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Preparing for uncharted territory

In the heat of June, as I write this, the future plans of “back to school” are still up in the air.  It looks as though parents, teachers and students will have several different scenarios of which to be ready for depending on the ever-changing percentages of coronavirus cases in our area.  Guidelines from the CDC are also shifting as experts learn more and more.  So what will school be like and how can you best prepare for what’s to come?

@SCHOOL:  Take a deep breath as we think about our kids returning to the school buildings among hundreds of other students.  Teachers will be well-trained and excited to see the students again.  This year, individual supplies will be very important.  Choosing a sturdy pencil pouch or other type of binder to keep personal items in will be essential.  Besides basic school supplies, most kids will probably want to keep their own hand-sanitizer, gloves and masks as well.  Corley Calhoun, a mom of three, says she has done her best to teach her children sanitizing techniques, but ultimately it will be in the hands of the teachers.  “This is such a unique situation;  I am trying to encourage good habits.  I don’t want to scare them, but I also want them to be smart about their surroundings.  I have taught them how to wash their hands and not to touch certain things, but they are kids!  Who's to say what they will do at school when I’m not there.”

@HOME:  As we all know from last year, helping students with online learning from home has its challenges.  Setting a daily routine and displaying it for everyone to see really helps.  Creating a checklist that kids can mark off as they complete their work gives them not only a sense of accomplishment but is also an amazing time-management tool.  Establishing a quiet workspace for each child is also a way to encourage focus and reduce anxiety.  Involve the kids in setting these routines so that they feel ownership of their own learning experience.  Rebecca Durr homeschools her 3 children.  She says that schooling at home can be a challenge because of the individual work habits of the kids.  Some students are self-motivated and need little to no prompting.  Others are easily distracted and need a lot of guidance and a structured schedule.  She shared a great idea for kids who may need some incentives!  “We had each child write down something that they really wanted to do;  baking, sleepover, swimming etc.  All the wish lists went into a pot, and when they got their work done they could pull one out and enjoy their activity.”  Another wise piece of advice from Rebecca: “Pick what’s most important for that day and do that one thing.  Give yourself and your kids grace.  Incorporate basic skills into life lessons while you go about your day.”

ASK FOR HELP!  Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  For parents who are returning to work and also juggling their children’s online learning, stress can rise for the whole family.  We may find that many students have fallen behind due to the break in instruction.  I did a quick online search for tutors, and found many excellent resources.  You can also reach out to the teachers at your child’s school.  Many classroom teachers enjoy tutoring after school, on weekends and even on ZOOM.  Kelly Pollock has been teaching students from 1st grade to 7th grade for over 9 years.  She spends a lot of time doing private tutoring when not in school.  She tells us how helpful this can be for a student who may need more individual attention.  “There is a huge benefit for students to get one on one time with a teacher.  Sometimes just hearing it from another person in another way, without the distractions of a classroom of peers is all they need.”  I asked her if there seems to be a notable difference between the students who receive tutoring and those who don’t.  “Definitely!  I love seeing the kids succeed. One day I had a little girl run over and show me her grade on her report card which had gone from a D to a B!”  Many times getting individualized tutoring can make a huge difference in just a short amount of time.

So whatever may unfold when “back to school” rolls around, remember you are not alone.  We are all traveling this new path together as a community, and there are teachers, counselors and neighbors ready to help. If we all do our part to emphasize respect and personal responsibility,  we can unite to ensure that all Spring Hill students feel safe and loved.  I for one, can’t wait to see them!

Sorrel Dugan has been teaching in Williamson County Schools for over 20 years.  She is also a free-lance designer and writer, contributing to hundreds of creative projects over the years.  Sorrel lives in Spring Hill with her husband of 23 years, and their two children.