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How to make back-to-school a successful one

08/08/14

Getting back into the school routine can be a challenge for many students. San Francisco’s public schools open Monday, August 18, so it’s time for students and their families to get prepared for a school year full of learning.

Reasonable Bedtimes—Start Now

Teacher Celia Magtoto sees sleepy kids in her classroom every fall. She has a few hints for families.

“Start a reasonable bedtime before school starts and stick to it,” says Magtoto. “And make time for breakfast for them because, honestly, it does make a difference in your child’s day.”

Magtoto knows most young kids, especially those starting kindergarten, may be feeling first-day jitters. She says it’s important to have conversations with your child about school in a positive way.

“Ask open-ended questions about things to expect, like ‘What do you think school will be like?’ and, 'What do you think you might learn on the first day?’”

As the school year progresses, families should continue asking those open-ended questions. “Ask things like, ‘What was the best part of your day today?’” (And remember that "recess" or even "going home" are good answers, too.)

NurJehan Khalique, who was an elementary school principal for 11 years and is now the Executive Director of Access & Equity, suggests something you can do at home.

“Have your child draw a picture of him or herself, or even write a letter, to give to the teacher on the first day,” says Khalique. This is a great way to help your child start building a relationship with the teacher, she says, “even before that first step into the classroom.”

If your child is going to a new school, take your child to the school grounds before the first day to see what the building and yard looks like. The school may not be open, but getting a preview can help.

You can even start your child off by thinking way ahead, says Khalique. “Encourage your child to write about what they want to be when they grow up. Back-to-school is always a good time to think about work or careers."

Another creative way to ease first-day jitters is to take a trip to the library to check out books about the first day.

Teenagers Have to Adjust, Too

For students who have been going to school for several years, going back to school has different challenges, but parenting still plays a key role in a child’s success.

“Set limits at bedtime,” says Balboa High’s assistant principal Susan Ritter. “Most teens need eight hours of sleep to have a good day at school.” Ritter suggests parents hold on to the child’s cell phones and video game controls and even unplug the TV at bedtime to reduce distractions.

“Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, especially with teens,” she says. “They still need strong parenting.”

Ritter adds that it’s always a good idea to have nutritious foods and snacks around the house. Stock up on fresh fruits and whole grain breads, for instance, which are sometimes cheaper than processed food. For families on extremely tight budgets, the SF Food Bank is a good resource.

Ritter adds that those first few weeks of school are all about getting organized. “High school students need to use academic planners,” says Ritter, “they are taking up to six classes a day and juggling homework and after school responsibilities.” She says to make sure your teenager has a planner right as school starts.

As the year goes on, Ritter says it’s okay to ask your teen on a regular basis about any big assignments that are coming up and what he or she is doing to get them done.

“High schoolers need to know that you care about their schoolwork, and just checking in to chat about it briefly can keep them on track.”

More Back-to-School Resources