A New School Year Like None Other


Whether your child is going back to school virtually or in person, a successful start to a new school year can set the tone for the rest of that year • Be vigilant about potential problems, and address them quickly • Invest extra effort early on to identify learning supports that will help her throughout the year

For students who learn differently, summer usually provides a respite from the social, emotional, behavioral, and learning issues that can make school challenging. Ideally, come fall, these kids are refreshed and ready to start anew.

That’s not the case this year.

The uncertainties and disruptions from managing pandemic life for the past several months have likely left you and your child depleted, anxious, and exhausted heading into what will certainly be a difficult start to the new school year. All the more reason to gather your reserves: being vigilant now can help prevent problems before they reach crisis proportions.

Following are some tips to ensure your child gets off to a good start this school year.

Know Your Child

Before the semester gets into full swing, sit down with your child to discuss last year’s happenings and this year’s anxieties, both in the classroom and beyond. Review the IEP or 504 plan and decide which accommodations were helpful and which were not.

While it may be easier to talk about success, it’s critical to discuss fears and feelings of failure as well.

A virtual classroom will require different accommodations than an in-person setting. For example, your virtual learner must have a reliable internet connection and access to a computer when lessons take place. This can be a challenge for families with multiple kids and not enough devices for all. If that’s the case, be sure to discuss options with your school. There will also be questions around assessments and evaluations; for example, if extended time is needed for tests, how is that implemented at home? Does your child use a scribe? If so, who will serve that function.

Meet with the Team

Use any format available to meet with your child’s team early on, including phone, Zoom, or an in-person meeting. Share with them what motivates and frustrates your child. Don’t assume that people working with her for the first time will be aware of testing reports, IEPs, and other crucial information. Take the time to personally introduce all educators to her unique issues and devise a system that enables consistent communication between school and home.

For kids in the classroom, problems increase when children with LD can’t see the board, hear what the teacher is saying, or stay alert enough to record a homework assignment. Head off such preventable problems by making sure your child sees the professionals who monitor her wellbeing, from the ophthalmologist to the orthodontist.

For kids learning online, connecting with the teacher and their peers may be more challenging due to the devices that stand between them. You may have to run interference for the first few Zoom sessions to ensure that your child is using the technology correctly and knows how to participate electronically.

Some online students may actually find it easier to engage if they’re not physically surrounded by classmates; others may hope to stay “under the radar” as much as possible. Be aware of your child’s interactions and if she’s not engaging, work with the teacher to find ways to encourage her involvement.

Stock Up

Inventory the systems and supplies that help your child succeed, and make sure they’re on hand at home or at school depending on her situation. Purchase equipment that she can operate independently and competently. The most sophisticated graphing calculator won’t help if she doesn’t know how to use it.

Speak to an Assistive Technology (AT) specialist if you think your child might benefit from an AT assessment and recommendations. Find out from the tech specialist about equipment that works best for specific grade-related assignments. Advance preparation can save your child from developing “I would have done better if I only had…” syndrome.

Limit Chaos

Begin the school year on solid ground by establishing boundaries and routines. First-day chaos, if unchecked, can turn into first-term, if not full-year chaos. Cover all variables. Discuss transportation, school and any extra-curricular activities, ways to access learning and social-emotional supports, and even how and where your child will eat lunch.

For your in-person learner, visit school to alleviate anxiety by exploring the physical facility before classes begin. Find out what the COVID safety protocols are and review them carefully with your child (When and where are masks required? Are there new “traffic patterns” to eliminate hallway congestion? Where is lunch eaten? etc.).

For your online learner, practice with the major learning platforms before school starts. In either case, look for the issues that seem to be making your child anxious, and find creative, supportive ways to impart reassurance.

Starting At A New School

Even more difficult than returning to school after summer vacation, is beginning a new year in a new school. Whether you move to a different system or your child simply changes levels, make sure to provide the new school with complete and comprehensive information about your child’s assets and deficits. Make sure that all faculty and staff entrusted with her education know what frustrates her, and what facilitates success.

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