Bittersweet Beginning for a New School Year

Summer stretches ahead with the promise of seemingly endless opportunities at the beginning of June. By August, I don’t know where the weeks have gone, and it’s almost time to gear up for school. This year, I’m dragging my feet toward the school start even slower than my son, and shopping for a time turner to tuck into his backpack. Selfishly, I want more days to spend with him before the bell. Summer evaporated into a busy schedule, and I feel almost cheated. My rising high school senior was gone for several weeks during break, tasting life on a college campus while I was left with an early empty nest, hanging onto any shred of information he shared.

Collin enjoyed being away from home and is ready for the next step. I can’t believe the year I’ve counted down to for the past few school starts is upon us. Almost without a doubt, I will snap only one more first-day-of-school photo, a tradition our family started many years ago to mark the passing of each school year and celebrate a new beginning. Last year’s picture deviated from our traditional front-stoop shot; Collin is climbing into the driver’s seat, keys in hand, another major milestone as momentous as a first school bus ride.

Many families have similar first-day traditions, and local parents share some of theirs. One combines the visual of a photo with the mementos of a scrapbook: Videotape a conversation where your child answers questions that show the passing of time and document the high points of the here-and-now.

Celebrating the start of each school year with a special activity is one way to set a positive, supportive tone, and can be fun for everyone, parents included. That’s important because a parent’s attitude is contagious. Being upbeat is just one of thesix steps for getting a new school year off to a good start. We also share tips for parents of children with special needs who are starting a new school year.

This year, schools face some additional challenges that make positive action by parents even more important. The North Carolina budget shrank – as budgets have for many families, organizations and government entities. Education, like other state expenditures, took a hit. School district leaders worked to minimize the impact on students, but hard choices were made, along with resulting cuts. We outline an overview of the N.C. education funding fallout as of press time for some of the largest school districts in the state.

Fortunately, teachers were spared in most cases, but in Wake County, for example, teacher assistants will face fewer hours and reduced pay. This means it’s even more important for parents to pitch in and help as schools add students and the competition for limited resources increases. Every little bit helps. And it helps the parent volunteer as much as the school.

By getting involved in any way possible, parents learn more about the school and opportunities available and meet the staff and other parents. Kids get the message that education is important when their parents make it a priority in their own lives. They also learn that pitching in to help makes a difference – whether it’s a long-term commitment, such as tutoring one day a week, or a one-time project, like helping at a special event or even cutting construction paper.

Parents find out important information when they network with other parents and teachers. If you’re the mother of a son, like me, you may discover it’s the best way to learn anything about what’s going on in the classroom and at school!

Crickett Gibbons, Carolina Parent, Editor