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For many students and parents, the return to school has never felt more challenging. While coming back to school after the summer holidays is normally an exciting yet slightly nerve-wracking time, in 2020, it is likely that these emotions will be exacerbated. Not only are many students entering the classroom for the first time since March, but the school itself looks very different to how it was all of those months ago. There are lots of new rules to follow, there are lots of friends and teachers to re-connect with, and students and teachers are eager to pick up where they left off in terms of academics.
As a parent, you may be wondering what role you can play in supporting your child or children through this unusual return to school, making sure that they feel safe and secure, but also that they are resilient to the challenges and ready to accept and embrace the new classroom normal.
Make wellbeing a priority
During this time, we must remember that students will all react differently and feelings will change every day. So, even if you think your child is doing okay emotionally, we would advise checking in on their wellbeing regularly. At ACS Egham, we are already supporting students, and the key objective for both the school and parents is to make students feel comfortable with being back on campus. If they are happy and comfortable at school, the learning and good grades will follow.
One way parents can support their child is by taking the time to ask lots of questions, for example:
"What did you find different about school today?"
"How did you get on at lunchtime?"
"Did you have a chance to talk to your friends?"
This will help to get them talking, thinking about, and processing their emotions, and will also help you identify if there are any changes in your child. In the event that you do find there are changes or concerns, we encourage you to reach out to your school’s Guidance Counselling Department or equivalent; staff will work with you to consider how you can best support your child at school.
Focus on what is in our control
If your child is feeling anxious or stressed about the return to school, our advice is to talk to them about the situation. Explain that, although there are aspects of the global pandemic that feel largely out of our control, it is our response to the situation that is in our control. Ask them what things you can do as a parent to help them feel safer. What do they enjoy doing that makes them feel good? What are some of the best things about being back on campus?
Looking at the positives of their school day can help shift the focus from stress or anxiety to a more optimistic outlook on the current situation. Additionally, the more children feel in control of even small aspects of the day, the more resilient they will feel.
In school, we will be putting out reminders to students frequently that we are available if they want to talk about anything at all. We understand that students will be experiencing different levels of stress and worry, but talking about it can definitely help. Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) at ACS will also be more focussed on feelings and wellbeing at this time to give students an opportunity to reflect.
We have surveyed students to see how they're feeling about being back and, from this, we can tailor lessons to address concerns, calm nerves and ensure students feel they are being listened to.
Embrace the opportunity to be on campus
While schools did the very best they could to transition quickly to online learning, the return to on-campus learning comes with a welcome sigh of relief for many members of our school community. So far, the response has been very positive; students are excited by the social side of school and seeing their friends, and even though things are a little different, it is good to have a sense of normality.
On-campus learning offers so many important developmental experiences for students of all ages. Though Zoom has been an invaluable tool during lockdown, you do lose some of the spontaneity of school life—whether that's bumping into a friend or teacher in the courtyard, popping your hand up in class to ask a question, or seeking unscheduled face-to-face advice from a school guidance counsellor.
So now, as we transition back to school life on campus, we are all grateful for the opportunities of real human interaction. Although the current situation isn’t ideal or what we have known in the past, we must do what we can to keep moving forward and to also remember that things will, eventually, be back to normal.
Debbie Stanton and Tanya Coffey are Upper School Guidance Counsellors at ACS International School Egham.