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A New School Year: Together We Can

By Beth Ayn Stansfield, M.Ed.

Like years past, the school bell rings, the halls flood with students, and the school staff stand nearby prepared for a new year. I would imagine for most, there is either a feeling of excitement or trepidation or a little of both. Many factors contribute to making a successful school year, and with even the best intentions, factors beyond our control can bring on challenges. As a member of a school system for over thirty-five years, I am all too familiar with the ebb and flow; uncertainty is part of the school experience. There may be an additional layer that makes navigating this particular year a little different for some of you. It could be a life circumstance, a family situation, or a loved one’s mental and/or physical health.

I, too, can relate to this side of the coin. Not long ago, I found myself amid uncertainty, navigating a school year with a daughter who had been diagnosed with a debilitating anxiety disorder and an eating disorder. Our world came to a complete halt; priorities shifted. Initially, much of her school time and extra-curricular activities were replaced with appointments. Her school team served as an adjunct to homebound instruction. Little to no contact with school friends became the norm. Our world had been turned upside down. Fortunately, my daughter returned to school and to her friends with time and care, but not without some adjustments. Recovery became the priority; structured meals and schedules and individualized expectations were the order of the day.

I had not realized what a” toxic recovery culture” we live in up to this time. Goals seem to center around “do more, get more, be more,” making it difficult for our kids who are moving through recovery. And, make no mistake, collaborating with a school system can be a daunting task, even for someone who served in a leadership position for years. I had to connect with departments and school professionals unfamiliar to me and provide them with a great deal of education specific to my daughter’s needs. However, with the guidance and support of my daughter’s treatment team, along with the necessary collaboration with her school team, we were able to forge ahead.

Realizing that we all come at this from varied educational settings and that our loved ones are in different stages of recovery, we can all take steps to elicit support from the school professionals who serve as loco parentis during the school day.

Getting Started

  • Connect with your school division’s parent resource center and/or coordinator. Use this resource to better understand 504 plans, Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs), and/or any other resource options.  
  • Request that the parent resource coordinator or your school system’s mental health representative attend meetings as an advocate for you and your child if needed.
  • Make copies and prepare to share your child’s medical records and reports, and letters of recommendation from your treatment team with your child’s school team.
  • Prepare in advance a list of your recommended accommodations to assist in your child’s academic success and access to the learning environment. Collaboration is the name of the game.
  • Create a list of resources specific to your child’s diagnosis to share with your child’s school team. Include easy to access webinars, podcasts, and articles. 
  • Easy and quick is the preferred mode of learning when time is limited. Educators are wearing many hats.
  • Schedule a meeting with your child’s school team (school counselor, school nurse, health/pe instructor, grade level team leader) to discuss appropriate accommodations. 
  • Keep notes for future reference.
  • Before any meeting, engage your child in a discussion about their needs and how they feel they can be best supported, if appropriate. In the higher grades, your child will be encouraged to participate.

Ongoing Support

  • Keep in mind that “structure is good, and balance is best.” Make this your mantra throughout the school year as you continue to advocate for your child.
  • After the initial meeting with the school team, schedule bi-weekly calls with your agreed-upon school contact. Keep notes for future reference.
  • Be mindful of the daily demands placed on your child so that your family can adjust and practice flexibility around school expectations. Rest is an integral part of recovery.
  • Monitor your child’s behavior closely, noting any unusual changes that may indicate a slip or lapse. Immediately alert your treatment team to these changes.
  • Remain calm, confident, and compassionate with your interactions as you collaborate with the school professionals. Your child will draw strength from your example and be more likely to trust the process.

Recovery takes time and commitment on everyone’s part. Although this is challenging for us as caregivers and educators, our efforts pale in comparison to what our children must do each day to make recovery happen. Together we can make it through this school year.

We’ve done hard things before. Yes! We can do this!

Written by

Beth Ayn Stansfield, M.Ed.

Beth Ayn Stansfield, M.Ed. brings a unique skill-set to her role as the National Family Advocate. She has worked with educators, students and families for over thirty-five years as an edu...