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How to prepare your kids to return to the classroom

All school districts in North Carolina have returned to at least some in-person learning, but if you’re preparing your kids to make the transition from remote to in-person learning, mental health professionals say you should start now.
Published: May. 3, 2021 at 7:18 PM EDT
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - There’s no doubt the last two school years have been challenging, and it has likely affected your kids’ mental health.

But, if you’re preparing to send your kids back to the classroom full-time this fall for the first time in a year and a half, mental health professionals say it will likely be a tough transition.

“Children are very routine-oriented. It helps them feel safe, and it helps them know what to expect,” said Priscila Norris, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of ThriveMind Counseling and Wellness. “Acknowledge there’s been a change, there’s been a huge shift, and sometimes saying ‘I don’t know what to expect’ is okay, too.”

Norris said now is the time to prepare if your child is still learning from home and you’re staring down that transition for the next school year.

“They may not be anxious about it at home, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have questions. That doesn’t mean they don’t have concerns,” said Norris.

There’s a lot of conversation needed early, Norris said, that begins with direct but open-ended questions about their transition.

“We should avoid asking things like ‘Are you scared to go back to school?’ or ‘Are you feeling anxious about this?’ said Norris. “These are pointed questions, and they lead the child. But if you ask, ‘how do you feel about going to school?’ ‘What are you looking forward to the most?’ ‘What is something you may not be looking forward to?’ Those open-ended questions help start a dialogue.”

School districts in the state were in online learning for nearly a year before North Carolina allowed districts to return to fully in-person learning earlier this year. Onslow County was one of the districts that operated Onslow virtual school the whole time.

“There are still some things that are up in the air,” said Brent Anderson, spokesperson for Onslow County Schools.

The district is now preparing for what it hopes will be an entire school year in person, but Anderson added the last two school years prepared them to move to remote learning for emergencies like inclement weather if need be.

“I don’t know if it’s gonna be a requirement for next year for any school systems at this point,” said Anderson. “But we’d be prepared to do that again should we need to.”

The Onslow Virtual School will be trimmed down from about 5,000 students this school year to just 1,500 next school year. According to Anderson, the lottery system for interested parents is complete, but there is still room for kindergarten students.

It will surely be another challenging transition for students, but nothing mental health professionals believe they can’t handle.

“When it comes to modeling that behavior for our children, that’s even more important,” said Norris. “We have to be able to manage the expectations.”

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