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Back to School: Managing the first day of school

By Staff | Jul 29, 2016

It’s a day kids often face with mixed emotion – the first day of school.

There’s anticipation as children again get to see friends and embark on a new year.

But once summer vacation ends, gone are the days of sleeping until noon and nights of doing nothing but playing video games.

Nights will soon be filled with homework and reveille will be at 0600 hours, or even earlier for high schoolers, as they wait for the school bus in the dark.

The new school year opens Aug. 10, and, for kids going to a new school for the first time or entering kindergarten, middle school or high school, any anticipation can quickly turn to anxiety. Will they fit in? Are they cut out for it?

It is up to the parents at home, and the teachers and principal at the schools, to make that day is little easier.

There are some universal rules all students can follow. The first is getting children back on a normal sleep schedule. Jennifer DeShazo of Lee County Public Schools said one of the ways to do that is to make kids practice getting to sleep and waking up by a certain time.

“They need to prepare as if they’re going to school the next day so they can get back into the habit,” DeShazo said.

Children also need to know how to stay safe when they’re waiting for, or getting on or off the school bus. For kindergartners and other younger students, DeShazo said they should take a few days getting used to arriving at the bus stop at the same time they expect to catch the bus.

“They should do it at the same time they catch the bus because it gives them an idea what it will be like as they walk to the bus in the morning and afternoon,” DeShazo said.

While middle-schoolers have the luxury of sleeping in a little, with school often not starting until 9:30 a.m., they are not immune to bus safety rules, as their wait for the bus comes smack in the middle of morning drive. For them, getting to know the traffic patterns is especially important.

For drivers, the universal rule is to slow down and be aware that buses are on the road every weekday from 5 a.m. to 7:15 p.m., with children almost always on those buses.

Parents and children should attend the school’s open house before going to a new school. It’s a great way for the kids to meet their teachers, learn the lay of the land and perhaps do some relationship building so they can make new friends faster and feel like they belong.

“It’s an opportunity for the parents who drop off and pick up kids to see what it’s like,” said Nicole Osterholm, principal of Cape Elementary. “For the kindergarteners, we teach them how to get on and off the bus.”

“We have parents who are very involved in their child’s education call ahead of time and get a tour of the school with an administrator,” said Dr. Robert Butz, Mariner High School principal. “So when it’s time for the open house, they’re ready.”

From a child’s standpoint, the best thing he or she can do is make new friends early. They can invite present friends to come along and allow them to make friends as well. This can calm nerves on the first day.

Also make sure they have all the proper supplies. As they get older, students will likely need more than just notebooks and pencils. In high school, protractors, college rule paper and scientific calculators may be needed.

Dressing right and being “with it” fashion-wise is important once you get into middle and high school, and sometimes even elementary school. It may be a good idea to shop for clothing after opening day so your teen can see what his or her peers are wearing.

Parents’ and kids’ needs tend to differ depending on what school they’re attending. For kindergartners, the first day of school is always a huge milestone. For the first time, some will be without their parents by their side.

The first day is usually more traumatic for the parents than for the kids, since they “can’t come in and save the day.” Still, there are things parents should do to get the children ready.

The parent should talk to the child enthusiastically about school, without laying it on too thick. A parent can do this by using a calendar countdown prior to the start of school.

Once school begins, some schools allow the parents on campus the first three days to put their mind at ease.

Even then, Osterholm said, parents should also make sure their children know the absolute basics; their first and last name, address, the school they’re attending and phone number.

After spending six years at the same school, going to a new school is cause for celebration and nerves. That’s what sixth-graders go through as they start middle school.

Michael Galbreath, principal at Trafalgar Middle School, said it’s tough to go from big fish to the bait, so to speak.

“Parents need to encourage them there’s nothing to worry about. We’re here to support them and welcome them,” Galbreath said. “We encourage them to get an early start that first day with a good breakfast and positive attitude.”

Galbreath said parents should remind their kids that they have worked hard to get where they are. They should be there to answer questions the youngsters may have or offer encouragement.

“It’s the next facet of their life and they’re going to be supported at the school,” Galbreath said. “We are very excited to welcome the sixth-graders.”

The start of high school can be the most intimidating time of students’ lives. New courses, new teachers and everything is bigger. Many incoming freshmen feel the need to fit in, yet at the same time feel like it’s them vs. the world.

Butz said the transition is difficult, with the biggest being that “it’s for real.”

“Everything is permanent, it’s on your transcript that goes to the colleges. They have to understand graduation requirements, their GPA, required courses, credits, everything,” Butz said. “It can be overwhelming.”

Butz said they created the “Anchor Academy” so that freshmen can understand what everything means. Hopefully, it will allow the students to relax.

The biggest problem is organization. High school students take eight subjects and arrive in school before sunrise, which is one of the biggest adjustments students make, so time management and organization are a must.

“They need to put their computers down in the evening so they can get their rest. People aren’t used to that. They’re used to having technology all the time,” Butz said. “That transition from going to middle school to here, they need to get that sleep to be able to learn.”

It is suggested that parents encourage the teen to become organized by having them write daily assignments on a calendar, teach them time management, responsibility and increased independence, especially the last two years of high school as they more likely will drive to school.