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School systems across the country are looking to provide a balanced in-person learning experience for all students. COVID-19 prevented many students from participating in direct teacher instructions, peer-to-peer learning, and interaction. Data indicates that learning loss due to COVID has had a greater negative impact on people of color, low-income students, English Language Learners (ELL), and students with disabilities. 

Dr. Elizabeth Primas
Dr. Elizabeth Primas

In preparation for students returning to in-person learning, Federal funding provided states revenue to improve classroom environments. Specific improvement options included improved HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), and/or classroom filters. Schools have taken a close look at room organization to maximize space to allow for safe distancing for students and staff. However, the guidelines for safe distance between individuals has been removed.

Parents are preparing their children to ensure a safe return to in-person learning. The usual list of school supplies: paper, pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils, etc., has been expanded to include tissues, hand sanitizers, wipes, and properly fitted masks. On August 11, 2022, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dropped some recommendations. CDC removed the recommendation to keep students in cohorts. They changed recommendations regarding screen testing to focus on high-risk activities, such as in-door sports that requires close contacts between students breathing hard, like contact sports, band, and choir. CDC removed the recommendation to quarantine unless symptomatic, and recommended that individuals should wear a mask. Students will no longer be required to Test to Stay. Schools will provide directions on when to wear masks, All students that feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask, should be protected and allowed to wear masks. Students that live in a high-risk home (elderly parents, immunocompromised family members, or family members that cannot be vaccinated, like babies or pregnant mothers) should wear a mask to prevent transmitting of the virus to family members.

In addition to COVID-19 and its variants, parents must be concerned about the recent reappearance of Polio, a disease eradicated in the US since 1994. Many parents have opted not to take recommended vaccines, including that for polio. The CDC maintains the Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule. for most school districts, students need a back-to-school physical, which includes a review and update of general vaccinations based on age. Some waivers are allowed on an individual basis. The recent identification of polio further shows the importance of receiving and maintaining up-to-date immunizations.

Getting children ready for school goes beyond immunizations, and school supplies. Helping students prepare to learn includes ensuring that they get enough sleep (8-10 hours). That they have a healthy diet, which includes fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates, while limiting sugar, salt, and junk food, like sodas, chips, cookies, and candy.

Finally, the focus of school is learning. Education begins at home. Parents need to provide a well-lit, quiet area for students to study and do homework. Research indicates that having a home library with between 40 – 80 books, vastly improved success in both reading and math. Students between birth and 8 years old should be exposed to picture books, rhyming books, number books, nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Beyond having books in the home, parents need to read to their children daily for 15-20 minutes. for students 3rd grade and up, home libraries should have a variety of books covering topics in all content areas. Children will be more engaged in books that are interested in, even if they are above their reading levels. Many public libraries have programs that will provide free books monthly for children birth to 5 years old. In addition to free books through the public library, children birth to 5 years old, are also eligible to receive free books from the Dolly Parton Book Program. For students not eligible for free books, a public library card, allows students to check out books for free. Each city or state offers free library cards. However, New York Public Library has made their online collection available to anyone, regardless of where they live. 

Be prepared, enjoy your school year!

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