BY DENNIS WALCOTT
Each year on my children’s first day of school, I memorialized the occasion by taking a picture of them on the walkway in front of our house. Squinting through the camera’s tiny lens, I thought I could clearly see the excitement and anxiety in their faces about the next nine months. Maybe I was just projecting onto them what I was feeling before the shutter clicked.
The back-to-school season is a big shift for all New Yorkers. Routines and schedules become more regimented. The roads are clogged with more traffic, and the subways and buses more crowded. The afternoon light gradually slips away earlier every day.
For parents and guardians, this time of year not only involves saying goodbye to the lazier days of summer, but also managing the return of the intense pressure to make sure their children succeed in school.
This commitment means expending more energy and effort to ensure the children get between eight and 10 hours of sleep every night, eat the right foods, limit their screen time and finish their homework, among other things.
All of this can be overwhelming, which is why it is so important that parents and guardians know they do not have to shoulder the responsibility of a child’s education by themselves.
Important sources of assistance are a child’s teachers, the school administrators who support them and others on staff. During the school year, kids and teens spend the majority of the day with these experienced, caring adults. Speaking to them for updates on a child’s progress is a good way to be part of what kids are learning and experiencing at school. This understanding helps parents and guardians stay connected with their kids, and also provides a starting point for conversations with them.
In New York City’s public schools, parent coordinators are available to answer families’ questions about anything having to do with the school, from the dress code to extracurricular activities. Depending on the school and the level of need, some serve as translators for parents or run interference with the principal’s office.
Another excellent option for parents and guardians who need assistance managing their kids’ academic performance and their own learning needs is the local public library. In Queens, almost every household is located within a mile of a branch of the Queens Library system, one of the largest in the nation.
Public libraries are a lifeline to parents, guardians, teens and children for vital information, educational programs and services that nurture the mind for free. Libraries are among the most trusted institutions in the United States, where everyone is welcome to explore, discover and grow, whether they visit in person or online.
Libraries are learning havens for everyone, offering books, e-books, audio books, periodicals, free wi-fi access, computers, tablets, hotspots, laptops as well as classes geared towards school children and teens such as coding and podcasting.
Students can roam among the shelves and select whatever titles they wish, study with their friends or ask a librarian how to research a topic and evaluate sources of information.
If younger students need regular assistance with their homework, the Queens Library offers STACKS, a free, curriculum-based program that combines structured help from a professional member of the staff and unstructured learning opportunities for children ages 6 to 14. STACKS will be available at 25 branches from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day throughout the academic year, even during holidays and vacations. Enrollment begins in two weeks.
And parents and guardians can raise their game at the library, too. They can learn a new language, brush up on their job and technology skills, or get a high-school–equivalency diploma. Family-centered activities, performances and learning opportunities can be found in any Queens Library location, giving families the chance to spend time together.
With these and other supports available at our schools and libraries, families do not have to wait until the temperature drops in order to breathe a little easier as they transition back to school.
Dennis Walcott is the president and CEO of the Queens Library and the former chancellor of New York City Public Schools.