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Expert, parent explain ways to prepare students for in-person from virtual learning

With most students returning in person this fall, some parents in Hampton Roads worry about their students staying focused while they’re back in the classroom.

NORFOLK, Va. — Noel Torres is a parent of two in the Norfolk Public Schools system. His eldest son, 12-year-old Rob, is entering seventh grade.

"Once that rigor returns, that academic rigor, it may be harder for him to pay attention because he's had it easy for a year and a half," said Torres. 

And his youngest son, 10-year-old Alex, is going into the fourth grade. He's also a student with special needs, learning with an IEP or Individualized Education Program at school.

"He's going to have to learn to be away from his dad again," said Torres. "He's going to have to learn to take instructions and order from the teacher, either be quiet, sit down, pay attention and to raise your hand when you don't understand things."

Torres is also concerned about the long-term effects of all the virtual learning not only on his kids but other students too. He said things may have easily fallen through the cracks in the last year and a half.

RELATED: Experts share mental health tips & resources for back-to-school anxiety

"If we can support each other, we can really get through it," said Michele Tryon, a certified child life specialist with three decades of experience.

Tryon reflects on the toll of the pandemic. "It's been difficult for educators. And it's been difficult for parents, and it's been difficult for children," she said. 

Tryon works as a community outreach coordinator and parent educator at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD).

She helps families with all types of concerns about the back-to-school season. One of those concerns is about making the transition from hybrid or virtual learning to full-time in-person instruction.

"It's not going back to the way things were prior to the pandemic," said Tryon. "But really preparing them and getting them ready for that transition can do a lot to reassure them."

Tryon said it's important to have empathy for students and teach them ways to cope, like taking deep breaths or counting to ten. "As you're counting, giving yourself some positive messages," she said.

She also suggests developing a rhythm to the day, but nothing too rigid.

As for Torres, he said, "I'm trying to dial them back into regular bed times again, waking up at a certain time again. That's been a staple as long as they've been in school. But for my youngest son, I hired a private tutor to help him get ready for next year's stuff." 

Back at CHKD, Tryon hopes that hands-on teaching and learning will be a priority in classrooms. 

"It's to engage them in something that they can manipulate something that they can move around something that they can interact with, and also that they can have conversations with other people in their group," she said. 

She believes that having grace, as well as keeping up healthy relationships inside and outside the classroom can go a long way to comfort students.

"If they're safe, and they're secure, and feeling cared about, then it just opens up the brain to learning the survival part of the brain can just relax and they can begin to really take in the lessons," said Tryon. "This is hard, this is challenging, but we can get through it." 

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Click here to view CHKD's children’s health resource blog. 

Tryon has a couple posts up, specifically to help prepare your child for the return to classroom this year. 

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