The 2020-2021 school year was unlike any other. Millions of students spent part — or most — of the year learning remotely. After months of being physically away from teachers, classmates, and a traditional school day structure, some kids may feel a little out of practice when tackling the start of a “normal” school year this fall.
Here are some practical tips from educators, administrators, and counselors to help students get the school year started off right:
1. Know it’s OK to ask for help.
Encourage your child to ask teachers and other school staff for assistance, whether the issue is simple — like the location of the nearest restroom — or more in-depth, like needing extra help with a school subject or mental health support. This is particularly important for students starting at a different school because simply navigating a new building can feel intimidating. “We want students to know it’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to ask for help,” says Michelle Sandoval Villegas, a math teacher at Parkland Pre-Engineering Middle School in El Paso, Texas. “We want to reassure students that they’re in a safe haven at school, which is something that’s been lacking for so many students during the pandemic.”
2. Set small, manageable goals.
Suppose your student feels anxious about diving back into in-person learning and all. In that case, it entails — navigating physical class changes, keeping papers organized, interacting with peers — then setting specific, manageable goals for the first days back may help. “Coming back can be a lot for a student, especially if they’ve been out for a year and a half, like some kids,” says Cody Strahan, a robotics teacher at Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Ark. To ease the transition, create micro-goals for the first few days back. Encourage your child to first locate classrooms, learn teacher names and class routines, and then prioritize reconnecting with friends, Strahan advises.
3. Create a morning checklist.
Let’s face it: Heading to in-person school does require remembering to pack many things, mainly if your kids are doing after-school programs or sports. If your children are feeling rusty about the early morning rush out the door, make a daily backpack checklist using a whiteboard or sticky notes, so they won’t forget any essentials. This system has worked well for Twainna Calhoun, principal of Good Hope Middle School in West Monroe, La., and her fifth-grade twins, who use it to double-check that they have grabbed their lunches, classwork, and other essential items — and that they’ve changed and packed their Chromebooks — before they leave for school each day.