This school year: Ideas for the Worcester Public Schools and our students and families

By John Monfredo, retired principal of Belmont Community School and former grade 5 teacher at the ol’ Lamartine Street School – and former Worcester School Committee member!

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Mr. Monfredo, this summer. photo: R.T.

“To reach a child’s mind a teacher must capture his heart. Only if a child feels right can he think right.” – Dr. Haima Ginott

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Mr. and Mrs. Monfredo’s annual book drive puts books into the hands of hundreds of Worcester County kids! photo submitted.

School is back in session and, after being affected by COVID-19 for the past two years, our schools need to come back even better! Most important, parents are a child’s first and most influential teacher: they must be part of the learning process! Together with our educators, parents must be an important part of the solution in moving forward after the global pandemic.

According to researchers, learning loss due to the COVID pandemic is much greater than most educators and parents realized; assistance from the Federal Government and the State of Massachusetts needs to continue. There are funds out there to help, but the funding needs to be used in the most comprehensive way. Moving forward this school year will require that our educators look at the data, present funding parameters and meet the new needs of our students. Hopefully, the administration and Worcester School Committee members will assess the needs and use the money in the best way possible to help our students learn and grow.

Based on the research, school districts will need to expand their after-school activities and tutoring opportunities for students. They will need to make more of an effort to encourage parents to enroll their children in a variety of activities, ranging from after-school homework assistance to mental health counseling. Enrichment might also include learning to play a musical instrument, getting involved in art classes or projects or trying new phys-ed programs/sports. Students can also start a variety of clubs, such as pen pals, a school newspaper, a school video movie etc. Let’s hope that all school districts come out soon with their plans after meeting with parents and talking about how they intend to move forward this school year.

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Worcester, Highland Street: a dad walking his son to school, first week of school.

As for our teachers, it is so critical that from day one they begin to build a strong relationship with their students. As a former Worcester Public Schools elementary school teacher and principal, I know firsthand how important it is to reach out to all of your students and to find the opportunity to help each and every one of them – and their families. Make sure that each student feels important and knows that you care! I would recommend that teachers make the effort to contact parents early in the school year and establish a rapport with them – let them know you want them to be part of the learning process. Give them ideas as how they can assist their child at home. Again, that will vary from parent to parent.

Having been an educator in inner-city schools for decades, schools with a high level of poverty, I support what researchers have continued to state:

* That no matter what the parents income or background, students with involved parents earned higher grades and test scores, enrolled in higher level academic programs, attended school regularly, had better social skills, showed improved behavior, adapted well to school and graduated and went on to post-secondary education.

Even with very busy schedules, parents can make a real difference in their child’s education by encouraging them to talk about their school day and by listening to them explain the events, classes and people at their schools. Talking to your child about school sends a message that you value their education. Plus, the discussions provide an opportunity for children to use the language they are learning in school. It all starts with teachers making that important move in reaching out to parents and to continue doing so throughout the school year.

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Keep your kids reading!

So, parents, let’s look at your commitment this school year!

At home, parents need to set priorities at bedtime because a good night’s sleep is at the center of a healthy lifestyle and in your child getting off to a good start each school day. According to research, it’s essential that parents keep a bedtime routine, especially during school time. Another suggestion: an hour before bedtime, put away all electronic devices to help kids wind down – and use that time for reading before bed.

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The Worcester Public Library is a great place to check out children’s and teen books.

Parents need to develop good management practices for their children such as homework time and packing their backpacks before turning in and placing them outside their bedroom doors. Speaking of backpacks, parents need to retrieve them as soon as their children come home to get all those school papers out so you can sign permission slips and add appointments to the family calendar. Routines can be an important force in keeping everyone on the same track. Consider making a checklist for the simple tasks of who gets to use the bathroom first and what’s for breakfast!

Now for homework. Here are just a few strategies to consider:

* Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit place to do her homework.

* Try to avoid having your child do homework with the television on or in places with other distractions.

* Help your child with time management. Establish a set time each day for doing homework. Don’t let your child leave homework until just before bedtime.

* Think about using a weekend morning or afternoon for working on big projects, especially if the project involves getting together with classmates.

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The Worcester Historical Museum – another great learning resource for students – fun and interactive! Cool old Worcester photos! Great staff! And located in downtown Worcester at 30 Elm St.

* Be positive about homework. Tell your child how important school is. The attitude you express about homework will be the attitude your child acquires. When the teacher asks that you play a role in homework, do it. Cooperate with the teacher. It shows your child that school and home are a team. Follow the directions given by the teacher.

* Watch your child for signs of failure and frustration. Let your child take a short break if he/she is having trouble keeping his/her mind on an assignment.

* Reward progress in homework.
If your child has been successful in homework completion and is working hard, celebrate that success with a special event (e.g., a fun walk, a trip to the park or nature sanctuary) to reinforce the positive effort.

In addition, parents also need to make every effort to meet their child’s teacher early in the school year. Teachers are always excited about meeting their new students and their parents. It is always best to make an appointment to meet with your child’s teacher to introduce yourself and let them know that you are here to support your child’s learning.

Taking time to meet and introduce yourself and your child to the principal is also a way to let your child know other adults at the school are there to help.

Communicating with the school early on is a good idea, especially if your child has special needs or if your family may be going through difficult times such as divorce, an illness or death of a family member – or a recent or pending move. Keep that communication line open!

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Blackstone River Road: mom and daughter bundled up this winter day. CECELIA file photo.

Other ideas:

· Learn everything you can about your child’s school

· Review the school’s handbook and the district’s web site

Contact the teacher immediately if your child doesn’t understand an assignment or if you notice a change in your child’s behavior or school performance.

· Worth mentioning … participate in parent meetings and conferences and special events at the school. Do join the school’s parent organization!

Also, remember the importance of reading, for reading is a key to a successful school year. Here are some other tips to consider…

– Read to and with your child every day (including weekends).

– Make sure your child sees you reading regularly.

– Talk to your child about what you are each reading. In addition to keeping your child on track, regular reading activities with your child will help you spot any possible problems in plenty of time to work with teachers and prevent them from becoming serious. So practice day to day reading and include writing by having your child write in a journal about the day’s events. Be consistent and have this done perhaps before bedtime.

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Stay abreast of all that is WPS! Attend the weekly Worcester School Committee meetings at Worcester City Hall, or watch the policy-setting sessions and more on-line! Photo: R.T.

Best wishes for a great school year and should you need any advice – teachers or parents – please feel free to contact me at monfredoj@gmail.com.