Experts offer advice for successful return to in-person learning

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Ngoc Tran is a mother of three preparing to send her kids back to school.

She is looking forward to a slight return to normalcy and getting a break from the kitchen.

"I won't be cooking all day long," Tran said. "I am spending a lot of time and money, feeding three hungry, growing kids."

Her children are heading back to three different Wake County schools on March 1.

"It'll be the morning crush, getting people fed, getting lunches packed. It'll be an interesting adjustment," Tran said.

Daughter Liliane is embarking on her high school career at Enloe.

"I'm kind of nervous because I don't know how it's gonna go and how it's gonna be switching from virtual to in-person and then back again every couple of weeks," said Liliane DeMarco.

Her older brother, Nate, is excited to return to Athens Drive High School.

"I like schooling at school a lot better," Nate DeMarco said. "It's the environment, it's better to focus, and for the social interactions."

Younger brother Jake went back to school briefly last semester at Ligon Middle School, and he has been telling the rest of the family what to expect.

"It's tricky and you definitely take adjusting to, because the first day I was weirded out," Jake DeMarco said. "I got new classes and stuff and there's new kids and you don't really know who those new kids are."

Experts say children and parents should expect some challenges in making the transition from remote learning to in-person instruction.

"Things are not the same as they used to be," said Laura Tierney of The Social Institute in Durham. "Students have one-way hallways, they have socially distant lunches, there's smaller classrooms and I think for students it's getting in the right mindset and setting up the right routine."

Tierney's organization partners with schools to help students with social-emotional health.

She recommends families discuss a plan for the return to the classroom.

"I think for families right now, one of the best things that you could do is think five steps ahead of the play, plan ahead as much as you can and game plan what your morning might look like, your school routines what might they look like, and for younger students even consider doing a run-through, so they're best prepped for whatever routine they might face."

Tierney said she believes it is normal for children to feel anxiety about the change.

"Whenever we're going through something for the first time, there's always worries about what that might be like. The more that students can flip the script and try to find the positives in going back and see the silver linings in this situation, I think it helps be ready for whatever you're going to face in and outside the classroom," Tierney said.

The pivot from remote learning to classroom instruction will also be a transition for educators.

"I've had informal conversations with teachers and they cannot wait," said Dr. Patricia Hilliard of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University. "This is what they do for a living. They cannot wait to teach their students."

Hilliard coaches teachers to more effective in the classroom and she has advice for families.

"Communicate with the school as to what is working and what is not working," said Hilliard. "One of the great advantages of us going to remote learning is it really gave parents a chance to see what's happening inside the school because the school was their dining room, it was their living room, it was their den, so they really got a chance to interact more with the teachers with the administrators in the school."

Tran and her kids are keeping an open mind about the return to the classroom and they understand flexibility will be the key.

"It'll just be kind of a watch and see, play it by ear, be cautious, but optimistic because we all want to get back to normal life," said Tran. "I will miss them, but you know, not terribly enough to not want them back in school."
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