Start Now, to Start the School Year Right

Three children in the classroom.In communities and homes all across the country, change is in the air, and families are thinking about back-to-school season. There are lots of ways to gear up for a great school year.

Sometimes the whole neighborhood plays a part! For example, this past weekend, my hometown of Chicago hosted an 86-year tradition: the largest back-to-school parade in the country. Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and their neighbors took to the streets with marching bands, floats and special activities to celebrate the last few weeks of summer and get the word out about the new school year.


“Now is the time for parents and kids to start getting set for success in the classroom.”
Arne Duncan


But even if there’s no parade or back-to-school block party in your area, now is still a great time for parents and kids to start getting set for success in the classroom. Here are some things you can do now, and in the weeks ahead:

Start adjusting early. Start bringing meal times, bed times, and morning routines back in line with the school year schedule. Reading before bedtime, getting enough sleep, and having a reliable weekday routine: all these activities contribute to a student’s readiness to do well in school from day one.

Brush up on skills and complete any summer assignments. Take time together for refresher activities like practicing math facts or playing math games. Also, many schools send home summer activities, like math packets or reading lists, or post them on their website. Look through these together and make sure all assignments are completed.

Make a back-to-school to-do list, and start checking off tasks. With less than a month to go, create a plan to take care of everything that’s needed for a great first day of school. This includes scheduling any remaining health check-ups including dental and vision screenings, contacting the school with any questions, completing all necessary forms, taking care of any insurance, meal plan and enrollment requirements, as well as stocking up on supplies, clothes and other back-to-school gear.

Plan a learning adventure. Do something fun together that’s focused on learning, whether indoors or out: from a kitchen craft project or backyard science experiment, to a trip to the library or a museum. Our minds are like muscles: help get them warmed up for academic success.

Help to beautify your school. This month, many schools will host events to get their buildings looking great for the first day, from planting flowers and picking up trash in the schoolyard, to painting walls and cleaning classrooms. It’s a great way to learn about service together and help create a welcoming environment for the whole school community. If your school doesn’t have a beautification day, ask whether there other ways you can help teachers and school staff prepare.

Make space for study and creativity. Identify a quiet place for your child to do homework. Set aside space to post school schedules and assignments, classwork, art, projects, and report cards, as well as messages and milestones.

Set some clear, achievable goals for the year. By setting and meeting academic goals, students do more than improve their performance in school – they also gain confidence, motivation, and pride in their accomplishments. Help your child set some clear goals, like improving math or vocabulary, along with timeframes and clear steps for reaching them. Write them down, post them, and check progress regularly.

Get connected and stay in touch. Parents who are active and engaged with their child’s school are a key ingredient to helping their kids thrive. Here are just some things parents can do:

  • Reach out to your school, and get to know your child’s teachers. Let them know the best ways to contact you, and that you’re ready to work closely with them to help your child succeed.
  • Start a calendar for parent-teacher conferences and school events, and to check in regularly with your child’s teachers throughout the year.
  • Plan ways to keep track of your child’s subjects, grades and progress, help with homework, and provide support throughout the year. Agree to talk often together about what’s happening at school, what your child is learning, what she enjoys and where she might need help.
  • Consider serving on your local parent-teacher organization, or joining in other activities that help support great teaching and learning.
  • Check out our month-by-month toolkit at: www.ed.gov/parents/countdown-success

Talk about what to expect and focus on skills for life. Each student is different: some kids love back-to-school time; others have concerns or questions. Each new school year means transitions – to a new grade, classroom, or school building. In case of any back-to-school jitters: take time to remember the highlights from last year, and point out things to look forward to this year. As a parent, you can share memories of your own school experiences – including favorite teachers, field trips, subjects and activities – as well as lessons learned. Most of all, help your child build the skills that make for long-term success in life, like flexibility and open-mindedness, persistence, and a positive attitude.

Working together, parents and children can help make sure the new school year is filled with progress, achievement and the wonder of learning. Let’s make it a year worth celebrating, for every child.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

2 Comments

  1. The focus on the family is an excellent form of encouragement to reach out, initiate conversations and prepare themselves to engage with their child’s schools right from the start.
    Equally encouraging for educators, this focus reminds schools to strategically engage in mindful, reciprocal and culturally responsive communication with families.
    Finally, we are on the right track that leads to closing the achievement gap, and building our capacity to engage recognizes that the family unit IS that missing link to increased student achievement. Continue to enhanced educator capacity to effectively engage families and the community in collaborative, supportive involved partnerships in education. It only works when everyone works together, strengthening our collective futures.

  2. I love the ideas, I am going to discuss with my principal if we can share some of these great idea.

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