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There's more to getting ready for the new school year than registering for class and shopping for school supplies.

Starting a new routine, opening lines of communication with both schools and students and maintaining a positive attitude are keys to kicking off a successful school year, according to school officials across the Region.

Region schools begin opening their doors this week for the new school year.

"Start having conversations about how wonderful school is going to be. Establish that positive mindset," said Peggy Thomas, a 39-year educator and principal of Edgewood Elementary School in Michigan City.

"Tell them how proud you are of them. Talk to them about taking ownership of their learning and of being respectful of the rights and property of others," Thomas said.

Sherri Mitchell, director of curriculum and instruction at the School Town of Highland, agrees.

"The most important thing that parents can do is talk positively about the schools and teachers in front of their children," Mitchell said, adding that if parents have issues on the negative side, keep that for "adult talk" and speak directly with school officials out of earshot of their children.

Mitchell, a 25-year educator, said sharing information about their children with teachers, counselors or administrators before the school year is also important.

Mitchell advised if there is something going on at home that could impact a child's learning, let school officials or teachers know. That, she said, will help teachers understand if a child is having problems on the return to school.

Routines are a parent's best friend

Thomas also emphasized the need to start and maintain routines to keep a student's and parent's life running without a hitch.

There's little more frustrating than trying to find a missing shoe as the school bus driver is honking the horn.

Bedtime routines need to be established before the night before school starts. Both Thomas and Mitchell suggested gradually moving back a child's bedtime over the course of the week before school begins.

That includes anything from setting out the next day's clothing the night before to maintaining a specific place in the home to put backpacks and paperwork to setting guidelines for homework after school.

"Have a place at home. This is where the backpack goes. This is where the shoes go. This is where the paperwork from the school goes," Thomas said.

Thomas suggested parents and students have family meetings before the beginning of the year to establish the guidelines and routines, putting them in place before something goes wrong.

Mitchell said students should also practice things until they become a routine. For example, she said sixth-graders have to deal with combination lockers in middle school. Parents can buy a cheap combination lock at a dollar store and let them practice before the first day of school.

School safety should be discussed

That conversation also needs to include talks about school safety, said Mike Kellems, manager of safety and security for Duneland Schools.

"We may never be able to stop school shootings. One of the ways to mitigate shootings is if students share information with parents, teachers, a school resource officer or some other adult," Kellems said. "A part of the conversation parents should have is telling kids to tell. We can move more quickly when we get that information, but we have to get that information.

"We have to foster the feeling that anybody can tell us anything," he said.

Kellems said parents also need to know their school district's protocol in case there is an incident. During an incident, parents naturally flock to schools to see if their child is OK. Schools have reunification plans and locations in place. That's where they want parents to gather. The unification site would likely depend on the incident. Parents need to sign up for school communication avenues, such as all-district texting or telephoning and pay attention to legitimate social media sites for information.

He also suggests parents establish a "chain of command" of who would pick up a child if school is unexpectedly dismissed and the parent isn't available.

If a child asks about school safety, Kellems, a 32-year law enforcement veteran, advised parents "have to be very open, very honest with them. Don't sugarcoat it."

"You have to tell them to trust teachers, trust staff members, trust in the adults," he said, adding he often refers to a quote from Fred Rogers, which, paraphrased, tells youngsters to "look for the helpers" in a time of tragedy.

"That is fantastic advice," Kellems said.


Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.