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Be prepared for the first day of school

Yes, it’s that time of year — in 11 days, local kids will be getting up early, either grousing or gleeful, looking to begin their first day of school.

As a service to our readers, The SUN has prepared an overview of what to expect for the start of the Archuleta School District 50 Joint’s 2011-2012 school year.

First day of school Aug. 29

Who among us doesn’t remember the anticipation or trepidation that comes with the first day of school? Whether reconnecting with friends we hadn’t seen all summer, checking out the new kid in class (or our dread at being that kid), finally getting that teacher an older sibling raved about or stepping up into the big halls of middle school or high school, that first day arrives encumbered with mixed emotions.

That first day is no less an emotional roller coaster for parents as we consider how quickly time passes — and how, “they grow up so fast.”

In light of the anxiety that can accompany that first day of school, here are a few simple tips that should help students and parents eliminate some of the issues that could potentially add stress to those first day jitters.

Planning for Aug. 29

• Prepare for the first day of school the weekend before. Check school supply lists and make sure backpacks are stocked. Review class schedules and ask if your student knows where and when they have to be during that first week of school.

Most importantly, ask if your student has any questions or concerns. See if there are any fears they might have regarding starting a new grade or if there is anything you can do to help make this a better school year. Indeed, beginning an open and honest dialog at the beginning of the school year is a great way to set the foundation for ongoing conversation when other serious issues arise later in the school year: difficulties with a particular class (or teacher), problems with other students (particularly with bullying) and the usual developmental challenges that come with growing up.

• Get plenty of sleep the night before that first day. This should be a no-brainer, but kids are often so keyed up and anxious the night before that first day, they have a difficult time going to sleep.

Try scheduling a rigorous family activity during that day before the first day — a long hike or bike ride, a day at the lake with swimming or water skiing.

Leaving for school

• If you’re dropping your student off at school for that first day, allow yourself extra time.

Anyone travelling U.S. 160 near 8 a.m. can tell you that the areas around the elementary and middle schools can include a traffic jam. However, the first day of school is a particular mess, since many parents want to accompany their student into the building for that first day — essentially doubling the traffic at the schools.

If the school bus is not an option for where you live and you drive your student to school, bear in mind that traffic will be especially heavy that first day of school.

• If your area is served by the district’s transportation system, consider signing your student up for the bus: it’s more environmentally friendly, you’ll save tons of money on gas and it’s safer — statistics show that a school bus is 13 times safer than driving your student to school. And you’ll be creating a little less of a headache for those drivers trying to navigate the U.S. 160 school corridor or who need to drive their student to school (see sidebar).

To see if your neighborhood is served by the district’s bus system, go to www.pagosa.k12.co.us/transportation/transportation.html (which also includes pick up/drop off locations and times) or call the district’s transportation office at 264-0392 for more information.

After that first day

• After school, review all the paperwork sent home with the student that first day.

Schools will send home a “Student Handbook” with your student that will include essential information (contact information, snow day information, absence protocols, etc.), school rules and the school’s Code of Conduct. Sit down with your student and make sure they understand what’s expected of them while they’re in school.

Even if you’re not sure your family financially qualifies for free and reduced lunches (which also includes free breakfast), District Superintendent Mark DeVoti still recommends that parents fill out and return the form to see if the family qualifies for the program.

“We know that enough families still don’t apply,” DeVoti said, saying he suspects some are reluctant to report financial information while others might be ashamed to seek assistance.

“Of course, it benefits them and their financial situation, but it also benefits the district,” DeVoti added.

Currently, about 51 percent of district students qualify for the free and reduced lunches program. More families qualifying would, according to DeVoti, put district enrollment into a higher percentage of poverty-level students, which would, in turn, qualify the district for more federal dollars, as well as increase the potential for grant money allocated for rural, impoverished districts.

• Review paperwork sent home by teachers. That paperwork usually includes goals the teacher has regarding the year’s instruction, units and subjects to be covered throughout the year and overall expectations the teacher has regarding students. It may also list a number of assignments, projects and special homework that your student will be expected to complete during the year, giving you ample time to be aware of those tasks.

The teacher’s letter home will also usually include contact information (often a home phone number for after-hours contact) in case you have concerns regarding your student’s performance in class or in a particular subject.

• Depending on the school, parents can sign up for a teacher’s website to chart progress, grades and see how their student did on a particular assignment (or if that assignment was even turned in). It is a valuable tool for closely following how a child is doing in their classes, allowing the parent to proactively address problems their student may be having with select subject matter.

• Review the day with your student. Ask them how things went: Were you nervous? Frightened? What did you think about your teacher(s)? Did you make any new friends? Is there anything you’re going to need to help you with your classes? Is there anything you’re going to need from me?

Although younger kids (especially in elementary school) are usually all too eager to share their experiences and feelings about their first day of school — and all subsequent days — the older ones can tend to become closed off as they become more and more independent and begin to establish an identity.

While pushing for dialog can result in guarded or, worse, dishonest communication, stand firm. Schedule a time that is mutually agreeable for the conversation. Turn off the television and the game system during your talk, but give them space to open up. Adolescents (and kids edging into those years) respond best when they sense their answers are valued and that there is a measure of respect for what they have to say. Conversely, an authoritarian approach (“You will talk to me or else!”) is likely to result in anything but a helpful, beneficial dialog.

The key is to set the groundwork for an ongoing conversation to see how your student is adjusting to their new year in school. Beginning the school year with a habit of keeping a dialog open is essential for understanding how your student is adjusting to their environment, as well as being prepared for if and when problems arise as the school year progresses.

The rest of the year

• Get involved and stay involved.

While the quality of our schools depends how well we’re willing to fund education, no amount of money will compensate for parental apathy or neglect.

Of course, staying on top of your student’s course work is essential for their success. Check their homework every night and work with them when they appear to be faltering. Follow up with low grades on assignments and call your student’s teacher if there’s a pattern of poor performance.

• Stay involved with the schools themselves.

There is no shortage of opportunities to volunteer at the schools. From signing up to be a classroom aide to stepping up to assist with an extracurricular group, parents have the opportunity to witness first hand how their schools operate — and how incredibly dedicated and diligent so many of the teachers are in the district.

• Attend school board meetings, District Accountability Committee (DAC) meetings or School Advisory and Accountability Committee (SAAC) meetings.

As a parent, it is your right to help steer the district in a direction you believe is appropriate for the community and, most importantly, for the benefit of your student’s education.

School board meetings are usually held at 6 p.m. the second Tuesday of every month in the Pagosa Springs Junior High library. A portion of the meeting is dedicated for public comment, but be sure to show up early for the meeting in order to get on the agenda if you wish to address the board.

DAC and SAAC meetings are held at various times throughout the month and either deal with issues related to the district overall or with individual schools.

Call the district’s administrative office at 264-2228, Ext. 401, to check on times and locations of all meetings.

• Get your student involved.

Although your child may not be an athlete (see related article), there are ample opportunities for participating in extracurricular activities not related to sports.

Numerous studies have shown that students who participate in extracurricular activities not only graduate in significantly higher numbers, but also show much better school attendance rates and perform better academically. Likewise, psychologists note that extracurricular participation generally leads to improved socialization while providing positive peer influence.

From the elementary level through high school, the district offers Destination Imagination (DI), an academic co-curricular activity that teaches problem-solving, teamwork and creativity. DI teams are coached by volunteer managers who spend countless hours preparing their teams for regional, state and global tournaments. With an emphasis on the arts, science and technology, DI projects get students to think outside the box, while encouraging them to work cooperatively with other students to meet goals set by the team.

The district also offers numerous academic, vocational and social organizations that promise to keep kids off the game system and involved with programs that could well determine their future.

• Stay involved as a family.

Make it a point to attend various family nights, open houses and book fairs hosted by the different schools. Attend plays, concerts and sporting events as a family (but be prepared to have your kids take off with their friends as soon as you get there). Not only will your kids understand that you are involved, engaged and interested in what they’re doing at school, but you will have an opportunity to meet with other parents to discuss your experiences, concerns and ideas.

Pagosa Springs is a small town and school activities are where many residents — with or without school-age children — meet to socialize, cheer on the team, support schools and kids, and gather as a community.

It’s almost here

For parents and students alike, the first day of school is probably the most important day of the year, setting the stage not only for another year of intellectual, academic and physical development, but also potentially determining social benchmarks for children.

Although that most important day can create a level of stress that is overwhelming, careful preparation and determination will eliminate much of the anxiety that accompanies the first day of school.

Finally, the first day of school is an opportunity for parents to decide how their children will grow this year. By staying informed, engaged and involved, parents will not only ensure a healthy learning environment for their student, but will have the opportunity to develop a deeper, more comprehensive knowledge of who their child is as a person.

jim@pagosasun.com

Archuleta School District 50 Jt. 2001-2012 year at a glance

Aug. 23-26 — Staff professional development/staff work days. No school.

Aug. 29 —First day of school.

Sept. 5 — Labor Day. No school.

Oct. 3 — Parent/teacher conferences 4-8 p.m.

Oct. 5 — Parent/teacher conferences 4-8 p.m.

Oct. 7 — No school.

Oct. 10 — Staff professional development. No school.

Oct. 28 — End of first quarter.

Oct. 31-Nov. 1 — Elementary school only. No school. Professional development.

Nov. 21-25 — Thanksgiving vacation.

Dec. 19-Jan. 2 — Christmas vacation.

Jan. 13 —End of second quarter/first semester.

Jan. 16 — Staff work day.

Feb. 13 — Parent/teacher conferences 4-8 p.m.

Feb. 15 — Parent/teacher conferences 4-8 p.m.

Feb. 17 — No school.

Feb. 20 — Presidents Day. No school.

Feb. 21-March 2 — Third-grade reading CSAP window.

March 21-April 13 — CSAP window.

March 16 — End of third quarter.

April 2-6 — Spring break.

April 9 — Easter Monday. No school.

May 25 — End of fourth quarter/second semester.

May 26 — Graduation.

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