Back to School: 5 Steps to Success

It’s that time of year, when we start to think about easing our families back into the routine of school.  Getting ready to start a new school year can be fun and exciting, but it can also be overwhelming for those families whose children require extra support.  As parents, there are steps you can take to ease the transition and set your family on the path to success.  Here are my tips for back to school success:

1. GET ORGANIZED

This is a great time to get your child’s documentation in order.  This includes gathering and reviewing the following:

  • Your child’s current IEP (including any addendums or amendments) or 504 Plan,
  • The most recent assessments conducted by the school district
  • Any assessments, evaluations, or other reports that you have obtained privately or independently
  • Progress reports, report cards, and results of classroom assessments
  • Statewide testing results (including MCAS or MCAS-alt)
  • Correspondence to or from your child’s school, teachers, or service providers
  • Discipline records or reports regarding your child and behavior plans in place
  • Any medical information that the school needs to know, such as medication prescriptions for at-school meds, allergy information, etc.
  • Any other relevant documentation regarding your child’s unique needs or learning profile

2.  PREPARE YOURSELF TO WORK WITH THE SCHOOL

There are many moving parts to the start of a school year, including managing standard school paperwork, learning classroom protocols, attending back to school events, and coordinating activities and services during and after school.  Here is how you can plan to stay ahead of the process:

  • Complete back-to-school paperwork (e.g. dismissal protocols, contact forms, medical authorizations, photo releases etc.) as early as possible.  Some districts send this paperwork to you in a packet by mail or make the documents available to download and print, while others may send it home with your child on the first day or week of school.
  • Review the school calendar, and mark off all professional days, half-days, holidays, vacations, open houses, and special events in your personal/family calendar.
  • Review the special education laws and district policies that apply to your child.  This is a good time to search for any workshops or talks being given in or near your community to improve or refresh your knowledge of the process.
  • Schedule in time for self-care.  If you are anxious or frustrated, your child will pick up on it. 

3.  OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION

Communication is key to maintaining and productive and collaborative relationship with your child’s teacher and team. 

  • Create a communication log folder for contact between yourself and your child’s teacher, service providers, and administrators.  If the majority of your communications are electronic, create a folder in your computer, labeled for the current year’s communication.  If your teacher corresponds mostly by written note, add all correspondence to your child’s school-year binder.
  • Consider sending an introductory letter to your child’s teacher or IEP Team Chair.
  • Deliver medical information and any necessary prescriptions to the school nurse.

4.   PREPARE YOUR CHILD

Many children benefit from a little extra preparation to ease back into school routines.

  • Talk to your child about exciting new classes, activities, and events that they can participate in during the new school year.   Just talking can reduce some of that back-to-school anxiety!
  • If attending a new school, try to schedule a visit before the first day.
  • With older students, it can be helpful to explain the services and accommodations in their IEP so that they know what to expect when school begins.
  • Create homework space/station.
  • Talk to your child about before and after school routines (including how much screen time will be allowed each day, and expected bedtime).
  • Teach your child to self-advocate.  Give your child permission to speak up, and language to use when asking for help.

5.  HIT THE GROUND RUNNING

There are often opportunities to promote communication and set the stage for positive interactions early in the year.

  • Plan to attend Back to School Night, Open House, parent-teacher conferences, and other informational offerings to help you and your child get a feel for the school and meet the teachers, other staff, students, and families.
  • If you have immediate concerns, schedule a meeting with your child’s team early.
  • Create a plan for checking-in with teachers through emails (or by your teacher’s preferred method of correspondence).
  • If possible, plan to volunteer in the classroom.  Volunteering is a great way to keep an open line of communication with the teacher, while keeping an eye on things.
  • Remember to stay polite and businesslike.  Notwithstanding the past, start of a new year is an opportunity to create a cooperative relationship moving forward.

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