Tips for Transitioning Back to School
Like me, you may have breathed a sigh of relief to hear children will be back at school again in the fall. For the last 17 months, since Covid-19 arrived, we have all been hit with the never-ending issues of this pandemic. If it’s not families out of work, it’s homes blanketed with grief and loss, havoc in a family’s routine, or just endless disruptions to the everyday school routine.
My family has dealt with technology issues, juggling working from home while helping my 10-year-old son, Keith Ross, with virtual learning, balancing a new routine with a new schedule, and losing a family member.
While the return to school is something to celebrate, it is crucial to recognize that the pandemic, related social issues, and extended school disruptions can have a profound impact on the lives and learning of our children. This means a return to school may not necessarily be smooth sailing, even if it’s a return to an old normal we once enjoyed.
School closures disconnected some students from the needed services they offered, such as multi-lingual learning services and counseling resources, which further increased the learning gap.
I witnessed this firsthand when I set up for an early morning Zoom meeting at home one morning while Keith was on his Chromebook, well into his first hour of virtual school. Partway through my meeting, I excused myself to ask Keith if he and his friend were cheating on their assignment by asking the internet, Alexa and Siri, for answers.
Keith looked puzzled and said, “No, ma’am, we are working together so I can help my friend understand what this word means in English. He speaks Spanish and doesn’t know English too well.”
I felt proud of the boys for working together, but I realized what a struggle this was for English language learners, and that learning online had probably increased their educational gap even further.
Our children have proven to be resilient as they have dealt with the emotional challenges of this pandemic and constant disruption to their normal routine. Therefore, returning to school in the fall will still be a big transition for everyone, even though it used to be just part of everyday life.
Remember to extend grace to yourself, your children, teachers, administrators and all involved. This is a big step, and just like it took a while to figure out virtual work and learning, it may take a while to reintegrate back into in-person school. Here are a few tips that may help you with the transition.
Don’t Expect Too Much Too Soon
My son did distance learning for the first semester of the 2020/2021 school year. They tested all students within the first month. Keith’s scores indicated he had dropped a few levels from his pre-pandemic test scores in some subjects. He was very disappointed. I encouraged him by reminding him that he was more than just a test score and that we will work to improve it together.
Prior to the test, students were also out of school from March until the end of the school year due to the pandemic, and then they were out of school for summer break; therefore, it had been almost six months since any of them had in-class lessons. Their routine was disrupted, and that was the first time they were tested outside their school environment. However, returning to in-person learning may not automatically trigger a regain in their grades.
This could be for several reasons. Increased socialization may be overwhelming at first. Did your family have a social life during the pandemic? My family did not. We stayed in our house most of the time. Adjusting to this again may be a challenge, and kids may need scheduled timeouts for a while. It may be a good idea to make sure evenings after school are kept free initially, and at least one or two weekends a month, while they adjust to seeing more people and being out in the community more.
Also, routines will look different, sleep patterns may be a bit off, and there is also commuting to deal with. This may make you feel pressed for time. Hence, setting realistic expectations is the best thing you can do for you and your children.
The bottom line is you have to be able and willing to adapt. With any new transition, it will not be perfect. After Keith finished his first semester virtually in December 2020, his school gave all students the option to stay virtual or return to in-class learning. Keith begged me to return to school because he missed his friends and teachers and knew he would learn better in class. I’m sure he was tired of being around me 24/7 as well. It was a tough decision as we both have respiratory issues. I gave in and let him return to school. He was in school for two weeks before he and most of his class were quarantined due to briefly being exposed to someone who had Covid-19. Everyone who was quarantined was allowed to return to school after 10 days.
So, there will be hiccups along the way. Protocols may change midstream, and school closures can happen, so it’s best to stay mentally flexible and ready to adapt, understanding that things will be fluid before they become consistent.
Children thrive from stability. Therefore, during periods of change, they need some constancies. Try your best to be consistent, present and predictable. If you’re always the same, this can provide some of the stability they need. Letting children input into the family’s timetable can also give them a sense of stability and control, particularly if they understand an activity can still happen even if there is a change to venue or participants. For example, a family get-together in the park may become a dining room picnic via Zoom, but it still will happen regardless. They may even like to choose the alternative activity, so they again retain some control of their lives without having it decided for them.
We have survived a worldwide pandemic. That is a blessing not to take lightly. While the worst seems to be over, we still have to deal with the aftermath that will need more than the vaccine to overcome. With grace, flexibility, realistic expectations, and stability we can all get through the next school year successfully. Keith and I look forward to this.
Dr. Tamecca Rogers is Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Tulsa Technology Center. She is a writer and mom to three boys who love adventures.