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Principal Offers 7 Tips to Ease Into the School Year

Dr. Greg Taranto, principal of the Canonsburg Middle School stresses nutrition, routine.

With school right around the corner, it is time for students (and parents) to start getting ready for the new school year! The new school year officially starts on Monday, Aug. 27 for students in the .

Here are seven tips to help you get started off to a great school year:

1. Nutrition: With the hustle and bustle of today’s students’ lives, a solid nutritional base is more important than ever. This starts with a healthy breakfast. Some students may go four hours from the point they walk in the building before eating lunch. A balanced breakfast will give them the energy and focus to get through their morning routine. And speaking of routines…

2. Routine: Students thrive best when they have a routine during the school year. The family should sit down and establish a plan for their weekday responsibilities. A common calendar in the kitchen can serve as a great tool to organize schedules and responsibilities.

3. Homework: In your child’s routine should be an established time when he or she will be doing homework. Is it something that should be completed right after school? Or after dinner? Find a time that best works for the family and stick to it.

This sets an expectation that homework is a priority and needs to be completed. Also, don’t forget the “home” in homework. Homework is designed to give students independent practice after learning a skill that same day. It is not something that should be crammed in during homeroom or lunch the next day. For middle and secondary students, parents should expect some form of homework on a regular basis.

If you are not seeing it at home, then this could be a warning sign to call your child’s teachers.

4. Reading: Students of all ages should be reading. Reading for the brain does what exercise does for our muscles. It is necessary and associated with higher performance in academics. All students have access to libraries in their schools with a wealth of reading material.

At , our library media specialist does a great job promoting reading. Additionally, the community has access to a great public library at the

5. Organization: Students, in particular adolescents, can be quite disorganized. Often, this is not intentional in nature. The part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functioning. This part of the brain is rapidly growing and is not fully developed until the mid-20s for some individuals.

However, this does not mean that we simply excuse and enable students to be disorganized. It does mean that we work with them to help them build the skills necessary to train their brains to find organizational systems that work for them. Color-coded folders may work for one child while a binder system may work for another—trial and error is the answer to see what works best.

Canon-McMillan provides agendas for all children. Parents and students should use the agenda as a tool to help in the organizational process. For example, a parent can use PowerSchool, the district’s student information system, to access homework and test information to check what their child wrote in his or her agenda. By requiring the student to complete the agenda (not the teacher), the child will start to develop a sense of responsibility.

The parent can check up on whether or not it is completed by using PowerSchool as a back-up. I strongly recommend against the urge to solely use PowerSchool alone, as the child becomes passive in the process and loses out on building on his or her executive processing.

6. Digital Awareness: It is never too early to start promoting appropriate use of digital technologies.

First, establish set times and limits on using video games. All essential items come first (nutrition, sleep, exercise, homework, etc.). Also be aware of your child’s socialization in his or her digital world.

As cyber safety expert Bill Bond writes, “You don’t owe your kid an apology over seeing what they are doing on cyberspace. Kids in their socialization process will sometimes make stupid decisions.” If that stupid decision occurs online, it could haunt them for years.

Adults often misinterpret a child’s ability to use technology with understanding how to appropriately use it. As adults in their lives, we have the obligation to provide guidance not only in real life but also in their cyber lives. If your child has a Facebook account then you should be on the friends list. I still stick with my professional recommendation—which is no Facebook until ninth grade.

7. Sleep: Last but not least, we finalize our list with getting a good night’s rest. If your child’s grades are slipping, it should be the first thing that you adjust. It sounds simple but quite often something that is overlooked.

I hope these tips were helpful. On behalf of the entire Canon-McMillan educational community, we wish you a great start to the school year!

Editor's Note: Greg Taranto, Ph.D., is the principal of Canonsburg Middle School——and He also serves as an adjunct professor for California University of Pennsylvania’s Administrative Leadership Program.

As an educator and expert in middle-level education, Taranto works with a nationally recognized group of teachers who specialize in middle-level education.

His work has appeared in publications in the area of technology integration, adolescent learning, and best middle school practices.

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