In my 10 years as executive director of KASB, I have written many times about back to school. It is such an exciting time. Even those of us who had to buy our jeans in the Sears Husky Department looked forward to new school clothes, notebooks, and a full box of unbroken crayons. I wonder if those crayons still smell like they did 50 years ago?
The first day of school is exciting, but it can be scary too. Our family moved a lot when we were growing up. For a 10-year-old pudgy kid a new school is an intimidating thing. The fear of getting lost, not knowing anyone, new rules, bullies to navigate, and the general unknown were often unfounded but still very real in my anxious mind.
The demons I conjured in my active mind were real, scary, and seldom materialized. For many kids, the fears and demons are far beyond my limited experiences and are very real. Sure, I had to buy husky pants, but I knew I would have new back-to-school gear. So many of our kids don’t have basic school supplies, let alone the latest Toughskins fashions.
For many of our kids, back to school means they know there will be two meals that day, but it also means the unknown of a new school, new teachers, new classmates and wondering if they will be accepted for who they are. It means new struggles with academics and/or social and emotional issues. It means fear of being bullied or isolated, of dreading recess and lunch for fear of getting the wrong attention, or no attention.
The adults in our schools are so much more aware of the social, emotional, and academic needs of the students in their care.
As usual, Kansas leads the way in working to serve all students. Our State Board of Education has recognized that academic achievement is important, but not exclusive to student success. Kansans Can forces educators to look at the whole child.
Our state policymakers have provided funding to support staff and students, as well as policy support. The Dyslexia Task Force is charged with providing appropriate support to children who are challenged by dyslexia. The Mental Health Advisory Committee has developed standards for working with students social and emotional needs. Our districts are working with the Blue Ribbon Bullying Task Force to address this complicated societal problem. Kansans do not sit idly by and wait to be told how to help our children.
This is a reminder that an anxious child is not a learner. We need to be sure we pay attention to what is going on with our kids and be prepared to support them so they can learn. The first day of school is the second-best day of the year. Let’s make sure everyone has a great day this year, even if they have on old husky jeans and there are a few broken crayons in their box.