Back to school: Local school officials offer advice

With August in full swing, and the upcoming new school year on the horizon, many parents are starting to think about preparing their children for their return to class.

But that preparation goes beyond simply checking off the old school supply list. Local school officials claimed there are many steps a parent can take to better prepare both their kids and themselves for the start of the school year.

Those officials spoke with the Telegraph Herald and shared several ideas to ensure that the transition from summer to school goes as smoothly as possible.

Re-establish school sleep patterns

During the summer, it’s common for children to stay up later than usual while they are enjoying their break, but Kate Burke, counselor for Holy Family Catholic Schools, said students benefit from transitioning back to that early bed time before school starts.

“All those activities in the summer can mess up their schedules,” Burke said. “It’s always good to get back to that early bed time, so the kids aren’t exhausted after the first day of school.”

Dan Butler, superintendent of Western Dubuque School District, said re-adjusting to that early sleep schedule can be done gradually over time, but by the end of the summer, kids should be going to bed and waking up around the same time they would during the school year.

“Establishing that routine at the beginning of the day and the evening is important,” Butler said. “It’s all about getting back into the groove of regular responsibilities.”

Ask about the upcoming school year

Lisa TeBockhorst, executive director of elementary education for the Dubuque Community School District, said it’s important for parents to have discussions with their kids about the upcoming school year.

These conversations she said can help parents both set expectations for school performance and gauge how their children feel in general about returning to school.

“Your kid might say they are going to work in construction when they are done with school, and you can say, ‘OK, school is going to help you get there,’” she said. “Having expectations early on about what families want for their kids preps the mind and primes the pump for what is to come when school starts.”

Burke said these conversations also can be used to address any fears that their kids may have about the new school year, and those fears should be communicated to their teachers in order for them to be prepared to address them.

“If your kid is having big feelings, reach out to teachers, so they can have a heads up,” Burke said. “If a teacher knows how a kid is feeling, they can be ready to help them with that.”

Recap on last year’s lessons

With an entire summer spent playing and having fun, it’s common for students to forget many of the things they learned last school year, but Burke said families can work with their kids to ensure that those lessons are retained.

“You usually see that summer slide where they forget some of what they learned,” Burke said. “It’s a good idea to help your kids brush up on those skills before school.”

Some recommendations included parents reading every days with their kids, using online academic sites or using apps to practice math problems.

Establish a plan

With all the preparation that goes into start a new school year, TeBockhorst said it can be easy to forget covering the basics of getting to and from school.

She encourages all parents discuss with their kids how they intend to get to and from school safely, what routes to take and what to do if extra-curricular events are canceled.

“If something like practice is cancelled, you can be prepared and already have that be part of the plan,” TeBockhorst said. “It’s all preparation that you can do ahead of time.”

Meet the teacher

Most school districts in the area will provide opportunities for students to visit their classrooms and meet their teachers before the school year starts, and TeBockhorst said these meetings can also benefit parents as well.

Along with getting students acclimated to their new environment, parents meeting the teacher can help establish a relationship early and allow them to communicate on student needs and concerns.

“Every elementary school in our district has an orientation day on Aug. 22,” she said. “That is a great time to communicate with the teacher and begin that relationship for the school year.”

John Kruse writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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