Go to back to school or open house

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 Back to school season is upon us and you are probably combing the aisles of your favorite retailer for the best deals on No. 2 pencils and lunchboxes. In the midst of the annual rush to get everything on the school supplies list and make sure your child has done his or her summer reading, there are a few other steps you can take to start the school year on a path to success.

This week, I offer three suggestions to start the year: Developing positive relationships with teachers and school staff, reviewing course expectations and timelines and establishing study space and time. In the coming weeks, I’ll provide guidance on note-taking and study skills.

Getting to know your child’s teachers at the beginning of the school year will help prevent and solve problems that arise later in the year. Teachers would be ecstatic if every parent came to back-to-school night, read the course syllabus and engaged with them throughout the year via phone or email; however, they know that is unrealistic for both parties. What can you do to build a relationship? First, go to the back-to-school night or open house.

In Brunswick County, those are Wednesday, Aug. 20, for middle school parents and Thursday, Aug. 21, for elementary and high school parents. This is a chance to meet your child’s teachers, be a familiar, smiling face and ask questions about course expectations. It tells the teacher that you are engaged in the process. Teachers understand many parents can’t get to the school during the scheduled open house. Instead, send your child’s teacher an email introducing yourself, explaining the best way or ways to reach you, introducing any potential issues you foresee, such as “Jimmy struggled with reading aloud last year but we’ve been working on it at home,” and asking questions about the class he or she teaches.

Once you’ve introduced yourself, maintain positive contact. This includes going to parent-teacher conferences, attending school events and sending and responding to emails. Teachers play a role in this relationship, as well, but you are more likely to have success addressing issues if the teacher is in contact with you throughout the year.

If you’ve attended back-to-school night, you have a list of competencies or learning objectives for each course as well as a timeline for projects and exams. If you could not attend, you can ask for these via email or have them sent home with your child. Review course expectations and timelines. If you notice in August that your child has three exams and a major project on the same day in October, you can help him or her pace preparations for it or ask for accommodations now. You’re less likely to be able to change a due date at the last minute than you are weeks in advance. Sit down with your child and a calendar and have him or her put in all major assignment or exam dates. This will help you and your child when it’s time to make decisions about spending time with friends or at extracurricular events.

Discuss the course expectations with your child. Ensure that he or she knows what the learning and behavioral expectations are, the policies for making up missed days or work and the amount of time the teacher anticipates each child will need to spend outside of class. Taking the time to do this in the first few days of school gives your child time to change courses if he or she needs to do so. This is a great time to reach out to teachers with questions or concerns and may begin a conversation that will ensure that your child is placed in the appropriate level of course for his or her progress.

Now is the time to establish where and when your child should complete homework and studying. In many families, everyone gravitates to the kitchen table, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best solution. Some kids need a very quiet place to focus while others need to be in a position to be monitored and helped. Work with your child to decide what will work best for him or her and then set up that area with writing utensils, paper, good lighting and a place to sit.

Establishing study time will probably be the most challenging task, but including study time in the family routine will help ensure that it happens. Setting a habit of checking homework before dinner or before bed time helps hold kids accountable and gives you the chance to see what they are studying and how well they are mastering their subject matter. In future weeks, I’ll share study strategies that go beyond doing the practice problems or copying spelling words.

Every new school year is going to bring hiccups along the way. Being proactive by building relationships with teachers, understanding expectations, and setting aside a time and place to study will start your child on the right path for the school year so that minor upsets do not impede his or her progress.


Katie McKee is Brunswick County’s 4-H youth development agent. She can be reached at 253-2610 or Katie_mckee@ncsu.edu. For more information about Brunswick County 4-H, go to brunswickco4h.shutterfly.com or brunswick4h.wordpress.com.