• Beth Wagner

New school year nostalgia - and a few suggestions

Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed right now is an exercise in nostalgia. My friends with school-age children are posting their back-to-school photos: kids – with new lunch bags, backpacks, and clothes – obediently posing on the front steps of their home so their parents can capture the moment another school year begins. I did this, unashamedly, even after my kids were good sports about it. It’s a mother’s right, right?

I’m even more nostalgic about the BTS activities behind the scenes, at the schools. Back-to-school may start in late August or early September for families, but the process ramps up long before that for those who make the schools run.

My career in school district administration led me through four different districts, and they all had one thing in common: very busy Augusts. Teachers were working in their classrooms, decorating bulletin boards, organizing in-class libraries, copying handouts and worksheets, updating their webpages, attending trainings and in-services, working on curriculum and lesson plans, and organizing the seriously unimaginable amount of documentation they will be responsible for throughout the year.

The administrative staff had started the new school year even before the teachers, implementing plans made as early as February and March. We would close out the current school year June 30 and hit the ground running on the new one July 1. Staffing was being finalized. Strategic goals were being set. Enrollments were being monitored daily to ensure no one classroom was too full. Last-minute enrollments – which happen more than you can imagine – were being processed, and classrooms were added or tentative class rosters were rearranged as a result. The school year calendars – from bell schedules to concerts to art shows – were being finalized.

Parent and community information was being processed at a breakneck pace. School mailings were being compiled and send out to families. District and school websites were being updated with the new information. Mass notification system (also known as reverse 911) data was being sorted, uploaded, and prepared for use at a moment’s notice. Online calendars for students, families, and the community were being populated, often one event at a time, hundreds of them, until they were done. And don’t get me started about bus routes – nothing can cause as much turmoil at the beginning of the school year as issues with bus routes. We strived to make them as set as possible, and then braced ourselves.

The custodians were flat out. The final summer maintenance and repairs on buildings and equipment were being completed: floors waxed, walls painted, blackboards and whiteboards prepared, lightbulbs replaced, desks repaired, and so on. The IT staff didn’t sleep; classroom, teacher, and student computers had to be inventoried, wiped, updated, and/or replaced.

But with all this work in the August heat, it was still exhilarating and so very hopeful: it was a new school year, and the sky was the limit. We so looked forward to the day the students showed up for their new school year and their new teacher(s) and their new classrooms of gleaming floors and inspiring bulletin boards.

The start of the school year can be both exciting and fraught with trepidation. I ask families to keep in mind that the school administration and staff have done everything in their power to minimize that and make that first day of school – and every one after that – a positive experience where every student has a caring, safe place to learn and grow.

I also ask parents keep a few other things in mind:

1. The information about you and your child is only as good as what is provided by you. Phone numbers change (an astonishing number of times), email addresses change, medical information changes. When you are asked to complete those packets of information at the beginning of the school year, do it. And do it completely, do it promptly, and send it back quickly. All of that information has to be entered into a computer by someone … hundreds if not thousands of updated files. Give them a break – complete the forms. And if, God forbid, they need to reach you in an emergency, they have the right information.

2. Let your child’s/children’s teacher(s) know what’s going on in their lives that might affect their classroom attention and performance. Like parents, teachers cannot function well in the dark. If your child’s grandfather dies or if your child is overcoming an illness, drop a note or email to the teacher. I guarantee he or she will welcome the information and help as much as possible.

3. “Thank you” goes a long way. You wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone or write an email if something is wrong. Take the time to do it when something is right. When your child comes home after the first week in school and raves about his teacher, let her know. If your child talks about how the principal sat down with her at lunch one day just to chat, let him know how exited your daughter was about it. They do what they do for the kids, but – trust me on this – their bucket fills when parents let them know they’re making a difference.

4. Be patient. The first few weeks of school are exciting and stressful for everyone. It gets better – for everyone.

Have a wonderful 2019-2020 school year!

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