Back to School

It’s Back to School time!

Last year, around this time, I made a post about how the school year (last year) was going to look different and some ways to help you and your children cope throughout the uncertainty and how to help get them excited for school, even if it wasn’t what they wanted.

Some of you messaged me and told me it was helpful and that you appreciated it. I thank you for who sent kind words after the post went live. I also, of course, got some not-so-nice messages about how I “wasn’t helping at all” and “kids should be in school”, etc – which was not the point of the post.

But, last school year was hard. It was hard for the people in the education field, it was hard for the parents, and it was hardest on the kids. No one will deny that distance learning wasn’t for everyone, but I still believe that schools did the best they could with the information they were presented. Not everyone was going to like it; but that’s just life.

This year is different, again. But, this year, most students are headed back to school as “normal”. Even my district that was hit really hard, initially, is going back in person, 5 days a week, no hybrid option, and no plans to fully shut down again at this point. My district has announced that they will shut down a school for cleaning if cases spike over a certain amount and that they have protocols in place to prevent a full systemic shut-down, but who knows how this year will really go.

It’s the same for many districts around the country. Many of our kids are heading back to school for the first time in a year and a half and it’s going to be hard on them. Some are excited and ready to hit the ground running, but others are worried or afraid of what will happen. Some students who are coming back have lost people, some of them have been sick themselves. In the cases of our incoming 9th and 10th graders; they never actually finished middle school; at least not in the traditional sense. You have students going to middle school, high school, and college, who never actually “finished” the level they were in before and never got to say goodbye to that chapter.

If you’re a parent who is getting ready to send their kids back to school or an educator who is getting ready to welcome students back for the first time in over a year, I have a couple of suggestions to try and help with the transition.

Disclaimer: I’m not the end all be all expert, but I am a school counselor with 10 years in the school system and I’ve been doing trauma-informed training the past year to try and help our students come back easier this fall. You know your child/students best, so always do what you feel is best for them and for you.

  1. Take your child to school before it begins.

While most schools may not let you in the building, you can take a walk around the grounds, let them see where their bus stop is, show them the front entrance. Just let them get a feel of the building, especially if they are new to it this year. Starting a new school more often than not is scary and anxiety-provoking; but going to a new school after being out of a school for a year and a half is different. They have to re-learn how to be in school and how to be in a NEW school. Letting them be exposed to the building before it’s bustling with people may help to give them comfort that it isn’t so foreign. You can also ask to speak to an administrator and see if touring the building is okay. I know my admins would allow a family to come tour, we would just have an admin walk around with them for security reasons.

2. Review School-wide mandates and ensure your child understands the rules, whether you agree or not.

Most schools are requiring masking for all faculty and students. I know there are a lot of parents who are against it, but as a parent you have to understand that your child is going to be required to follow that mandate. Just like students are required to follow a uniform (in some schools) or a dress code, they will be required to follow this. You can disagree and your child can know that you disagree, but just as you would expect them to abide the dress code, you should make sure they know you expect them to follow the mask mandate as well.

3. Have them practice wearing a mask for longer periods of time.

Most of us don’t like wearing masks – I most certainly don’t, but it’s a necessity in most schools, including my own. I had my mask on for about 2 hours the other day and I was so over it and I feel for the kids having to wear a mask for 7-8 hours at a time, I really do. But having them practice and get used to it will make it easier for them once they are in the building. It’s still going to suck, not pretending like it won’t. But, having them work through it now may make it easier once everyone is in school.

4. Talk to your child.

Find out how they feel about going back. Some are excited, some are scared, some are ambivalent. If they’re excited; let them be excited. Don’t project your fears, anger or any frustration you may feel with their school/district onto them before they return. As long as they are safe and healthy, that should always be the most important thing. You, as a parent, are allowed to be worried, frustrated, etc, but it isn’t fair to them to diminish their excitement because of it. If they’re scared, talk to them about why and talk about suggestions to help manage it. Talk to their school counselor and see what the school is putting in place to help students who are worried/scared. Don’t obsess over the fear or enable it, but help them process it so they can work through it. Be a safe space for them when they need it.

5. Don’t obsess over things that are out of everyone’s control.

Don’t obsess over mask mandates, don’t obsess over learning loss, don’t obsess over their class schedule. Pick your battles. Don’t go to your child and say “I need you to work twice as hard this year because your district failed you last year” (and yes I’ve heard this already), or “I need you in all the content classes to make up for last year”. That is so much pressure you’re putting on your child. Most of them are dealing with a lot already mentally and emotionally in terms of going back to school but making them “make up for lost time” is just going to stress them out more. In my experience when children are too stressed out, they shut down and that’s not what anyone wants. Is there possibly a learning gap for your child this year? Sure. Schools know that, colleges know that and all of these institutions are working together to combat it as best as possible. Please don’t stress your child out more by obsessing over it.

While most of our children are headed back to school, it doesn’t mean everything is back to normal. I know a lot of parents are frustrated and angry, and honestly, I get some of it. But this is one of those instances where sometimes it’s helpful to not let your child see how frustrated you are – it can play into any fears and worries they may have and escalate them, it could cause them to act out inappropriately, and it could take away some excitement they may have about going back to school. Take your cues from them instead of the other way around.

I know some parents who are also keeping their kids home and doing virtual school again this year; whatever your decision is, I respect that you’re doing what you feel is best for your child.

As an educator, I can say we’re also worried, we’re nervous to go back to our overly crowded schools after so long away. But we’re also excited, we want our students back, we want some semblance of normalcy, too. We are going to do everything

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