The top three difficulties THAT can interrupt a positive “back to school” mindset
After being out of school for three months, it can be difficult to get back into the swing of things. Students often struggle with their new routines, anxiety about the new year, or returning to academics. But coming back from summer vacation doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Here are a few things to consider to help everyone keep a positive outlook and start the new school year with success.
Difficulty #1 – Adjusting back to the schedule
For most students, one of the primary challenges is returning to a routine after a relaxed summer schedule.
“Most parents and students have a much different schedule during the summer than the school year,” said Ashley Wallace, director of elementary education at Campbell County Public Schools.
After playing hard and sleeping in, the adjustment to waking up early and having to follow a detailed schedule can be exhausting and challenging for both parents and students. While the advice might come a little late for this school year, Wallace has some advice for parents in the future. “For a positive start to the school year, I encourage parents and students to begin to adjust back to the school schedule a couple weeks prior to school starting,” she said.
When approaching the issue with older students, the same advice applies. Mary Mays, supervisor of school counseling and assessment coordinator for Amherst County Public Schools, said it takes about a week for older students to fully adjust back to a more rigid schedule.
Kacey Crabbe, director of the Lynchburg City Schools’ Empowerment Academy, agrees and believes parents must play an active role in their child’s schedule.
“Families can best help their students have a positive return by preparing them early for the routines that they will encounter and begin to enforce this at home,” said Crabbe. “[Make sure] they are involved in their student’s school and have the same set of expectations of students both at home and in school. Students are most successful when we instill a wrap-around approach.”
Difficulty #2 – Dealing with anxiety
For elementary students, Wallace explained that “fear of the unknown” is often a struggle at the beginning of the school year, whereas older students, between the ages of 12 and 15, might struggle more with social anxiety.
Mays also believes involvement in school activities, such as clubs and sports, might help older students who have some trouble with anxiety. It will help them feel more like a part of the school community.
“I would encourage the [struggling]student to get involved with school activities such as sports, clubs or other youth activities,” Mays said. “I would also encourage students to build their strengths and seek out students with the same talents.”
Open communication between parents and student about the new year is also very important when dealing with anxiety.
“Parents should ask their child if they have any concerns or are nervous about anything specific and address any of their concerns,” Wallace said.
Particularly for younger students, separation from parents can be stressful. Parents who have children attending school for the first time might experience separation anxiety.
“Some parents, if their child has never been away from home and is going to kindergarten or pre-k for the first time, and they’re going to be gone all day long, may worry about how their child is going to be feeling that whole day,” said Cindy Babb, coordinator of Public Information at LCS, said.
To help both parent and student adjust, she encourages parents to not visit their child’s school for the first week, so students can learn to adjust to the new environment.
“That can be difficult for some parents who haven’t had their child stay at daycare or any other places before, and it’s the first time they’re letting go of them really for the whole day,” Babb said.
But Babb explains when parents are around too much at the beginning of the year, young students have a difficult time recognizing their authority figures.
“If your child is not used to learning from another adult, listening to another adult and trusting another adult, because it’s a new environment for them to be in school, they need to learn that teachers are in charge of them that day,” Babb said.
Wallace explained they have several techniques in Campbell County to help with separation anxiety. They try to build a connection between the teacher and student, communicate to the student what he/she will be doing that day before returning home, and sometimes have a staff member walk the student to class.
“It is harder when the parent walks to the class, to then separate,” Wallace said.
If you or your student is struggling with the new school year, feel free to contact your student’s school.
“We’re here to help,” Babb said.
Difficulty #3 – Returning to academics
Although many school officials, including Crabbe, believe middle school students are the most likely to struggle with academics after returning from summer break, all students might experience obstacles as they try to readjust to a heavy academic load.
“Some of our students do have some difficulties with academics and having that eight- through ten-week break takes away from some of that,” Mays said. She explained that Amherst County teachers take time at the beginning of the year to help students re-adjust to the classroom and also to review academics.
There are many things that parents can do to help their children get back into the books.
“Developing a schedule for their child that includes a healthy breakfast, at home or school, time to do homework and read, and get plenty of sleep (will help),” Wallace said.
It is also beneficial to start developing a relationship with the student’s teacher, keep communication open, and become familiar with the student’s schedule and teacher expectations.
“Parents can look for ways daily to celebrate success at home,” Wallace said. “Make education an important focus at home.”
If your student is still struggling, most schools offer some form of academic assistance.
“In Campbell County we have a built in ‘Intervention and Enrichment’ time in the school day to provide targeted interventions for students [who]struggle,” Wallace said. “In addition, in our elementary [schools], we have reading specialists who provide focused interventions 30 minutes a day for students who are struggling [with reading].”
LCS recognized that students were having a difficult time re-adjusting back to academics after summer break and decided to look “outside the box” into different learning models. Last year, they launched a two-year plan that adds a week onto the beginning and end of the school year, making summer vacation shorter. To compensate for the longer school year, they added two optional weeks during the school year.
“We’re offering something called Intersession in October and in February where students who need additional support and/or enrichment can attend for three days out of the week,” Crabbe said. Intersession, which will meet Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each Intersession week, will provide individualized instruction and provide more personalized support for students who need it.
As they begin the second year of this new schedule, LCS is looking forward to seeing the result and whether the shorter break helped with an easier academic transition.
by Megan L. House