Wake County school leaders discuss changes, routines, counseling services as students prepare to return

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As Wake County students prepare to return to the classroom, district officials are encouraging parents to prepare them for a different environment than the one they left in March.

"What parents can help us with this week is that different is okay. It's okay that it's not going to look the same. They can still have a really great experience when they return to school," said Crystal Reardon, the director of counseling for WCPSS.

Wake County Public School System elementary students will begin to return on a rotating basis beginning Monday, October 26, with middle school students following on November 9. However, since not all students have opted to return, classrooms and hallways will be missing familiar faces.

"The physical space will be different when they return next week. There won't be as many of their friends present when they return to the building. They won't be able to run up and hug their teacher like they might have done in the past," Reardon said.

Students will be required to undergo health screenings at home prior to riding on the bus, and at school before entering the building. Masks are mandatory both on the bus and in school. For many students, this will be the first time they will need to wear masks in a learning environment.

"Parents can help us prepare for their students to return by allowing students to wear that face covering this week, even at times where they might not normally have a face covering on at home. It will help that they can practice, become used to wearing it as they talk, as they play, as they move around," said Reardon.

Returning to the classroom will also mean re-establishing routines that are not needed when students learn remotely.

"Bedtimes are ultimately going to be important for getting ready for an early start when they return to the building next week. As well as thinking about an appropriate wake-up time so students can get into the routine for the day. Managing a healthy breakfast, getting backpacks ready before they return to school," Reardon said.

All of the changes, on top of the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, can be overwhelming for students. Reardon highlighted the district's efforts in providing counseling services.

"(Students are) reaching out for different reasons now. They're reaching out for support for time management. Understanding how to better get work done in a virtual environment. Making sure that they're receiving the right kind of social support that they might feel like they're lacking in a virtual environment," explained Reardon.

There will likely be new challenges presented by the return to the classroom, as students get used to attending on a rotating basis.

"There are lots of challenges that students are facing. We're working with our staff to be prepared to address that when students to return to the building," said Reardon, adding that in-person counseling services are available to students returning to the classroom.

Virtual counseling services will also continue to be available for students who learn remotely.

"We've got access through our traditional learning platforms that we use (that's) the same as our classroom instruction and counselors and students can connect through those virtual platforms, as well as by phone with the parent permission," Reardon noted.
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