used to reciting the content of textbooks, which may work well in primary school. We have to tell them it will not be feasible at secondary level,' Mr Cheung said. Difficulties in making new friends could be stressful, said Li Mak Lai-ying, principal of Kit Sam Lam Bing Yim Secondary School. 'These children come from a place where they have enjoyed strong friendships and support from peers for years. Now they face a group of strangers and must establish new bonds.' Difficulties can also arise from a tighter schedule that demands more self-discipline. 'They are used to uncomplicated homework such as writing and simple arithmetic,' Ms Li said. 'In secondary schools homework also comes as projects, requiring more time and planning. There are also more after-school activities. They have to learn to divide their time wisely.' Ms Li's school has a tradition of training seniors to be mentors for Form One students. Mentors undergo three months of training. These children, Ms Li said, had succeeded in looking after newcomers academically and emotionally throughout the year. Parents must also adjust to their children entering a new stage in life. The school holds three sessions for them before and after the start of the new term. These introduce the school to the parents, and remind them that their children now need supervision in a different way. 'Some parents start considering their children as grown-ups at this stage. We try to remind them that their children still need their supervision, but more in the form of organising daily schedules than going through homework,' Ms Li said. A final session is to be held in October to enable parents to raise concerns with class teachers, and get a better idea of their children's classes. King's College will also be organising seminars for parents once term starts. 'Children begin to have this impulse to rebel between Form One and Form Two,' Mr Cheung said. 'If parents continue to try to dominate their lives, emotional and behavioral problems will develop.'