Whether your student will be learning at home or in-person this fall semester, there’s severals tips that can help you prepare for a successful school year.

The end of summer can be a bittersweet time for students. While many students look forward to seeing their friends, few want to say goodbye to the relaxing days of summer.

This year will undoubtedly be different, as the pandemic has affected school start dates. Godley and Keene ISDs begin last week, while the rest of the county’s districts plan to return in the next few weeks.

Because of the pandemic, schools are offering the choice of in-person or remote learning. Whichever you choose, there are tips that can help you prepare for the school year.

Prepare students to go back to school

Parents know that getting their children back in the school day swing of things can be a challenge. 

The following are some ways to make that transition go smoothly.

• Introduce more structure as summer vacation winds down. The chance to unwind in a structure-free setting can benefit students at the onset of summer vacation. Many parents grapple with the notion that their children’s lives are overscheduled, and the Cleveland Clinic notes that limiting organized activities clears up down time for kids to play and relax and spend time with their families.

So it’s important that parents afford their children this down time during summer vacation, only gradually introducing more structure as the school year draws closer. In the weeks before the school year is slated to begin, start waking kids up a little earlier and reintroducing bedtimes for younger children who may have been staying up later over the last couple of months. This can be an effective way to begin slowly preparing youngsters for the structure of the school year.

• Encourage children to read throughout the summer. A report from the education publishing company Scholastic found that 47 percent of parents are unaware of the “summer slide,” which refers to the loss of academic skills that occurs when school is not in session. 

Scholastic notes that the slide is largely attributed to a lack of reading when school is not in session. By encouraging kids to read during their summer vacations, parents can make sure youngsters’ brains stay sharp and are ready to learn once the school year begins.

• Focus on the positive. Even kids who love school may be apprehensive about returning to the classroom. After all, summer vacation is fun. Parents can confront that apprehension by focusing on the positives of returning to school. Emphasize the chance to see friends every day or participate in a beloved extracurricular activity, like sports, band or a favorite academic club. 

• Let kids do some of their own back-to-school shopping. The items that constitute back to school supplies may have changed since parents were in school. But many parents still take their children on back-to-school clothes shopping excursions. Let kids choose their own clothes, as an opportunity to wear clothes they picked themselves might make them excited for the new school year.

Parents can take various steps to make the transition back to school a successful one for their young students.

Manage low bandwidth during remote learning

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, many schools hastily transitioned from traditional in-person learning to remote learning. This transition posed new and unique challenges to educators as well as students and their parents. 

One of the biggest challenges posed by remote learning was keeping students connected to their teachers and their classmates, not all of whom had readily available access to devices that could facilitate such connections. In recognition of that challenge, school systems worked to procure devices for students only to be confronted by another challenge: low bandwidth. 

According to Microsoft, bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can be transferred over an internet connection per second. Low bandwidth can compromise students’ ability to stay connected to their virtual classrooms. In an effort to help students overcome that challenge, Microsoft offers the following tips on how educators, students and parents can manage low bandwidth during remote learning sessions.

• Reduce reliance on video during class sessions. Turning video cameras off during live class sessions can help to overcome the challenges posed by low bandwidth, as live video is a key contributor to excessive use of bandwidth. If video must be used, encourage students to turn off their cameras when they are not speaking.

• Use pre-recorded content. Pre-recording content enables students to stream video over the internet, saving those with low bandwidth the hassle of downloading large video files to their computers. Microsoft recommends educators who pre-record content for their students to stream to instruct those students to use class time to complete assignments. Educators can make themselves available via chat to answer questions students may have about their assignments.

• Avoid video-based assignments. It can be difficult for students with low bandwidth to send very large files, such as videos. Educators can help students avoid that issue by not requiring them to submit videos as part of their assignments.

• Encourage students to sync files to their devices. Each device is different and each manufacturer has its own instructions on how to sync files to devices. But Microsoft notes that syncing files to a device allows students to read them offline, which is ideal for students with limited internet connectivity.

Low bandwidth poses a challenge for remote learners. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome low bandwidth so students can keep learning.

A refresher course in school bus safety

The dawn of a new school year is a time marked by change and fresh opportunities. For many children, school marks the first time they are away from their parents for an extended period of time. It also may be the first time they ride in a vehicle other than their parents’ cars.

Each school day, 25 million children ride a bus to school in the United States. A school bus is among the safest modes of transport and one of the most regulated vehicles on the road, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Riding a school bus can be a novel experience no matter a student’s age or grade. Kindergarteners may be introduced to the school bus on their first day of school, while older students are no doubt familiar with life inside a school bus. But all students and families can benefit from a refresher course on school bus procedures to ensure this school year begins on safe footing.

• Be a smart pedestrian. Riding the school bus is very safe, but injuries can occur walking to and from the bus stop. Watch for cars backing out of driveways and always look both ways multiple times before crossing streets.

• Remember school bus laws. Most areas of the country have specific school bus laws that include stopping when red lights are flashing on the school bus. Cars must stop whether they’re behind the school bus, next to it or on the opposite side of the street facing the bus. Stopping allows passengers to enter or exit the bus safely.

• Stand away from the curb. The National Safety Council advises keeping six feet, or three giant steps, away from the curb while waiting for the bus. Young children should be carefully supervised.

• Be visible. Always cross in front of the bus, making eye contact with the driver so that he or she knows your intentions before crossing. If you drop something, do not bend down to pick it up. Tell the driver instead.

• Remain seated. Find a seat promptly and remain seated for the duration of the ride. Do not stand up and proceed down the center aisle until the bus has stopped.

• Minimize distractions. Always speak softly and behave so that you do not distract the driver.

School buses are very safe vehicles, but passengers need to do their part to avoid injury.

How to clean and sanitize backpacks

Backpacks are useful tools for students and adults alike. From hiking supplies to school books to sports equipment, backpacks can store just about anything. As veritable workhorses, they’re bound to get dirty and can benefit from periodic cleaning.

While it may be tempting to simply throw a backpack into the washing machine, it is important to check the care instructions first. Some canvas, nylon and fabric backpacks can go in the wash, but those made of leather or those with intricate details should not. Backpack manufacturers also advise against putting backpacks in a dryer. 

Here are steps to cleaning a backpack.

1. To get started, begin by removing any items from the backpack, including all of the pockets. If necessary, use a vacuum to get crumbs out of the backpack. 

2. Check the care label to see if there are washing instructions. This will determine if you should wash it by hand or if it can be put in the machine.

3. If the bag can be machine-washed, turn it inside out first or place it in a pillowcase so that the straps and zippers will not be caught. Then wash it on a gentle setting with a mild detergent and lukewarm water. If the bag should be hand-washed, use lukewarm water and a soft sponge or a gentle bristle brush. The outdoor retailer REI says you do not want to harm any protective coatings on the pack.

4. Zippers need occasional cleaning to remove dirt, sand or crumbs. Many zippers have water-resistant coatings so do not scrub them. Use a lubricant made for zippers to help them slide smoothly.

5. Hang the bag to air dry upside down. It likely will dry more quickly outdoors, but avoid direct sunlight, which can compromise the integrity of the fabric or discolor the backpack.

6. Do not store or use the backpack until it is completely dry.

7. Sometimes a backpack may need to be disinfected to prevent the growth of fungus or bacteria. Athlete’s foot fungus can easily transfer from socks and shoes to the backpack if gym clothes are left in the bag. The Spruce says to skip chlorine bleach and use a pine oil or phenolic disinfectant or a disinfectant wipe, such as Pine Sol or Spic-n-Span. Lysol brand disinfectant also can be used and is available in liquid formula or spray.

If a backpack is waterproof, only wash it once or twice per year; otherwise, you may reduce the pack’s ability to repel water. Use cleansing wipes to spot clean when necessary.

Backpacks can get grimy quickly. Routine washing can freshen them right up.

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