After nearly a year of distance learning, expert offers tips for transitioning back to classrooms

Many students who've been distance learning are excited to get back to the classrooms. But, most are expressing trepidation about potential coronavirus exposure and adjusting to a new normal.

Getting ready to exchange zoom for the classroom is exciting for 16-year-old Ariel Messenger, but jumping back into the outside world will be a big change.

"I'm nervous about it. How it's going to be adjusting back to my old lifestyle," she said.

Her mother, Alyson Messenger, has some reservations.

"I don't know if it's realistic to expect kids to adhere to all of the safety protocols and so that gives me a little bit of concern," she said.

Ariel's mom trusts the school's pandemic plans, but what about the things administrators are not planning for?

"One thing we have to consider is that you know some of their relationships may change," Alyson Messenger said, "You know, kids that they were friends with before the pandemic may no longer be as close."

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Over the past year, education consultant Bernadette Fernandez has been helping families and school districts adjust to pandemic life.

"For a lot of them, probably their home life has changed. Their parents could have lost their jobs. They could be homeless or living with other families," Fernandez said.

Through her Imagine Etiquette workshops, she identifies many of the social and emotional challenges students face. She offers online workshops to help students build strong self-esteem. Fernandez' first-day-back advice for students and teachers is to act like this is your first time in a new school.

"Go slowly and don't just jump back in like the kids have been in school this whole entire time," she said.

Kids need time to renew and make new friendships. Fernandez believes instilling confidence will help students navigate teacher and peer relationships successfully. Daily positive affirmations are also an important tool.

Messenger said, "The more you say it, the more you start to believe it. When you see yourself gaining the confidence you realize it really works, and just keep repeating them really," Ariel said.

Staying positive is also advice that holds true for teachers, who have been through a great deal of challenges as well.

While masks in classrooms are mandatory, what should parents or kids do if a student is outside and doesn't want to wear one?

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"That's tricky because you have some families that don't believe in wearing those, right?" she said. "I would say don't approach that kid and say anything about you should wear a mask. If they're not wearing a mask, walk away."

Fernandez said what's important is keeping perspective -- a message Ariel takes to heart.

"Be confident in yourself, everything's going to work out. No reason to worry," she said.
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