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  • My Best Back to School Tips

    I know it’s early compared to a lot of schools, but public schools in Los Angeles start the new school year tomorrow! I actually can’t believe it – it feels like the summer just flew by. But here I am, getting ready for yet another school year, and I thought I’d share my favorite tips.

    Back to School Tips | Chief Family Officer

    My best over-arching Back to School tip should come as no surprise: Plan and prep as much as possible ahead of time. This includes:

    • Label everything – Pretty much everything your child takes to school should have their name on it, including lunch boxes, backpacks, jackets, etc.
    • Pack those backpacks – Put the writing utensils, notebooks, folders, and other first-day-of-school supplies in your child’s backpack (with your child so he or she knows what’s in there).
    • Prep for lunch – If your child will be buying lunch at school, make sure there’s money in the account or that it’s paid for. If you’re making a lunch, pack as much as you can the night before and make sure what you need for the morning is available and accessible.
    • Prep any necessary paperwork – My kids come home with packets for me to fill out on the first day of school (I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I get the homework the first day). But some schools send paperwork home ahead of time, which you should definitely complete and have ready on the first day. And for my child with allergies, I have to leave medication with the nurse so I have the paperwork and medication ready to take to the office on the first day of school. If we have new staff in the office, I include a recent photo that they can leave with the medication (a tip I got from our former school nurse).
    • Lay out clothes the night before – This might apply more to you than your children, depending on what your kids are like. If your children are picky about their outfits or wear uniforms, make sure their first-day outfits are ready to go in the morning so as to avoid unnecessary delays.

    I also suggest having a discussion with your children about what to expect the first day of school, such as who their teacher is or might be, and where to meet at the end of the day. Depending on the circumstances, your child will need more or less detail. For instance, my older child is off to middle school this year so we’ve been talking a lot about staying organized, moving from classroom to classroom, transportation, and more. But my younger child is just moving up a grade in elementary school, so we’ve hardly talked at all.

    Another tip is to shop the loss leaders at back to school sales and stock up on supplies the kids will need throughout the school year (you can see the weekly deals here). When my kids tell me they need more pencils or a new spiral notebook, I love being able to raid the closet rather than having to drive to a store to pick up what they need. And the sale prices now are often 75% or more off of what you’ll pay the rest of the year.

    Finally, plan something fun for yourself, especially if you are a stay or work at home parent and the kids have been around a lot more during the summer than they are during the school year. Although it can be a relief to see the kids off to school, the house can also seem a bit lonely and empty that first week. It’s a great time to catch up with friends you were too busy to get together with during the summer!

    How to be a Good Room Parent

    How to Be A Good Room Parent | Chief Family Officer

    Volunteering to be the room parent for your child’s class is a great way to get involved at your child’s school. You’ll get to interact with your child’s teacher, other parents, and maybe even school staff. Your involvement can contribute to your child having a great school year. I’ve been the room parent for both of my children throughout their elementary years, and I’ve really enjoyed how my role helps their teachers, the other parents, and all of the children in each class.

    Your primary role as a room parent will vary according to the culture at your child’s school, so you’ll need to figure out what the expectations are for particular position. At my kids’ school, my main task is to help the teachers and PTA communicate with the other parents in the class.

    I recommend that you start by talking with your child’s teacher, as early in the school year as possible. Ask what he or she expects of you. What happens most often to me is that the teachers will email me or ask me in person to send out an email to the other parents. The message is usually about an upcoming event like a field trip, a noteworthy homework assignment, or a classroom or school need.

    One easy way to make sure all parents feel connected and involved is to create a class web site. Shutterfly has a free web site builder called “Share Sites” that makes creating a class web site incredibly easy. Just select a template, input the required information, and you’re done! You can use the class web site to create a calendar of events, share photos, post event sign ups (which is very handy for class parties), post homework assignments, and send an email blast to everyone. There are also ways to manage permissions so you can control who can send a group message. To collect the information you need to create the web site, have each family complete a form like this one (Word document).

    As a room parent, you’ll likely find yourself fielding questions from other parents regarding classroom events and activities such as homework and field trips, and school events and activities such as performances and fundraisers. To help the parents in your class stay informed (and to keep from having to answer the same questions repeatedly), consider sending out a regular email update. Ask your child’s teacher if he or she would be willing to draft a quick weekly newsletter to parents to let them know what’s coming up during the week, such as field trips, tests, and special events. Also, ask if the school and/or PTA can put out a regular newsletter with information for parents. Then all you have to do is forward these newsletters to the other parents via email and/or post them on the class web site, and everyone (including you!) can be well informed. Some teachers will refuse to do the newsletter, but any weekly update to parents about what’s going on at school will help them feel connected and involved.

    The most challenging part about being a room parent at my children’s school – and probably at most other schools – has been organizing class gifts for our teacher and the annual silent auction basket that each class must donate. These events usually involve collecting money, and since my kids attend a public school, every contribution is voluntary. Most families are great about contributing, but I’ve been finding as my oldest makes his way up the grades that participation has been falling off. According to my friends who’ve been involved in PTA fundraisers for years, it’s always been the trend that the highest percentage of participating families comes from the lower grades, so it’s not exactly a surprise. When the difficulty of fostering participation has deterred some friends at our school from wanting to be a room parent, I’ve suggested joining forces with another parent and becoming co-room parents so the burden doesn’t fall on just one set of shoulders.

    Finally, be sure to check in regularly throughout the school year with your child’s teacher. Many teachers hesitate to ask for assistance – they may not be used to having a room parent who is genuinely helpful, or they hate to impose, or maybe they’re just shy. But your desire to help throughout the year can be a huge factor in making your child’s teacher feel that the school year is going well. And that, in turn, will help to ensure that your child has a good school year. And after all, isn’t that why you’re volunteering as room parent?

    Original image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Witthaya Phonsawat.

    LAUSD: Maximizing Your Chances of Admission Through Open Enrollment

    Getting in via Open Enrollment - chieffamilyofficer.com

    What can you do if you want your child to attend an LAUSD school that’s not your “home school” or a magnet school, and you don’t qualify for any of the priority options like Public School Choice or Romero Open Enrollment?

    You can try to get your child in through Open Enrollment, by which a school will accept students who wish to attend if there is space available. I have friends whose children have gotten into schools with excellent reputations via Open Enrollment, so this process is a viable one. You will need to provide transportation for your child, and admission is not guaranteed.

    Because admission is not guaranteed, you should call the school you want your child to attend in mid-April to find out when you should contact them about applying via open enrollment. Most likely the date will be in May, but you want to make sure you’re high on the wait list to maximize your chances of getting in so call to make sure the date isn’t earlier. Note that some schools will not accept any students via open enrollment due to lack of space.

    In addition to calling the school, you should check www.lausd.net often beginning in mid-April to check if the list of schools with open enrollment availability has been posted. As soon as you see that list go live, give the school a call to see if or when you can apply for admission. Be prepared to go to the school in person, with your child, along with documentation the school may require (like your child’s birth certificate), in order to complete the application/enrollment process.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Supertrooper.

    LAUSD: Volunteering at Your Child’s School

    Volunteering at school - chieffamilyofficer.com

    LAUSD policy allows parents to volunteer at their child’s school, and most “good” schools encourage parents to volunteer – especially now, when budget cuts mean schools need all the help they can get. {And there’s a correlation between student achievement and parent involvement.}

    In order to volunteer, you’ll need to complete a School Volunteer Application, which requires some background info. I think this is less important when it comes to parents, but since anyone can volunteer at an LAUSD school, it does help to weed out anyone who might have a less than honorable purpose for volunteering. The application is not required for one-time activities, such as chaperoning a field trip.

    A negative TB test is also required within the six months prior to the volunteer period. However, TB test results are good for four years, so you won’t need to get one every school year.

    What can you do as a volunteer?

    Some teachers welcome parent assistance and will be thrilled that you’ve asked to help them – even if your child isn’t in their class! I know many teachers who love having a parent come in to read to the class on a weekly basis, and some teachers even have parents and grandparents of former students who read to their class weekly.

    The school’s administrative staff may be able to suggest other ways to help. At our, the PTA has a number of on-campus activities that could use more volunteers, including cleaning the cafeteria tables, supervising the kindergarten lunch period, staffing the library, gardening, and providing playground supervision during recess.

    The bottom line: If you want to volunteer, do it!

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Supertrooper.

    Make Homework Easier with Homework Caddies

    Homework Caddies - chieffamilyofficer.com

    When my boys are older, we’ll probably have to get desks and chairs so they can study in their rooms, but for now, they do their homework near me while I make dinner or work on my laptop. For years, we’ve had an area with homework supplies, including a mug standing in as a pencil holder on a bookcase, a tub full of crayons, another tub with glue sticks, and so on.

    But I got sick of watching my children – especially the youngest, who works the furthest away from the supplies but seems to need the most variety – constantly walking back and forth. So this school year, I’ve made the boys the homework caddies you see above. The caddies themselves were just $1 each at Target in The One Spot section, and each caddy contains:

    Mechanical pencils
    Colored pencils
    An eraser
    Glue sticks
    Pencil sharpener

    The only thing I deliberately left out was a pair of scissors, because I thought it would be too dangerous. {It would probably be fine, but just isn’t worth the risk.} I substantially pared down the color selection when it came to the crayons, but my kids really don’t need blue green and sea foam to do their homework.

    And, I accomplished my mission, as I no longer see my youngest walking back and forth from the supplies area to his homework area!

    Get off to a Good Start with Your Child’s New Teacher

    Good Start with New Teacher - chieffamilyofficer.com

    A new school year is often a scary time for our children, because they’re in a new class with a new teacher and probably at least some new classmates. It’s a new environment, with new rules and new expectations.

    But what about Mom and Dad? The start of a new school year can be a scary time for parents too, because we don’t know what’s in store for our children and there’s so much we can’t control.

    One of the best ways to ease your anxiety as a parent is to get off to a good start with your child’s teacher. Here are some tips to make that happen:

    Read everything your child’s teacher sends home. Especially at the beginning of the year, teachers send home a lot of information for parents. Be sure to read everything, even if it’s tedious, and even if it seems repetitive. Think about how frustrated you would be if you provided answers to the most common questions, but no one read them so you had to keep answering the same question over and over anyway.

    Keep an open mind about your child’s teacher. Regardless of what you may have heard about your child’s teacher – positive or negative – remember that a teacher’s relationship with every child is different. What your friend and her child may have experienced with a teacher may be the opposite of what another friend and her child experienced with the same teacher, and both of their experiences will differ from what you and your child will experience. In fact, I have friends who dislike a teacher as intensely as other friends like that same teacher!

    Have a chat. Sometime during the first week of school, make some time to have a chat with your child’s teacher. I usually just wait after class is dismissed, and then catch the teacher for a few minutes. If the teacher doesn’t open his or her door to parents during the first week of school (or if you work and rarely see your child’s teacher), send a note or email asking if you can meet one day before or after school. During the meeting, ask any questions you might have, and tell them anything you want them to know about your child. For example, one of my kids has food allergies, and I want to make sure his teacher knows that. Other friends have told me they talk with the teacher about their child’s legitimate need to use the bathroom more frequently than normal (something teachers discourage because it’s a distraction), and others simply discuss their child’s personality quirks. Be sure to ask if there’s anything the teacher would like you to do, or if there’s anything they need. At public schools in Los Angeles, parents are frequently asked to donate basic supplies like facial tissue, baby wipes, and antibacterial wipes for the classroom.

    Keep an open mind about your child and his or her abilities. Over the years, our children show some characteristics that don’t change. For example, some kids are chatty while some hate to raise their hand, and some kids work quickly while others work slowly. You may have some ideas about how best to help your child, and it’s great to share those ideas with your child’s teacher. At the same time, however, be aware that your child’s teacher may have some new ideas. Let your child’s teacher try “their way” first, before you get frustrated about how things are going.

    Be communicative and ask lots of questions. If your child’s teacher isn’t providing the information you want, ask for it. He or she may not realize that their communications aren’t sufficient, and you may have to ask specific, detailed questions in order to get the answers you want. For example, this past year, my older son’s teacher administered a timed math test on multiplication, but we didn’t really know anything about it until a note came home in May. All we knew at that point was that our son hadn’t passed, and we didn’t know what it would take to him to pass. So we met with his teacher for a few minutes one morning before school, and learned that the same test was administered over and over again, and that our son could bring the test home (why he didn’t do that on his own is one of the great mysteries of children). Once we understood the parameters of the test, we had him take the test multiple times at home and he passed within a few days.

    Be appreciative. Teaching is a hard job, and at times can feel thankless. Let your child’s teacher know that he or she is appreciated with a note, or a small gift like cookies or classroom supplies. Since my children attend a budget-strapped public school, I like to give classroom supplies like facial tissue, baby wipes, and even pens and copy paper. These are all inexpensive items, but they go a long way to making my children’s teachers feel that we’re all in this together, and that their hard work isn’t unnoticed.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by tor00722.