The school year 2020-2021 was unlike any other. Millions of students studied online for part — or all — of the year. Some students may feel a little out of practice when it comes to addressing the start of a “normal” school year coming autumn after months away from teachers, classmates, and a typical school day routine.
Here are some helpful hints from educators, administrators, and counselors to get pupils ready for the new school year:
1. Recognize that it is acceptable to seek assistance.
Encourage your child to seek help from teachers and other school personnel, whether the problem is minor — such as finding the nearest restroom — or more serious, such as needing extra help with a school subject or mental health support. This is especially crucial for students who are starting at a new school because navigating a new building might be daunting. “We want students to understand that it’s okay to be unhappy. Michelle Sandoval Villegas, a math teacher at Parkland Pre-Engineering Middle School in El Paso, Texas, says, “It’s OK to ask for help.” “We want to reassure pupils that they are in a safe haven at school, which has been absent for so many students throughout the past several years,” she says.
2. Make tiny, attainable goals for yourself.
Setting precise, realistic goals for the first days back may assist if your student is nervous about returning to in-person learning and all that implies — managing physical class changes, keeping papers organized, connecting with peers — Cody Strahan, a robotics teacher at Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Ark., says, “Coming back can be a lot for a student, especially if they’ve been out for a year and a half, like some students.” Create micro-goals for the first few days back to help with the transition. Encourage your child to locate classrooms and learn teacher names and class routines first, then focus on reuniting with pals, according to Strahan.
3. Make a morning to-do list.
Let’s be honest: When your children attend in-person school, you must remember to bring a lot of items, especially if they participate in after-school programs or sports. If your kids are nervous about the early morning rush out the door, use a whiteboard or sticky notes to build a daily backpack checklist so they don’t forget anything important. Twainna Calhoun, principal of Good Hope Middle School in West Monroe, La., and her fifth-grade twins utilize this technique to double-check that they have their lunches, classwork, and other vital materials — as well as charged and packed their Chromebooks — before leaving for school each day.
4. Do your homework.
Schools are discovering innovative, virtual ways to welcome new students in locations where group visits for incoming students aren’t currently available, such as YouTube educational films, online PowerPoint demonstrations, Zoom discussions with counselors, social media posts, and more. Calhoun says, “We’ve done a number of interactive films for our incoming sixth graders — everything from how automobile drop-off works to what kind of bookbag to bring to how to pick up your lunch in the cafeteria.” Before your child arrives on campus, assist him or her in learning the ins and outs of a new school. Knowing what to expect can help reduce nervousness on the first day.
5. Participate in orientation sessions.
Take use of in-person orientation programs to the fullest. Them can map out classroom locations, discover daily schedules, and meet teachers ahead of time, all of which can help students feel more at ease on the first day. Orientations also give students the opportunity to learn about school support services such as tutoring and counseling, as well as extracurricular organizations and sports. Students who attend Marathon High School’s annual “Freshman Jumpstart” get to meet every teacher, learn study tips and pointers for navigating high school, practice pathways through the building, explore clubs, pre-purchase a yearbook — and even walk away with door prizes such as locker organizers or scientific calculators. “Kids leave knowing how to arrange their day — ‘this is where I’ll sit for lunch, this is when I’ll walk to my locker,’” says principal David Beranek. “It alleviates the fear that they will become disoriented.”
6. Make mental health a top priority.
Encourage your children to express themselves if they are experiencing excessive stress, anxiety, or depression. Also, tell them that school counselors are available to assist them. Josh Godinez, a counselor at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., says, “We know we have to take care of mental health before we can expect children to perform academically.” Allow your children to be pleased of the ways they have showed personal growth during the past year and a half, even if the pandemic has been difficult for everyone. “Rather than concentrating just on learning gaps or loss, we need to reframe the dialogue so that we can recognize and celebrate the personal resilience that students have demonstrated,” Godinez says.
7. Be present and involved.
Encourage your children to prioritize being active and engaged in class this year if they are concerned about falling behind after months of no in-person learning. Bill Ziegler, principal of Pottsgrove High School in Pottstown, Pa., states, “Excellent attendance is crucial to eliminating learning gaps.” “Commit to delivering your best effort every day, creating relationships, and maintaining a curious mindset.”
8. Go through your emails.
It may appear antiquated, given that most teenagers prefer to communicate through apps and SMS. However, when it comes to school communications, email is the way to go. Make sure your children’s school-provided email accounts are active and that they regularly monitor them, especially in the weeks coming up to the start of school. They should specifically seek updates from the guidance counselor, principal, and classroom teachers.
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