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Make the Grade: 5 Back-to-School Rules

Cue the cheers. California schools are finally opening. And with the good news, pandemic-weary students and their parents welcome a return to normal. But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. More challenges lie ahead. The new normal won’t look like the old, and the changes, even if for the better, may be stressful, too. After a year and a half of adapting to distance learning and missing friends, students will need to readjust once more.

Consider: The time of Covid was more than 20% of a seven-year-old’s life and 10% of a 15-year-olds. Most students look different now and may have lost confidence in their social skills or worry they’ve fallen behind academically. Akkshey Vikram Raj, a Folsom 12-year-old, missed sixth grade, the year he would have transitioned to a new school with multiple classes. "I’m going to be lost all over the place," he says, adding that seeing his friends again after more than a year "is going to be really awkward." Lily Beach, 13, entering eighth grade in Roseville, is an honors math student who worries distance learning wasn’t rigorous enough “to let me stay in advanced classes.”

The pandemic caught us by surprise, but this time parents can plan. These tips from local therapists and educators may help.


1) Encourage your child to talk about concerns then listen reflectively, urges Lauren Simas, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Folsom. Respond with statements that show you understand your child’s emotions—"So you feel …" or "You’re wondering if …"—without adding your own perspective. Reflective listening offers empathy without judgment and helps your child clarify conflicting feelings.

2) Reassure your child she is safe. Young people are least likely to catch the virus. With precautions, like masks, which are still required in school buildings, and measures to combat the virus—powerful disinfectants, air filtration, hand sanitizers, distancing—the chance your child will become sick at school is very low. The good news is there is almost no risk out of doors so masks aren’t needed at recess.

3) Let your child know they will be fine academically. Even though students may have missed some information last year, they will catch up. Placer County uses an accelerated learning program that research shows works. With accelerated learning, the schools keep kids at grade level no matter what they missed. "We see a high degree of achievement with acceleration rather than pausing for remedial instruction," says Placer County Superintendent of Schools Gayle Garbolino-Mojica. "We will make sure we are able to bridge any gap the pandemic may have created."

4) Help your children acclimate gradually. "We haven’t been in social situations for a long time, in kid time—make sure you don’t over-connect them," says Nancy Ryan, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Relationship Therapy Center in Roseville and Fair Oaks. Also, with parents and children both working from home, children have gotten used to being with their parents and they like it, even if they pretend they don’t, Ryan says. Continuing family time is valuable as the kids readjust.

5) Be alert to signs of anxiety. Watch for isolation, irritability, difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation, and concerns about safety. To help ease stress, Ryan suggests box-breathing: Breathe in for four counts, hold four counts, breathe out four counts, then hold again for four counts. Repeat five times. Older students may be helped by visualizing a beach or field of flowers.

“There is great excitement in the school community to resume ‘normal’ operation,” says Garbolino-Mojica. “We are working hard this summer to make sure we do just that.”

by Linda Holderness

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