By Ashika Sethi
Late August and over 100-degree temperatures usually means one thing to a child - the first day of school is right around the corner.
In my early years, back to school season typically commenced in late July when my craving for the smell of new books and Mr. Sketch markers came to a head. For weeks, I would consistently pester my mom about back-to-school shopping until she finally caved and took me to Target. I would plan my outfits weeks in advance, my backpack packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
When the day finally came to put on my meticulously-planned outfit, my nerves would be through the roof. After a restless sleep and a groggy morning, my mom would snap an annual First Day of School picture, wish me good luck, and send me on my merry way.
Although high school came with its own first-day traditions, the butterflies and annual pictures remained a constant. I’ll always be nostalgic for that meeting-new-friends-and-getting-lost-on-my-way-to-second-period feeling.
College has come and gone, and although my first-day-of-school routines are officially over, I know I’ll have my fair share of firsts and new traditions as I begin my career at CASA as the new Marketing Coordinator.
For the kids we serve at CASA, consistency isn’t always a given. Often our kids are starting new schools and possibly moving to new homes, which can be stressful and overwhelming. When it comes to school, kids in the child welfare system need extra help to make sure teachers and staff have all the tools and resources they need to accommodate them before their first day rolls around.
Here are some helpful tips compiled by CASA staff to help make sure our kids’ back-to-school season runs more smoothly:
Brooke Hathaway, Child Advocacy Specialist
- Visit the school during the first couple of weeks (or before, if possible!) and bring your order of appointment to the front office. Introduce yourself to the administrators and teacher and let them know that you will be checking in with them regularly throughout the year. Give them your (and your supervisor’s) contact information and ask them to please let you know whenever they have any concerns or updates on your child.
- If you know that your child has a history of difficult behaviors at school, suggest some strategies or solutions to the teacher that have worked well in the past. Make sure that the teacher(s) are allowing the child to have access to a healthy snack/meal, water and physical activity every two hours. Explain to them that this child may need extra help self-regulating during stressful situations and provide them with some tools for helping the child cope. Ask your supervisor for tips on talking to teachers about kids with a history of trauma and resources they may have for you to share with the teacher. Keep in mind that you should not be sharing detailed information about the child and their case with the teacher, and should only share general information with them.
- Talk to the placement about their weekday routine once school starts. Get the answers to these questions:
- What time are the kids getting up?
- Who makes breakfast or do they eat at school? What about lunch?
- Where do the kids go after school- daycare or extend-a-care?
- Do you have the contact information for the person at the after-school programs?
- What is the evening routine?
- Who is helping the child with their homework?
- If the child is visiting their parents, is there a plan for the parent to help with homework during visits?
- Try to remind the placement how important it is for the child to have a routine and predictable schedule. Encourage them to keep a big calendar somewhere in the home with all of the children’s activities, appointments, visits, etc. so they know what to expect each week.
- If your kid receives any kind of therapeutic services, make sure that they continue once school starts, even though it might mean changing the schedule. Some services can take place at school, but be sure that the child isn’t being pulled out of class during instruction time that they really need. Work with the placement and CPS to ensure that transportation is set up to any services that occur after school and come up with a back-up plan in case someone isn’t able to transport. Missing therapy sessions last-minute can result in being discharged and having to start all over again, so try to get ahead of the game and not let that happen.
Elena Lorio, Child Advocacy Specialist
- The beginning of the year is always a hectic time in school. It would be best to start educational advocacy at least two weeks to a month after classes have begun. It will give the children a chance to get acclimated and both the children and their teachers a chance to get to know each other.
- That being said, it's a good idea to check in with the kids (once a week would be ideal) to see how they like their new school/class/teacher/friends/grade/etc. Does it seem difficult? Do they have a friend? Does their teacher seem nice? Do they have homework every day? Can they do the homework by themselves? Do they need any supplies?
- After the children have settled in, meet with the teachers or talk on the phone. How are children adjusting to the new class/year? Are they having any behavior issues? Are they struggling in any particular subject?
- Look at the children's curriculum folders in the office for any behavior issues in the past, academic issues, language issues, disabilities, or if they are highly advanced.
Alex Mirande, Child Advocacy Specialist
- Be aware of who and what is in your kid’s school life. You should know who their teacher is, if they have a mentor at school, who their best friend is, if they are part of any clubs, what subject they excel/struggle in, any awards they may have won, etc. Your kid may not have a stable parent figure to share their success with, and even if they do, what kid wouldn’t want to brag about awards more than once?
- Don’t be afraid to see your kid at school. Make sure they are okay with it, but most kids love visitors, especially if you bring them lunch or interact with the class through an activity, like story time. This helps you see them in a different environment.
- If your kid is in special education and does not live in a home environment, know who their surrogate parent is. It will likely be someone appointed by the school. You can ask the court to appoint you (talk to your supervisor for more information), but if it is someone else, you should be in regular communication with the surrogate parent.
Advocacy August 2017