Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Provides Helpful Tips for Returning to School

For many students in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), this week marks the first time in a year they step back into the classroom. 

And while students and parents alike are looking forward to the return to in-person learning, a child and adolescent psychiatry expert at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt says they should expect some challenges.

“Returning to the classroom now is a much bigger deal than being out for the summer months and heading back to school in August,” said Edwin Williamson, MD, assistant professor of Psychiatry. “This is totally new and will take a bit of adjustment for everyone — students, teachers and parents. 

“This is a big deal because students have been out for a year.” 

Williamson said school administrators anticipated the possible impacts of restarting school, especially for grades 5 and 9. 

“For both of these groups either as new middle schoolers or high school freshman, it will be the first time they have set foot in the classroom. The schools are allowing for tours and additional orientation in the staggered return schedule for this group. Kudos to the school system for recognizing this.” 

There are a few things that help a child be successful at school including developing social skills, friendship networks and study skills. All have been disrupted and may look very different from when a student was last in the classroom or even from the online platform many have used over the past year, Williamson stressed. 

For the past year, the use of devices and internet have been integral for the vast number of learning environments during the pandemic. Stepping away from these tools during in-person learning may prove difficult as students, families and school personnel reacclimate to a typical/traditional school day. 

“Thousands of students will experience big changes like leaving their phones in lockers or backpacks, paying attention to a teacher and wearing a mask all day. 

“Students, parents and teachers will need to be prepared to manage some of their expectations and realize there will be some disappointments,” he said. 

For example, children thrive on social networking and it’s important to share with them that it might look different when they return to school, he said. There could be friend groups that have changed, evolved or no longer exist because families have chosen to either continue remote learning or moved to other schools, stressed Williamson. 

It’s important to remember that schedules will also be affected, noting that getting ready for class in the virtual world looks different from preparing to leave home and the travel time to school, he added.

“It takes a few weeks to adjust to a new routine,” said Williamson. “I would suggest that everyone have grace for themselves, that includes schools, teachers and the administrators as well as students and parents. Everyone is trying to figure it all out.” 

Williamson said the past year has been difficult for many students and this next step, while welcomed by many, will see its challenges as students re-establish themselves and schools work out protocols in this current environment.