As the summer ends, many students feel unhappy in returning to school. This is particularly true for students of color, and Black students especially.

Black students face higher rates of exclusionary discipline, 13.46 percent of Black students faced an out-of-school suspension compared to 3.5 percent of white students, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found. Exclusionary discipline contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline and the recurrence of incidents with students previously disciplined. Though suspension is often seen as a last resort, racial disparity is still pervasive.

But these issues, while they do have material influence and are necessary to change, there are people on the ground doing the work of making students not dread school, and feel welcome in their school communities. This work is largely done by school counselors and teachers.

Feeling welcome in school often comes down to relationships.

“The key to working with and helping kids is building a relationship,” Beth Lucas, a school counselor at Lime Kiln Middle School, said to us, “this can be difficult to do with kids who have a negative attitude towards school… That being said, it does not mean we give up.”

Studies show that students with behavioral or learning problems face more difficulties in school, but the building of a close student-teacher relationship for struggling students makes school time easier. A study in the Journal of School Psychology states that “children with developmental vulnerabilities and a close teacher relationship were significantly advantaged relative to similarly affected peers.”

In-school programs also assist in supporting students and shifting their attitudes. “Programs that focus on the whole kid and building relationships are the way to go,” Lucas states. But often, governments cut back the budget for these programs. Extra-curricular activities assist in building relationships, and often offer academic incentive to students who distance themselves from their school community.

Classroom activities structured to build problem solving and social skills benefit students drastically. This education supplants many of the social woes students may experience later on in school. But still, students will struggle, and parents are key to understanding and supporting their children.

Parent involvement in the school community is a pertinent need in many schools. Especially in lower-income areas, the involvement of parents becomes difficult as parents (in general) do not always have ample time to participate. But there are still many things parents can do to benefit their children in schools.

“Parents and families can help their children by talking to them every day, and taking an interest in what they are doing,” Lucas told us. Parental involvement is pivotal to children learning that their time in school is valued and important. Further, students are often given more support when parents are there to push their children to advocate themselves.

Addressing behavioral issues is far easier when parents are involved. Parents are the first people to have a relationship with their child — so, parents listening to what their child says, remembering how it felt to be in school, and getting involved are necessary steps to decrease the likelihood of students acting out.

Shifting a student’s attitude is most effective when other students are involved. The shift from feeling unwelcome to feeling at home in a school community benefits students — but to assure healthy school experiences, parent and students must value and forge a relationship with teachers and counselors.

But we must remember, overworking school counselors and teachers does not benefit students. Officials need to value school systems. Students suffer most, and thus, dread school the most, when their needs aren’t being met. This is at the root of many issues students have with school. The lack of programs, materials, and attention in overcrowded and underfunded schools lead to the issues in communities, especially for Black students. When communities are supported — not merely schools — students and parents benefit.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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