As summer ends and the start of the school year nears, it is important that all parents, caregivers, and school personnel remind themselves of several back-to-school safety tips that will help ensure Pennsylvania’s children thrive in a positive school environment. This includes an awareness of your child’s transportation needs, in-school needs, and out-of-school behavior. We put together a few practical tips that may help your family.
Transportation is a small yet crucial part of the day. When applicable, be sure your child is accompanied to and from the school building with a trusted adult and have a plan in place for emergencies. If your child takes the school bus, ensure someone accompanies them to the bus stop—both at pickup and drop off. If you are unable to pick up your child and you do send a family member, friend, or babysitter, make sure you and your child have a safe word in place. A safe word should be unique to your and your child. Think of it like a password, and as a parent or caregiver, you should give it out sparingly to trusted adults. That way, if you do send a loved one, friend, or babysitter to pick your child up at school or the bus stop, this individual should tell your child what the safe word is—that will signal to your child that it is safe to go with them. Additionally, you should always tell your child ahead of time that you will not be able to pick them up, so they are not surprised or alarmed when their family member or babysitter does pick them up. Parents and school personnel should communicate about regular transportation plans and patterns, as well as extenuating circumstances.
Being safe at home is vitally important. If your child is of the age where they can stay home alone, remind them of the process for coming home. Consider using smart locks with customizable pins for each family member or using video doorbells with your security systems. If your family has a hidden key, talk to your child about the importance of using that only as a backup and to not tell anyone outside of your household where that key is located.
Sometimes behavior and personality changes occur. All parents and teachers should make an attempt to recognize behavior and personality changes in their children and students as the school year begins. A new year often means new classroom settings, new teachers, and new personalities coexisting together. Take notice if changing behavior seems detached, or if a child starts dressing differently, overreacts to incidents, demonstrates withdrawal, or has unexplained bruises or marks on the body. All school personnel should report any suspected signs of child abuse and neglect. All suspected incidents of abuse can be reported to ChildLine, which is available 24/7 at 1-800-932-0313. Parents should look for similar indicators of behavior or personality changes in your child to get a sense of how they are adapting to the new school year and classroom experience.
A new school year also means a new routine. For many children, schools will give out homework that requires they consistently use technology as part of the curriculum. Parents can stay up to date on what is expected of their children online by asking questions, offering to participate in online activities with your child, and staying in communication with the teacher. Teachers can help support online safety by checking the content of websites before assigning material and ensuring the district’s technology safety code and protocol are implemented and enabled on each student’s laptop if they receive equipment.
A new school year can be exciting and nerve-wracking for children, parents, and school personnel, especially as our society transitions out of the COVID-19 pandemic. It takes a village to support and raise children, and if we all play our part, we can help nurture children and ensure they have a safe and supportive environment to develop.