As August rolls around each year, so follows the familiar chorus of “back to school!” As a former teacher, school leader, and principal, I have spent more than the past dozen or so years eagerly preparing for students to return. I remember spending summer months upgrading classrooms, hanging new bulletin board displays, reading books, creating schedules, preparing lessons, and yes, getting that just-right first day of school outfit with fly but sensible wedge heels. There is nothing better than that feeling of students walking through the door on the first day with hugs, handshakes, high fives, and “how was your summer?”
This year, in the midst of a global pandemic, there is nothing normal about heading back to school. The hugs and handshakes will be replaced with hand sanitizer and temperature checks, and the sweet smiles of students will be viewed on Zoom or hidden by face masks. That back-to-school feeling of eagerness is coupled with a greater sense of anxiety than ever before.
We all have a lot of questions as we prepare to start what will be an unprecedented year. We all want to keep our children, teachers, and school staff safe. To help navigate this time, here are three questions to ask your school principal before school starts:
#1 | Communication and COVID: How will you let me know if a student, teacher, or school staff member contracts COVID?
We know COVID is highly contagious and can spread asymptomatically. Even with all of the proper precautions, it is possible that someone at school will contact COVID. In that moment, it will be critical for clear, quick communication, coupled with a plan of action, to keep everyone safe.
Your school’s principal will be able to explain the plan of action to communicate with school staff and with families. This could be a phone call, an automated text, an online portal, and/or a letter home that day to share the update and communicate the next steps. You will want to learn from your principal how you will be contacted, and the proper next steps for keeping your child home, and if appropriate, undergoing COVID testing and sharing the result with the school.
#2 | Social-Emotional Support: How are you planning to foster the social and emotional needs of my child?
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports sending children back to school to combat social isolation and support children’s social and emotional development.  However, new studies are emerging each week about the impact of COVID and young children, including one from South Korea that learned that children over 10 are just as likely to spread the virus as adults. Thus, it’s critical that we balance physical distancing while still support children’s social and emotional needs.
Your school’s principal will be able to shed insight on how her teachers will be caring for, encouraging, and fostering the emotional development of your child, while still practicing physical distancing at school. This could look like socially-distanced playtime, journaling and class discussions around how we are feeling, or encouraging notes and video messages to check-in with your child.
#3 | Remote Learning Recommendations: What are the best digital learning tools for my child to use independently?
School districts across the country are taking different approaches to starting the school year, from fully in-person, to fully remote, to a hybrid model. With so many rapid changes, it is not unlikely that plans will shift further once the year begins. To that end, it will be important to learn which digital learning tools your child’s class will be leveraging.
Your school’s principal will be able to share which online curricula your child will be using in school and make recommendations around which tools your child will be able to best use independently. Some online learning programs, such as ST Math for Math (grades K-6) or Lexia for reading (grades K-4) progress at your child’s level and can be used for longer periods of time independently. Other digital learning tools, like pre-recorded or synchronous classes, may require more support. Your school’s principal will be able to point you in the right direction for your child’s age, in order to equip your child with the tools they need to learn!
Though there are many unknowns heading into this school year, knowing the answer to those three questions can help prepare you for what will surely be a school year for the history books.
 “How to Protect Yourself and Others,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
 “COVID-19 Planning Considerations,” American Academy of Pediatrics: https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/covid-19-planning-considerations-return-to-in-person-education-in-schools/
 “Older Children Spread the Coronavirus Just as Much as Adults, Large Study Finds,” New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/18/health/coronavirus-children-schools.html
Katherine Roger is an educator and nonprofit leader living in New York City. Katherine currently serves as Senior Director of Program at Propel America, an organization that seeks to empower all students with the skills, credentials, and networks they need to move from high school to a well-paying job within one year. Previously, she worked as the Managing Director of Learning and Implementation at KIPP Texas, one of the larger charter school districts in the country.
Prior to her work at KIPP, Katherine served as a principal, school leader, program director, and teacher. She is a wife, avid reader, Peloton enthusiast, and dog mom. Katherine absolutely loves learning from and supporting other women and is proud to be part of The Affinity Blog community!
You can check out these great organizations online at www.propelamerica.org and www.kipptexas.org, and in true dog mom fashion, you can follow Katherine at her dog's instagram handle @chelsearogerschwartz.