It’s that time of year again. School supplies are lining supermarket aisles, questions are swirling about in-school masking protocols, and families are wondering how they can best prepare for a new school year.
To get some answers for Black families beginning a new school year, the Black Information Network caught up with renown parental involvement and Black homeschooling expert Dr. Cheryl Fields-Smith, who is also a professor of education at the University of Georgia.
Whether students are loading on buses to get to school or logging on to get to online classrooms, here are some questions parents and guardians should consider as they prep for a new school year.
Keeping Kids Safe
The CDC has recommended students and teachers wear masks in schools. If you have young children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine, Fields-Smith said families should look up other ways to protect children, from after school hand washing routines to conversation starters around the pandemic and viruses, being in the know about best practices is a good move for families.
In districts that don’t allow schools to implement mask mandates, Fields-Smith, who is also a graduate of Hampton University, said parents who do want their child to wear a mask should explain why to their kids, on their level.
“Explain the why,” she said, noting that other kids may not have on a mask so having a conversation at home can be helpful.
Plans for the Worst
Though many districts are readying to open their doors for in-person learning, Fields-Smith said parents should ask school leaders how they plan to handle COVID-19 outbreaks.
She said parents can ask, “What are the plans to continue education should we have to shut down and go back online again?” to get a better understanding of protocols in place.
They can also ask about what type of professional development teachers received to prepare for the school year and enhance online learning experiences.
Other questions for parents include: What are the best ways to communicate with my child’s teacher? What are teacher’s homework policies and expectations?
Preparing for Success
Fields-Smith recommends parents pay close attention to the first progress report and note any changes on the report card that typically comes after. “Get on that. Don’t wait too long,” she said.
If your student has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or receives special education services, Fields-Smith said parents have the right to call a meeting at any time of the school year and should meet with educators “to get on the same page.”
A meeting at the beginning of the year will ensure teachers and paraprofessionals “look at those documents” and are able to collaborate with parents to outline “challenges, goals, and changes.”
If COVID-19 protocols allow, parents can volunteer in their child’s school or classroom to get an inside look at what’s going on in the building.
If a child struggled with online learning last year, Fields-Smith said preparing children and families for a virtual education experience will go a long way.
“I don’t think online learning is going to disappear,” she said. “I think it’s going to grow. Especially if we don’t get this [pandemic] under control,” so supporting a child and digging into resources now can make their experience and yours that much better.
Homeschooling as a Viable Option
Some parents may not want to bring their students back to in-person schooling, especially if they thrived with online learning.
Fields-Smith, a pioneer in researching homeschooling among Black families, says parents have options.
First, take a look at state laws, figure out what the requirements are for declaring your child a homeschool student, what state resources are available to you as a parent educator.
Search for Homeschool co-ops in your area. Fields-Smith has found that urban areas have plenty that you can partner with to homeschool your child. You can also connect with other parents who want to homeschool and form your own group and make instruction time work for your schedule.
Even if you don’t want to homeschool or it isn’t an option, being involved can take on a new form for families this school year.
“Consider your child’s interests and figure out how to align that with what they’re learning at home,” she said. “That’s the opportunity with homeschooling, you get to teach what’s not taught in schools.”
Regardless if your child is going to school in person, online, or are being homeschooled, Black families should teach kids local and family history and learn how Black Americans have overcome. "They're not going to teach that in schools," she said. "But kids should know how we've overcome adversity."
For High Schoolers
“We can’t do what we’ve always done, because times have changed,” she said, pointing to the economic fluctuations teens have witnessed in the last year alone.
Parents should, assess their teen’s strengths, weaknesses, goals, and interests and start talking to people who are in those fields.
“It’s really helpful for our youth to talk to people who are doing what they think they want to do.”
Homeschool parents she knows do it all the time, and say the experience can save money in the long run, particularly if the teen figures out they don’t want to pursue a career after talking to someone already in the field.
So your teen wants to be a pro athlete, model, or musician? Fields-Smith says you can encourage your students by researching jobs that support professional athletes, musicians, models, and other entertainers, and figuring out how they can break into the industry through their educational path.