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How to make the return to school smooth

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of a new school year—unless you’re overwhelmed by all the back-to-school preparations and excitement.

Whether it’s being on time, dealing with first-day nerves or ensuring your student has a happy return to class, area teachers, parents and school officials share their tried-and-true back-to-school hacks for a smooth return to the classroom. .

Harrison’s Scott family always says goodbye to summer in a big way.

“We call it one last hurray before school starts,” said Amanda Scott, a busy mother of four.


Harrison’s Scott family (from left) Carter, Austin, Amanda, John and Brayden and Dawson (front)

The family chooses an activity like mini-golf, going to the movies, bowling or laser tag to say goodbye to summer and hello to school.

Her three sons are enrolled in middle and high school in the Highlands School District (her fourth child is 2).

Leechburg Area School District guidance counselor Corinne Links said stability and routine are at the top of the back-to-school list when it comes to the transition from summer to school.

“Try to stick with a plan as best you can to make the evening and morning stress-free,” Lynx said.

Lynx recommends that parents and students prepare as much as possible the night before school.


Joyce Hanz | Tribune-Review

Back-to-school supplies line the shelves at a store in Allegheny Township.

To make school mornings hassle-free, Lynx recommends picking out the next day’s clothes, charging laptops, packing lunches and preparing breakfast items.

“Put an ‘out the door’ checklist on the back of the door or refrigerator with important things to remember before leaving the house,” Lynx said.

Jen Zatko Atchison of New Kensington said if she didn’t have key organizational skills in place, she would never get out of the house on time during the school year.

“I always prepare the night before,” Atchison said.

Atchison’s three young children attend preschool and elementary school, and she has a shoe hack that keeps everyone laced up and on time in the morning:

“I have a shoe shelf, and the kids put it (shoes) on right away when they get home,” Atchison said.

Technology helps Atchison and her husband stay in sync with daily school and activity schedules.

“I like to use a shared calendar app to put all the million important things so we can both see what’s going on — because we’re all so busy,” Atchison said.

After school, Atchison has her kids immediately go through their backpacks and planners — turning in important papers and completing homework — before playing outside or pursuing other activities.

“Setting expectations for them ahead of time helps make the routine better,” Atchison said.

Amanda Ehrman of Gilpin includes her son Blake in the school lunchtime meal process.

“My hack is preparing lunch. Dinner is done the night before. We review the school’s monthly menu and if Blake likes what’s on the menu, he orders it. Otherwise, we get ideas together for packed lunches,” Ehrman said.

Traci Ramey of Murraysville had a two-step back-to-school plan for her three grown children, all graduates of Franklin Regional High School.

“The week before, we were walking the hallways — or as they got older, they walked the hallways by themselves to find their classes,” said Ramey, the Franklin Regional Schools director. “I never worried about him adjusting because his teachers always put him at ease, gave him grace and kindness. They all went above and beyond to make him feel welcome and did their best not to overwhelm him the first week.

Another way to avoid the jitters is to go on a family trip on the last day of summer vacation.

“The day before the first day of school, we always went to Ohiopyle to hike, slide, jump off ledges and get away from the chaos and anxiety of back to school,” Ramey said. “We made it all the way through his senior year. He was exhausted, slept well, and any jitters melted away with fun memories.

Bedtime routines often go out the window in the summer, so it’s a good idea to reestablish one as school time approaches, said Mindy Vickers of Hempfield.

“Start backing up bedtime, or if you don’t have a bedtime routine, start one,” said Vickers, a mother of three who teaches third grade at Fort Allen Elementary School in the Hempfield Area School District. “If you’re a sleeper-inner, you can gradually start getting up early.”

Getting enough sleep can be especially challenging for older students.

“The older they get, the sooner they wake up; But they get older, then they want to get up,” said Vickers, who has one child in college, one in high school and one in middle school.

A bedtime routine includes reading together before lights out.

“Kids love this time together and it’s okay to read to them even if they don’t know how to read,” she said.

Vickers recommends cutting back on screen time as school approaches. A family board game session is a great way for kids to get away from what they think they might be missing online.

Board games give kids practice in following rules, problem-solving and communication, all aspects of success in school, she said.

O’Hara mother Cheri Larick River is preparing to send her daughter Rosie, 5, to kindergarten in the Fox Chapel Area School District.

River is picking out jewelry and uses creative artistic means to keep in touch with Rosie at school.


Cheri Larick Rivers of O’Hara poses with daughter Rosie Rivers, 5.

For Rosie’s first day of kindergarten at Heartwood Elementary, River draws hearts on her and her daughter’s hands.

“When we think we’re going to miss each other, we push our hearts and we fill ourselves with imaginary hugs,” River said.

Additionally, River bought them matching friendship bracelets.

“When she feels lonely, she can touch her bracelet. And when I miss her, I tell her, I touch my bracelet. When we come home, we make our bracelets touch each other,” River said.

Lisa Bonello Brunermer of Leechburg taught preschool for 14 years at Kiddies Corner Nursery School in Apollo.

A mother of two, Brunermer said it’s important to engage students in the back-to-school process.

“Let the child choose his own school supplies and clothes,” Brunermer said. “Pick your battles. If they want to wear plaid and tie-dye, let them.

Visiting the school and meeting with teachers before school starts can help calm back-to-school nerves, Brunermer said.

She suggests that families start practicing “school night” routines a week before the actual start date of school.

Lastly, making sure kids are fueled for learning is an often overlooked aspect of a busy school morning.

“Make sure there’s time for breakfast,” Brunermer said.

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