Your First Assignment - Tips for School
Vacations, sleeping in late, and endless play are coming to an end as parents try to transition their children from summer fun to the scheduled routine of a new school year. Like any kind of change, it can be uncomfortable and take a while to adjust. Here are a few tips that could help you as a foster parent to prepare your children for school.
1. BUILD EXCITEMENT AND PREPARE YOUR CHILDREN
Each school year brings new opportunities for learning and trying new things. Build positivity in your kids as you discuss the chances for fun and exciting memories that this new school year can bring. Talk to your children about the possibilities and work together to find afterschool and during school programs that interest them. Get them excited about being involved with their peers and encourage them to try new things. Explain the reward they will gain by joining a team or a club, and if they are older children, mention how great it will look on their college applications! With younger students, make sure they know their name, address, and phone number. If your children ride a bus, make sure they know their bus number. Discuss safe rides with any age child and make sure they know who it is safe to ride with.
2. SLEEP IS KEY
Children can only thrive when they have had enough sleep. It can take some time, but sending your children to bed early is your best bet for a productive day. Helping children learn their bedtime and stick to it is crucial for growth, development and learning as the right amount of rest can give the body what it needs to function properly.
3. GIVE VOICE
Let your children be involved with preparing for school each day whether it’s letting them pick out their clothes, hairstyle, or what goes in their lunch box. When children exercise their independence, it drives them towards growth and maturity. Giving children different choices gives them a voice and it lets them know that their opinions matter! In addition, if children have the chance to make decisions about what they wear or eat, they are more likely to enjoy it! Start with setting boundaries so your children know from the start that their choices must be healthy and within school policy.
4. DO SOME RESEARCH AND GET ORGANIZED
Just as your children will have homework in the coming weeks, this is the time for you to do yours as a parent. As you are learning about programs that your children’s school will offer, look and ask for programs that foster children, specifically, are eligible for. Children in State custody are eligible for free meals and some school fees may be waived. Take time to look at the school calendar, especially vacation, testing, and report card days. If you have high school age students, make sure you understand the school system’s graduation requirements. Be proactive and assess any hurdles that your foster children could potential face and figure out a game plan. Be prepared for sensitive topics like papers on family history, heritage, or “all about me” projects that children might be ashamed of or simply might not know. Arrange monthly meetings with teachers, if needed, and stay as involved as you can. If you are available, join the PTO to stay up to date and maintain your connections with other resources.
5. TALK TO TEACHERS AND STAFF
Be proactive about your children’s school experience and reach out to the teachers, principals, counselors, and other staff that your children will come in contact with. Set up meetings, send an email, or make a phone call to discuss your children’s strengths and needs. Let the teacher(s) know your involvement in your children’s life and any challenges that may affect the children’s success in their classroom. A huge part of foster care is confidentiality so know beforehand what personal information you can share with the school. Share only information the school needs to best serve the children- you don’t want the children’s family problems to become gossip. Find out if the teachers have on-line means of communicating homework or class activities. Establish personal relationships, don’t be a stranger to school, and keep communication even when there is no problem. If you believe the school will not listen or that your child’s rights are being violated, contact your case worker for advice and/or assistance.
LOOKING FOR ADDITIONAL ADVICE? Read below to hear what advice other foster parents recommend from personal experience!
“It helps once you are a familiar face at school. I usually e-mail the principal and counselor once I know I am getting a child who will enroll at their school. If older, I request that the school make last period an elective to aid in missing less school with visits; I request to DHR that they pick up at the elective time or outside of school hours.
I often end up talking with the nurse a lot too, either for actual medical reasons or children who "cry wolf". Sometimes the kids are used to missing a lot of school so staying at school unless sick enough per school policy to be home is a change.
Schools in Alabama use a computerized system where information pulls over from any school in the state. I ask them to tell me who's on the contact list to make sure it is all people connected to their current home. Sometimes you will end up with lists of people from family or previous foster home. (Sometimes school says they can't delete the previous contacts since custody change is temporary vs permanent -- if so, ask them to post an "alert" on the account, telling them who to contact first.) I ask them to post an alert on the accounts saying if anyone other than me, DHR staff with ID, or people on the contact list try to see or check out the student, to call me and the caseworker.
Once I know who the teacher will be, I contact the teacher(s) to let them know I am the contact person for the child and to let me know if child needs anything at school. I mention if the child has an IEP coming from another school, visits every Tuesday, how the child will be getting home if elementary, etc. I recommend being careful to share nothing about why they came into care or about the case. Stick to academic needs and current behavioral functioning. I have heard of children being removed from foster homes in our local area within the past few years due to confidentiality violations with schools.
I usually talk to the child about how/if to share where they live with their peers and make it clear I am happy for them to be involved in school sports/clubs if interested. (I usually require one extracurricular activity per semester, maybe 2 as maximum, but not necessarily through school.)
If the school feels more information is needed, I refer to caseworker and GAL, who are authorized to share such information. (If GAL/caseworker tell me to share, I get everything in writing including their approval to what I wrote in advance.)
Even though I am a teacher, I try my best to "let school handle school," and stick to parent role with the kids at home. They need to build a relationship with me as mom in order to be successful in my home, which will lead to more consistency in school. I do make sure appropriate materials, access to tutors, and quiet time for study is available if needed. I also advocate for services that might benefit them at school (504, special ed, speech, etc).”
- Foster Parent since 2015
"For Huntsville City Schools [HCS], iNow is invaluable. You have to call the school and ask them to make a parent account for you. Please note that teachers aren't consistent in uploading grades and may have things marked as a zero until they are graded. At the beginning of the year, talk to teachers about their policies for make-up work/test. Give them a heads up when your child will be missing, and be proactive on getting assignments. Most teachers require the students to send an email to them to let them know when a make-up assignment has been submitted.
Keep emailing the teachers throughout the year to ask for suggestions for improvement for your child. This can let you check in on your child's progress and better identify the source of any poor grades. Unless you have a really great teacher, you will not receive any information unless you explicitly ask for it. Every child who says that a different language is spoken in the home during registration is tested for ESL. Make sure the school talks to you about the results.
Don't expect 100% effort from your kid from the start. There may be maladaptive attitudes toward school that will have to be addressed. Meet them where they are and celebrate improvements rather than criticizing their shortcomings.
Here's a list of the minimal paperwork you need to turn in to the school: birth certificate, social security card, placement letter, two proofs of residence (mortgage bill, utility bill, cable bill, etc). If you are struggling to get the first three from the social worker, your child can still be enrolled as "provisionally enrolled" and can attend school while you wait for the paperwork.
If you are transferring a child in the middle of the year, meet with the principal or associate principal asap to ensure that there are transition standards in place or that you can agree to steps to make sure your child doesn't fall behind right from the start.
All HCS students receive a laptop for schoolwork. Make sure they understand how to use it and take care of it. Also ensure that the school trains them on how to use all of the online systems and submit assignments.
-Foster Parent since 2018