Most teens need at least eight hours of sleep to do well in school, and may need help to reduce distractions before bedtime. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Most teens need at least eight hours of sleep to do well in school, and may need help to reduce distractions before bedtime. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Getting ready for the new school year

Can you believe that the new school year is just around the corner? I am so excited about what’s in store for students when they return to their classrooms on August 20. From new ways to think about math and science lessons, to our amazing educators who make learning fun, this school year is shaping up to be a blast!

As we say goodbye to summer break, I’d like to share tips to help ease families back into a school routine and give students the best chance for success in the classroom.

Get organized

The first few weeks of school are all about getting organized, especially for middle and high school students who are likely taking up to six or seven different classes a day. These students are juggling homework plus other responsibilities, so it helps for them to use academic planners.

Not sure if your child has a planner? Ask! Some schools provide them for students, and stores are full of planners you can buy this time of year (though feel free to wait and see if your child receives one at school). Once they have the planner, go through it with your child to see what will be useful.

As the year goes on, ask your child on a regular basis about any big assignments that are coming up and what he or she is doing to get them done. They need to know that you care about their schoolwork, and just checking in can be a big help.

Set reasonable bedtimes

We see our share of sleepy kids during the first few weeks of school. If you haven’t already, start settling your child into bed a little earlier. If getting up on time for school is hard for your child, you’ll be glad you started now.

Pay special attention to teens

Teenagers have been going to school for years and you may think they have the routine down, but families still play a key role in their teen’s success. As with young children, set limits at bedtime.

Most teens need at least eight hours of sleep to have a good day at school. If winding down at the end of the day is tough for your teen, try to hold on to the child’s cell phone and video game controls—and even unplug the TV at bedtime—to reduce distractions. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, especially with teens, and try unplugging before bed yourself. Every child needs strong role models.

Rethink eating habits

Summer fun can sometimes lead to a lot of salty or sweet (and less healthy) snacks. Now is the time to toss the potato chips and stock up on nutritious foods by adding more fresh fruits and vegetables (which are sometimes cheaper than processed food) to your grocery list. For families on extremely tight budgets, the San Francisco Food Bank is a good resource. Once students are back in school, they can eat a healthy breakfast, lunch and sometimes even dinner provided by the district’s Student Nutrition Services.

The magic of questions

Once school has begun, start asking open-ended questions like, “What was the best part of your day today?” (and remember, ‘‘recess’ or even ‘going home’ are perfectly okay answers). Let your child talk about what he or she likes and doesn’t like about school, no matter what it is. You can try to help solve problems together after listening for a while.

Don’t forget: You play an essential role in your child’s education

When you help your children arrive to school on time and ready to learn, you are setting them up for success. Let’s have a great year!

(For everyone, please remember to drive carefully and slowly around our schools.)

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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