RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Now that many parents across North Carolina will be deciding whether to send their child back into their classrooms this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be wondering what toll that will take on your student.
Eyewitness News talked with the experts who are providing tips on preparing your family for the transition into what will be a very different school experience from years past.
"There's a lot that parents can be doing now to help prepare their students for the return to the classroom," said Dr. Charlene Wong, Asst. Prof. of Pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week, school districts can move forward with Plan B, a mixture of both in-person and remote learning, while giving them the option to open under Plan C, fully remote learning if it's best for them.
Under Plan B, all North Carolina students, K-12, along with teachers and staff, will be required to wear face masks, social distance, and undergo symptom screenings among other things.
Wong said she was pleased with the governor's decision to allow for in-person learning this fall, should local leaders feel it's a safe option if their district is experiencing a lower rate of community spread of the virus.
"In areas where the rates are lower, I think opening schools for in-person learning is a really fantastic opportunity to support the health and wellbeing of children and also for our families who need to be able to go to work to help restart the economy and have income," Wong said.
So what can you be doing now to prepare your child for going back to school next month?
Wong offers three tips:
1. MODEL THE BEHAVIOR EXPECTED OF YOUR CHILD
"I think the most important thing parents can do is to model themselves the behaviors that we wish the children to also adopt while they're in school," Wong said.
Start wearing your own face covering, practice physical distancing from other people, and model frequent handwashing.
Wong said seeing their parent doing these things consistently at home and when they leave the house will encourage them to follow the same behaviors when they're in the school setting.
2. TALK THROUGH THE NEW EXPECTATIONS
"The second is just to talk with their child about what's going to be expected for them when they return to school," Wong said. "Have conversations about how returning to school this year will look different."
For middle and high school students who have more independence, Wong suggests empowering those students to think about strategies they'll use to follow the guidelines and encourage their peers to do so as well.
3. USE CREATIVE, CHILD-FRIENDLY MATERIALS TO EXPLAIN THE COMING CHANGES
Wong said her final piece of advice is more geared to school leaders and public health officials to disseminate creative and child-friendly material to explain what the coronavirus is, how it's spread, and what they can do to slow the spread.
BRACING FOR THE CHALLENGES
Wong pointed out how, since the abrupt school closures in March, children have been profoundly affected by the pandemic, saying data show learning losses have been greater among poorer, rural, and children of color.
"Particularly in Kindergarten and first grade, a lot of the learning is the social-emotional development, which is just not possible in remote learning," said Wong.
While Wong, the mother of a 5-year-old daughter who is going into Kindergarten this fall, supports getting the youngest learners back in the classroom, she acknowledges the feasibility of the strategies to slow the spread of the virus in schools is going to be hardest for that age group.
As for students who will be learning remote full-time, Wong hopes schools will allow for extra online time between teachers and their students to better foster connections, in addition to one-on-one sessions between a teacher and their students.
"My hope is that now, with a little bit more runway for planning, there is going to be more robust remote learning teaching that's going to be happening in this upcoming school year compared to when all of a sudden, everyone had to figure out how to remote teach basically overnight."
And parents: don't forget about you!
"It's really important that parents ensure that their mental health, physical health, and wellbeing is well cared for so they can care for their children," Wong said.
Carve out time to take care of your personal needs, build up that support system around you, and then expect the unexpected disruptions Wong said are sure to come when school reopen in August.
"Even if you start sending your child back to school in person, it is very likely that certain schools will need to either reclose or your child might be exposed to someone in their classroom who has COVID-19 upon which they would need to quarantine at home for two weeks," she said.