August 2013

Getting Back to School:Bus Schedules to Budgets

Author: Kitty Bartell

The absolute best part of going back to school, for me, was toting my newly purchased school supplies to school and arranging them in my very own personal hinge-lid desk. Lining up my pens, pencils, and crayons—tolerating the years when the eight-pack was required, and humming with delight when it was the 64-pack with the built in sharpener. The fresh bottle of pure white Elmer’s glue nestled beautifully next to the red plastic ruler, the manual pencil sharpener, the Scotch tape, and the mini box of Kleenex tissues. Everything was in order, and I was in heaven. Of course, this bliss lasted only a few short elementary school years, until we began moving from room to room, and teacher to teacher for our various classes. Which meant we were now assigned a locker that, in theory, would be our “home base” for books, supplies, and jackets; however, it was never quite the same as those desks that contained those run-of-the-mill school supplies, along with baseballs, hair ribbons, contraband bubble gum, yoyos, treasured cartoon valentines, and any number of paraphernalia that spoke of our true personalities. I’m a bit like Tom Hanks in the film You’ve Got Mail when his character Joe Fox e-mails his anonymous online friend, played by Meg Ryan, “I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” Some of us never get over the thrill of going back to school, and getting ready is the best part.

Preparing your child and yourself for a new school year takes on various incarnations, depending on the ages of your children and the type of school they will be attending. Naturally, each child and every grade level will have different requirements; however, school prep can be effectively divided into three tiers: preschool through elementary years, middle and high school years, and the college years.

The preschool and elementary years

Security and predictability are the watch-words for the preschool through elementary years. Even if you have a seasoned third grader who has been through this several times, children adapt better to their new classroom, new teacher, and new environment if they have a pretty good idea of what to expect and how to handle the unexpected that will inevitably arise.

First, and foremost, make it fun. If you are grousing about the expense of supplies and uniforms, finagling the car pool lane, or deciphering the bus schedules, your child will feel that tension immediately. Without the help or presence of your little pupil, spend some time mapping out and researching what your child will need to start the school year; then include him or her in the fun of getting it all together. Getting your child’s input picking out pencil boxes and sneakers or practicing catching the bus is much more rewarding than a child freaking out with the thought of standing alone on Spanish Wells Road, waiting for a school bus that might have already passed by. No matter how cool and collected your child appears, he or she is likely to be at least a little nervous.

The National Association of School Psychologists has a few sound recommendations for laying the groundwork for a great start to the school year. Visit school with your child. Call ahead to make sure the teacher/teachers will be available to introduce themselves to your child. Visit the classroom, lunchroom, etc. and give your child plenty of time to ask questions. Also, at least one week before school begins, establish a bedtime routine that includes turning off the television to allow for some quiet time to ease into a good night’s sleep.


The middle school and high school years

Setting achievable expectations will make for a great start to the school year for middle and high school students. The pace really ramps up during these years, and getting your child on board and sharing the responsibility for what is required will set him or her on a positive path. First, assign your child with the task of visiting the school’s website and researching what is required for the coming school year. As with all tasks, set a deadline, and then do not do the parent flake-out and forget to follow up! Just a reminder, for a while you will need to follow up on everything you ask of your child. It will may seem like double the work; however, over time, you should see some improvement and may ultimately be able to send your child off into the world, (i.e. college or the work force) with some degree of confidence that he or she may actually survive.

On the school’s website, look for uniform policies, school supplies required for specific classes, athletic requirements such as physicals, team try-outs, and practices, school-required paperwork, parking policies for those who will be driving to school, and summer reading and assignments (hopefully these have already been completed). Both you and your child will learn a great deal more about the school and what it means to attend by completing this project.

Be sure you and your child each have a calendar, and begin by both of you writing in all the school holidays and special events—always have something to look forward to! Then make necessary appointments such a sports physicals, dental, vision and hearing exams, and write them down. Next, be sure to block out any time needed to complete summer reading or assignments. Add sport and club practices and meetings. Finally, schedule some fun: a day at the beach, going uniform shopping, buying supplies and a new backpack, or just a “kid’s choice” day where your child chooses something fun as summer’s last hurrah. Hmmm … I’m thinking zip lining, or kayaking, or a movie, or bowling…

Another assignment for your child is to read all the sale circulars in the newspaper and check out available coupons, including those found online. This year’s tax-free shopping weekend in South Carolina is August 2-4. Definitely put this on the calendars! It is a great opportunity to work as a team, save some money, and get uniforms (required in all Beaufort County Public Schools, along with most private schools), clothing, accessories, footwear, school supplies, computers, and computer equipment, all in one weekend. Score!

Finally, plan a special family dinner following the first day of school to celebrate the launch of a great year. Setting the expectation that day-one is going to be a positive one and that the year ahead is going to be successful will put your child in the proper mindset to succeed, whether in kindergarten or twelfth grade. Remember, you do not need to be Julia Child or to assemble all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins (although that’s nice too). Simply gather together around the kitchen table, a booth at giuseppi’s, or a picnic table at Crossings Park to talk about the successes and challenges of the day.

The college years
Security, predictability, and achievable expectations extend from the early school years all the way to helping your college-aged child launch a new year on campus. Encourage your child to take full responsibility for researching the school’s website for information related to starting a new academic year. This should include information about housing, move-in schedules, class schedules, where to get books and supplies, dining options, parking requirements, university-required paperwork, health exams, athletic team requirements, schedules, and practices, and fees and payment schedules. Of course, you will need to go back over every detail with a fine-toothed comb to check facts, dates, and fees. Be assured that your child is getting better at this, but mistakes at the college level could be very costly.

Clearly set expectations about how much money your child will have to spend on a weekly or monthly basis while away at school and what will happen if he or she runs out. Opening a joint account at a local bank, along with an account where the campus is located is most convenient for everyone and can help expedite fixing financial hiccups. I recently heard someone say, “While in college, live like a college student so that when you get out of college you no longer have to.”

Getting back to school is anticipated with great enthusiasm by some and with trepidation by others. With preparation and teamwork, parents have the power to create a solid foundation for an outstanding year. My parents must have been very good at this, because I still buy new pencils and rosy-red rubber erasers when I visit the office supply store as the school year approaches. My desk may not have a hinged lid, and I may never again receive a cartoon cut-out valentine with an embarrassing limerick about love; however, I will always have a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils to celebrate the new school year.

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