Going back to school after a long summer is never easy, but after a year and a half at home due to a worldwide pandemic, it’s even harder. Students all over the world are preparing for a return to in-person learning while still coping with the consequences of the pandemic, including out-of-practice social skills, mental stress, social anxiety and learning challenges because of remote classes.
Wendy Grove of the Ohio Department of Education and Bill Stencil of Humanware, a social and emotional learning program through the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, offer students and parents tips on how to prepare for in-person learning this fall.
One of the most important things parents can do to ease their child’s nerves is talk about their concerns about returning to school.
Grove suggests that these conversations take place weeks before returning to school and recommends an organic dialogue either at dinner or another setting in which families can convene and spend time together.
“Any transition is hard, but kids are resilient,” Grove says. “If they haven’t been in school for a year, they’re probably looking forward to it. But then again, some kids might have some anxiety. Some of the best things that we could recommend is just talking about it.”
Many students may feel anxious about not knowing where their classes are or which door they will be entering or exiting at school. It is important for all students, but especially incoming freshmen or new middle schoolers, to visit their school and familiarize themselves with their new surroundings.
“If [students are] able to do the route on their bikes or if they can walk it, then [parents should] ride their bikes or do the walk with them,” Grove says. “If [students] are going to be picked up or dropped off in a car, go ahead and do that routine. Ask your child what they’re feeling or how they are going to feel.”
Setting up a routine is a great way to help students feel less anxious about going back to school. Stencil recommends establishing what time the student has to get up, figuring out everything that has to be done before going to school (brushing teeth, getting clothes ready, packing up the backpack,) when to catch transportation, how long the school day is, and what bedtime looks like now.
“Now we have to be in school instead of just joining a Zoom call, so it’s important to set up a routine,” Stencil says. “I think it’s important that parents work through the routines with the children as well.”
Students may feel nervous about returning to school since Ohio does not have a statewide vaccination policy, and schools are handling mask mandates differently. Stencil advises parents to discuss with their child what safety measures are being implemented at school and talk about resources students can seek out if they feel anxious.
“Before, there were around 45 to 50 school nurses to cover 105 schools [at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District], but now there will be a certified, licensed medical professional of some kind in every school,” Stencil says. “If someone has a safety concern or concern about how they’re feeling, they will now have access to that medical professional.”
Aside from safety concerns, returning to in-person learning after attending remote classes from the comfort of home may make some students anxious about jumping back into the social environment of school.
Grove recommends parents set up playdates at the local playground or ice cream shop to help their students meet classmates or help reintegrate their child into social situations with classmates they have not seen in over a year.
“A lot of schools have directories of other students so hopefully (parents) have a parent email or a phone number where they can text or call a kid’s parent and ask to meet up,” Grove says. “Younger students may not quite have the skills to reach out to others, independently of their parents. So parents need to keep that in mind.”
Above all, Stencil and Grove recommend parents reach out to their child’s school to learn more about their policies and procedures for the upcoming school year. Each school is different, and each child will feel differently about the fall.
“It’s important that parents let their child know that they are here to support them,” Stencil says.