Monday, August 18, 2014

10 Things That Rule about Back-to-School

1. Healthy + Delicious Food = Smart Kids. Good nutrition is vital for helping kids perform their best in school. Healthy meals give students the fuel they need for better concentration, alertness, creativity, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination. An article on the eXtension website, "3 Ways Nutrition Influences Student Learning Potential and School Performance," gives an overview of the importance of a balanced diet for school age children and its effect on academic outcomes. A great way to motivate your kids to eat right is to get them cooking in the kitchen with you. Download the free cookbook, Recipes for Healthy Kids, for 30 kid-approved meals. This cookbook was the result of a nationwide competition held in 2010. Two initiatives, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Team Nutrition and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move!, challenged students to create and submit recipes with dark green and orange vegetables, whole grains, dry beans and peas that were not only nutritious, but also tasty. In addition, kids, ages nine to 13 years old, can visit the “BAM! Body and Mind Food & Nutrition” webpage for games, quizzes and other interactive features, which make learning about smart food choices educational and fun.

2. Shopping, Savings and Donations. The National Retail Foundation estimates that families will spend an average of $670 this year for back-to-school items, including clothing, shoes, supplies and electronics. However, you can save money and help others when you shop at retail stores like Target, which donate items to students in need. Prior to shopping for school supplies, do some research and print coupons to get the best deals at stores like Staples, Walmart or K-mart. The Kids In Need Foundation’s School Ready Supplies program provides teachers from designated school districts with backpacks fully stocked with school supplies for students in elementary, middle and high school. Operation School Bell provides similar assistance to students in need, such as clothing, haircuts, books, and dental and vision care. Additionally, AdoptAClassroom.org allows teachers to register their classrooms online to receive donated supplies for the school year.

3. Move It, Move It. Physical education classes give students, even those with disabilities, the opportunity to escape their desks and be active during the school day. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504, physical education is required for children with disabilities, so they can develop physical and motor fitness skills. Classes can easily be adapted for students of all skill and ability levels at no additional cost. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) guides teachers through inclusive physical education, from assessing individual participation opportunities to thinking about group dynamics. For instance, a student with a disability could be partnered with a classmate, game boundaries made smaller and sports rules relaxed. The article, "Using Differentiated Instruction in Physical Education," guides teachers through setting up a physical education lesson plan, while providing examples of adjustments for students with disabilities.

4. A+ Checkups and Immunizations. August is the perfect time to have children and teenagers visit the doctor for a full health checkup. When at the doctor’s office, use this Back to School Check-up Checklist and ask about health issues most pertinent to the age of your child. Children in elementary school should have hearing, vision and allergy tests done, since these are all things that can impact their ability to concentrate. Without yearly checkups, these issues can often be misdiagnosed as learning impairments. In middle school, issues like poor diet and stress can have serious implications. For high school students, topics like sex education, drugs and alcohol can be difficult to discuss with parents, so talking to a medical professional can connect them to the resources they need to be safe and healthy. In addition, make sure children stay up-to-date on these recommended vaccines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as the tetanus or influenza shot.

5. Banish Bullying. The start of a new school year is an exciting time for kids, but the prospect of bullying can be a burden on both first-time and returning students. In particular, children with disabilities may be at a higher risk for bullying. The PACER Center provides many resources to help parents and teachers talk to children about bullying, such as fact sheets on how to help your child recognize the signs of bullying or how to notify a school about a bullying situation. Research your state laws and policies, so that you know what legal resources are available to address bullying. Lastly, be sure to show your support for campaigns like Band Together to Banish Bullying or Secret's Mean Stinks, and by participating in STOMP Out Bullying’s Blue Shirt Day October 6th.

6. Technology Tools That Rule! Technology can play an important part in helping children develop good learning skills, especially for those with learning disabilities. So along with new pencils and notebooks, technology tools should be added to your shopping list. The National Center for Learning Disabilities has a great list of technology ideas for students, parents, teachers and administrators to aid in back-to-school planning. “The Write Tools for ADHD Students,” an article from ADDitude Magazine that is geared towards adults and children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), highlights assistive technology tools, such as digital pens and software, as well as a list of free online tools to help kids with writing and spelling. Edutopia gives an “Assistive Technology: Resource Roundup” for parents and educators, which includes websites, blogs, videos and articles to help them determine the most beneficial assistive technology tools and accessible instructional materials for students.

7. Parent Supports and Resources. Parents of students with disabilities have access to a wide variety of online resources to help them support their children. “Services In School For Children With Special Needs: What Parents Need To Know,” gives an overview of laws related to special education, evaluations and involvement. An Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is developed between parents and the school, outlines the specialized education and accommodations needed to achieve the expected progress for students with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education links to a number of organizations related to special education and funds Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs). Parents whose children are entering higher education should look into financial aid to ensure their continued success in school. For post-secondary students with disabilities, the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transitions Center is an online clearinghouse of helpful educational resources and support services. Parents can also reach out to state and local organizations to receive peer support, as well as professional guidance.

8. Afterschool Childcare. A school’s hours of operation might not mesh with your family’s busy schedule, particularly because school days are shorter than the standard workday. Parents whose work hours conflict with their children’s school hours should consider afterschool childcare as a way of keeping their children entertained and safe. Organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, 4-H Council and community churches or recreation departments commonly offer childcare programs. The YMCA offers a School Age Child Care Program (SACC) for students before and after school. You can search online to “Find Your Y” and see if your child’s school offers a SACC program. The Afterschool Alliance provides parents with information on how to find an afterschool program. Furthermore, the organization instructs parents on which characteristics to look for in an afterschool program and what to do if one doesn't exist in your community.

9. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of students with disabilities in programs and activities that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education. This includes students with disabilities, ages 3-22, in public elementary and secondary schools, as well as those attending postsecondary colleges and universities. Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a "free appropriate public education" to each qualified student with a disability in its jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of a student's disability. A student must be determined to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities to be protected under Section 504.

Parents need to submit a written request to the school asking for an evaluation of their child's disability and its impact on learning or behavior. In addition, parents should request a copy of their school district's policies and procedures on Section 504 to understand the school's rights and responsibilities for providing accommodations for their child. If you believe that a school or school district has violated this law, you may file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) by contacting the nearest state/regional office. You may also call the OCR Hotline at 1-800-421-3481 or file a complaint using the OCR Online Complaint Form


10. Making Your Classroom Inclusive. Teachers preparing to accommodate students with disabilities may need to help other classmates assimilate. One approach is to begin the school year by explaining disabilities in general, since the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits a school from disclosing a student’s disability without the written consent of a parent or an eligible student. The Disability Awareness Activity Packet provides guidance for teachers on ways to discuss a variety of disabilities, as well as suggested activities that can help students without disabilities experience what it might be like to have one. The TeacherVision website offers a list of children's books about disabilities, categorized by reading level, which is sure to appeal to kids of all ages. Educators can also visit the Learning Disabilities Association of America online for support and resources. In addition, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has classroom strategies and tips for working with dyslexia, as well as checklists and worksheets to help you identify and manage a child's learning disability. 

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