Help produce a strong start for school year

What should wise families, like careful coaches, help youngsters do to prepare for the upcoming school year? Forty-one district, charter and teacher union leaders recently responded to that question with specific, practical advice. Their suggestions tended to fall into three major areas:

–Re-establishing school year routines at least a few days before the first day of school.

Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan

–Talking and listening to students and setting school-related goals with them.

–Communicating with educators who will be working with your youngster(s).

Linda Madsen, Forest Lake Superintendent believes; “Families can be supportive when starting a new school year by reassuring their children that they, as parents, and all the people they will encounter at school – custodians, bus drivers, teachers, principals – all want them to succeed and are there to support them. Families should engage with school staff as much as possible and build a partnership to benefit their child.”

Cam Hedlund, director of Lakes International charter in Forest Lake, pointed out: “Many schools have an ‘open house’ evening or welcome conferences before school begins. Make sure you attend and meet your child’s teacher. Every parent should want a good relationship with their child’s teacher. Caring enough to meet your child’s teacher before the year begins is a great way to show support and offer encouragement. If your school does not offer this kind of opportunity, initiate the contact yourself. It will help facilitate all future communication.”

Deborah Hinton, North Branch superintendent, offered this advice: “As school approaches it is important for families to help build excitement for the new school year. Talk about how exciting learning is, how great it will be to see old friends and make new ones, and what a great experience it will be to meet new teachers. Stimulate positive discussion so students feel great about the start of the new school year.”

Vern Koepp, Rush City superintendent, explained: “Each school year is a new chapter in your preparation for your life. If you like the direction of the previous chapters, continue down that path, taking advantage of opportunities that support your goals. If you don’t like the direction of the previous chapters, dedicate yourself to charting a new course, exploring options, identifying promising opportunities, and staying focused on your new goals as you work through the challenges that arise.”

Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe wrote: “My advice to parents would be to help their child, no matter what age, to see the connection between school and finding a satisfying career. Help your child to realize his or her greatest interests and passions. Encourage them to work hard, pay attention and do the best work that they can do. Link all of those to possible careers, and your child will have hope for their futures. Your confidence in his/her potential as adults and to be positive contributors in society means the world to them.”

Gregory A. Winter, Braham superintendent, believes: “Preparation for school will be different depending upon the age of your child. The most important preparation for any age child is to make sure to spend some quality time with your children that will open up avenues of opportunities for your child to express any concerns they may have about the upcoming school year. Make sure to discuss these concerns with your child in an open honest manner.”

Cambridge-Isanti Superintendent Raymond Queener explained: “I think students want to enjoy their last few days of summer break and have fun. So if possible, I encourage families do so spending the time together as much as possible. I also think that generally many students look forward to going back to school. I would encourage families to talk to their students about what they are looking forward to and what they may be concerned about to be aware of both spectrums. Finally, I would encourage families to get prepared for school by getting any supplies, setting up a homework space at home, reconnecting with school through websites and staff and of course, read a good book (or two) for fun!”

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, summarized several suggestions. “It’s never too early to start encouraging good habits for the school year, regardless of your child’s grade. Create a schedule that gives your student enough time for sleep, a good breakfast and a specific time every day for homework or reading. Parents can take these last few days of summer to learn how to track their student’s progress and contact their student’s educators. Many districts have websites for this, but they can take some time to learn.”

Marci Levy-Maguire, director of Paideia Academy (charter) in Apple Valley, suggested “sitting down together with your child to help them establish and write down some goals (academic, social, activities, etc.) for the school year. Post those prominently in the house so you can all refer to them as needed.”

One of the characteristics of successful people is that they set and work toward goals.

In addition to doing many of the things suggested above, for many years, we also took pictures of our youngsters on the first day of school. They enjoyed looking at growth and changes.

Helping youngsters set goals, helping them ease back into sleeping and other routines, meeting with educators and stressing the value of learning and schools – these all can help make the difference between a strong and difficult start for the school year.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]