What does back to school look like? What does it mean? How is it different?

Traditionally the return to school and beginning of the academic year has always been a time of mixed emotions for Parents and Students; regardless of whether Students are entering Pre-K or their final year of College or some other advanced training, the return to classes signals the end of the summer season and ushers in the autumn with the fall of colorful leaves, formerly warm temperatures, and declining and deteriorating mood, especially for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) who must now also contend with days filled with classwork, tests, and quizzes and nights filled with study, review, and homework. The school setting has always been associated with and presented families with challenges including the exacerbation of conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD just to name a few and that’s not even including some of the social challenges that arise such as bullying. negative peer pressure, and teachers and parent’s expectations. However, this year has been especially trying given the heightened emotions spurred on by the post-pandemic return to classes and the significance of returning to in person schooling. Many students have found adjusting to school during Covid-19 quite challenging.

First of all, this will be the first time for many students returning to in person schooling without the option for remote learning and the school system has had to adjust to ensure that the return to in person schooling does not become a super spreader event. Adjustments have included adapting schools to meet CDC guidelines including 3-feet of social distancing and separation between everyone, staff, students, and visitors to the building; requiring that masks continue to be worn to deter transmission; encouraging and in some cases even mandating vaccination of all eligible individuals; and consistent cleaning and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Additionally, most schools also require a daily health screen to be completed as well as regular Covid Testing to ensure that no one with active Covid is in a position of helping transmission across the school population. Lastly, there are new systems and protocols in place for how to prevent and respond to identification of Covid Cases within schools, but still allows for students to be able to benefit from being back to in person school. However, Parents still need to be in contact with the school and have good communication with school representatives to know the specifics of each school’s plans, policies, and protocol because they are not uniform across all schools nor are they applied equally. It is also important for parents to ask their child or children about the actual implementation of these plans at their particular school as despite all the good intentions there is often a gap as to how efficiently these plans are executed: this could be due to resources, training, or people’s willingness to cooperate.

For parents and their children, this lack of consistency means that there is significant uncertainty associated with the return to school, which is why some parents have opted to take their children out of the school system and continue with the home schooling or to transfer their children to other school systems elsewhere. For everyone else for whom this is not an option, the most important thing is to stay informed about what your local school system is doing and to continue to encourage and implement CDC guidelines with their children and in their households. After all, schools can only do so much to protect their families and students; whatever systems they have in place do not remove everyone’s individual responsibility to take care of themselves and their children to avoid spreading Covid outside of or in transit to school. So what can parents who need schools for a true return to normalcy, for childcare, and for the freedom to return to the daily physical commute to work do to make the best of this situation?

Tips: What Parents and Families can do to insure the best back to school experience

Although most children are back to in person school already, there is still a lot that parents can do to make this the best experience possible for themselves and their children:

  • Find out, know, and follow the policies and plans that your child’s school has in place to limit exposure to and spread of COVID including accurately filling out health screenings and following all CDC guidelines.
  • Be in close contact and have consistent communication with your child’s school to be aware of policies, plans, and any changes to these depending on lessons learned from the implementation. 
  • Check-in with your child about how faithfully the plans described to you by the school are being followed and actually implemented. Find out whether your child feels safe or if they notice any areas that may need some improvement and share the feedback with your child’s school. See and find out how your child’s school can help make them feel and be safer!
  • Continue to follow CDC and best practices at home, during the weekends, and at all times to reduce the chances of transmitting or getting infected with Covid, including: 
    • Continuing to engage in Hand hygiene (washing your hands regularly or using hand sanitizer) 
    • Wearing masks in indoor spaces; 
    • Trying to have gatherings outside in public and well-ventilated areas whenever possible; 
    • Creating and maintaining pods to limit exposure; 
    • Limiting travel; maintaining social distancing of 3 to 6 feet; 
    • And, of course, strongly considering getting vaccinated if eligible as soon as you are eligible (… for some this may even already be mandated!)

Get your children professional support from school counselors and Therapists if your child demonstrates any extreme responses including depression, anxiety, or exacerbated negative behaviors. We at Cope With School NYC are here to help….

Only if Parents follow these guidelines and help support their children and schools are able to deliver on their promises, will we be able to successfully return to school with some sense of normalcy and finish out a healthy school year!