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Reclaiming Normalcy: Supporting Your Teen’s Back-to-School Transition During COVID-19

By Jennifer Walsh-Rurak, Ed.D

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On-Campus Education, Hybrid Models, Academic Cohorts, Virtual Instruction, Online Learning…COVID-19 has certainly exposed and expanded the range of terminology used to describe educational approaches. As we adjust to this new normal, one thing remains fundamentally unchanged regardless of the methodology; our teens need encouragement and support as they transition back to school, likely more now than ever before. By implementing a few basic practices, you can ensure that your teen is prepared and equipped to thrive during these unprecedented times.  

Check-In –  

Like any other year, the excitement and energy affiliated with the back-to-school season is tangible. Take time to check in with your teen about their classes, teachers, peers and course content, regardless of whether the instruction is campus-based or virtual. By simply engaging in conversations about the new year, parents can promote a sense of normalcy and create a positive dynamic for the school experience.  

Offer Support –  

Transitioning back to school whether it is in person or virtually can create some understandable anxiety. Given that many kids are returning to physical campuses for the first time since March, the worries and concerns can be heightened. Parents can help lessen the stress by offering to support and listen to issues about the transition as they arise. It is also important to enlist the support of a mentor or counselor if anxiety becomes unmanageable or leads to school avoidance.  

Keep a Routine –  

Whether classes will be online or on campus, routine is critical and helps to normalize the school experience. Ensure that your teen has created routines that promote healthy habits and success such as adequate sleep, exercise, homework completion, and socialization. Keep in mind that routine and structure create predictable schedules and lessen stress and uncertainty for teenagers.    

Encourage Socialization –  

Given that many social activities, clubs, and sports have been cancelled, it is of paramount importance to ensure that teens socialize in meaningful and appropriate ways. For kids who are attending school virtually, it is even more critical to ensure that socialization with peers occurs either online or in a socially-distanced manner. Connectedness can help to reduce stress and help teens to feel supported as they transition back to school.  

Get New School Supplies –  

A highlight of the back-to-school season are those brand-new school supplies. Help to create excitement about the new year by making the school supply shopping experience eventful and fun for your teen. Promote involvement by taking your teen along to the office supply store or ask them to select their supplies online. Even if classes are virtual right now, new school supplies can help to set the tone for a great academic year ahead.  

Celebrate! –  

Heading back to school brings a variety of opportunities to celebrate. Whether commending academic victories, new friendships, or simply reclaiming some normalcy after months of uncertainty, it is important to take time to recognize and commemorate victories and achievements. Asking your teen what is going well periodically throughout the school year and then taking the time to acknowledge the triumphs helps to promote increased engagement and future success.  

While so much about the school experience has changed, we can help our teens to capitalize on the excitement and energy of a new beginning; a fresh start. As parents, we are able to characterize this new normal as an opportunity.  Our support ensures that teens are successfully navigating the experience to ensure that they are learning, growing, and thriving.  


About the Author

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Dr. Jennifer Walsh Rurak, Ed.D is the District Vice President for Fusion's Northeast area. Previous to her regional role, she served as Head of School for Fusion Westchester. She earned her Doctor of Education degree with a concentration in Educational and Instructional Leadership from Northeastern University. Additionally, she has a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership/Administration and a Master of Science degree in Special Education both from Canisius College, as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Education and Exceptionalities from SUNY Cortland. Prior to joining Fusion Academy, Jennifer spent nine years as a school principal working in public school settings in New York State and taught at the middle school level prior to becoming an administrator. In addition, she has worked as an adjunct graduate professor in the Educational Leadership department at St. Lawrence University. When Jennifer is not working, she enjoys running, Pilates, and boating.

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