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Stanislaus County students? Heading to a new school? Here are some tips.

Starting school can draw mixed emotions from the thousands of Modesto-area students heading to the first day of school next week.

Some kids are excited to see friends, join a sports team or learn new subjects, while others are disappointed to lose the freedom of summer.

However, making big changes, such as the jump into kindergarten, middle school or high school can fuel anxiety.

“I don’t wanna go to kindergarten, ‘cause I don’t know how to read the letters,” said 5-year-old Andrew, appearing heartbroken about his missing skills. Andrew and his family were shopping for new school shoes in Kohl’s in Modesto.

“It’s not the (Kindergarten) that you used to know,” said Jennifer Hunt, “It’s an academic grade now and it takes a village.”

Hunt is a veteran kindergarten teacher at Fremont Elementary School and she encourages parents to be actively involved with their children’s classroom.

This is the first year for all-day kindergarten (and also transitional kindergarten) in Modesto City Schools. During teacher orientation Tuesday at James Enochs High School, educators emphasized the importance of parents’ involvement, attendance and students being well-rested for school.

“I want parents and kids to know that they will be in a safe environment,” said Maria Galvan, kindergarten teacher at Fairview Elementary School. She’s excited to shepherd her new students into a “fantastic future.”

Teachers, pediatricians and child development experts have some suggestions to help alleviate some of the stress for kids and parents.

  • First Day of Kindergarten

Read children’s books with the child about starting kindergarten.

Before school starts, taking your child and a friend to play on the school playground may temper some fears.

Have a mock first day — get up early, get dressed in school clothes, and visit the new school. Take pictures of the classroom to help it feel familiar.

If possible, have the kindergartner meet his/her new teacher before school starts.

Starting middle school

Middle school is a time of big changes, including a new school, physical changes with puberty and for some pre-teens, it may be the first time that parents aren’t present in the classroom.

“I don’t want to go back to school,” said 12-year-old Gavin from Ripon, when shopping for school supplies with his mother at Target in Modesto. He is starting sixth grade at Ripon Christian Elementary School and already is dreading homework.

Teachers know that some kids, and parents, don’t like homework, but there’s more to learn than time in the classroom.

“Parents should have high expectations. We do!,” said Jon Poggi, a sixth grade teacher at Beard Elementary School. He also wants parents and kids to know that attendance is critical for success. He said “Kids are sponges and they’ll soak up the information, but they gotta be in class.”

  • Tips for Transitioning to Middle School

For middle school (as well as high school students), parents can sit with them and have a virtual visit by checking out the school’s Internet resources such as the website, student newspaper and social media sites.

Help your child develop organizational skills, such as keeping a planner, color-coding folders for different classes and maintaining a homework routine.

Middle school is one of the most common age groups for bullying, so discussing it is important. Teach children to not be a bully and what to do if they are bullied.

Kids of all ages need to learn about cyber safety, including appropriate behavior online, safe Internet searching and content to report to an adult. Many local schools have curriculum about digital citizenship, but the messages need to be reinforced at home,

Starting high school

“I’m looking forward to passing with a high GPA,” said Jesus. He’s Andrew’s big brother and he’s starting 10th grade at Modesto High School. His only fear for high school is not doing well.

By the time teens start high school, they are experienced students but the academic demands of high school are more intense. Ninth grade means a new school, increased independence and more options for classes and after-school activities — all of which can be overwhelming.

“Eat dinner together, and talk about school,” said Jennifer McGrath. She is an elementary school teacher and emphasized that talking with kids of all ages is important for their success.

  • Tips for Starting High School

Remind teens that they are capable of handling new schools — they’ve done it before.

Encourage students to write down goals, academic and personal, for the year.

Speak positively about high school and help teens identify their strengths for mastering the challenges.

Avoid over-scheduling a teen. Having free time and exercise are part of a healthy lifestyle and helps them perform better academically.

  • Tips for Helping All Students Prepare for School

It’s not easy, but adults should keep their own worries in check. Kids can sense a parent’s anxiety.

Encourage kids to talk about their feelings, both the excitement and worries.

Parents and caregivers should use positive language about school.

Caregivers can remind their children that they’re not alone — other students are likely having the same worries.

To help decrease morning struggles, start adjusting a child’s bedtime about one week before school starts.

As much as schedules permit, parents and caregivers should participate in back-to-school programs, such as orientation and parents’ night.

Parents do not need to wait for classes to reconvene to talk to teachers or school staff about their concerns. School staff often return to school one to two weeks before classes start.

Maintaining nutritious diet is essential for kids of all ages to be ready to learn.

Ensure that backpacks do not weigh more than 10-20% of the child’s body weight. Backpack should have wide padded shoulder straps and both straps should be used by kids. The bottom of the backpack should sit at the child’s waist.

  • Actions if anxiety is taking over your child

Unfamiliar situations, such as a new school, can make children and teens feel anxious. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that If a child seems nervous, try talking with them. Ask what they are worried about and help them identify steps to master the situation.

However, child psychologists note that many kids have a hard time recognizing when they’re anxious and putting those feelings into words. Observing their behavior can give clues — are they having trouble sleeping, changes in eating habits, withdrawing or acting out? Anxiety can make a child feel physically ill. Headaches and stomach aches are common complaints rooted in anxiety.

If anxiety about school persists after a month, professional help may be indicated. The school psychologist or the family’s doctor can help connect the child to counseling.

Some families are all set for the new year — supplies are on hand, vaccines are up-to-date and the kids are excited.

This story was produced with financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.

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ChrisAnna Mink is pediatrician and health reporter for The Modesto Bee. She covers children’s health in Stanislaus County and the Central Valley. Her position is funded through the financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with The GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of her work.
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