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A CASA's Role in Ensuring a Successful School Year

By Carol Arnott, J.D.

In New Jersey, all students are currently slated to return to in-person, full time instruction in September 2021. Not all children and families feel the same way about this. Some are excited and ready for change, but others are anxious and may have many difficulties. Some youth may show signs of trauma due to isolation and uncertainty. A CASA’s support and collaboration could be key components to a successful school year. Whether you are advocating for a young child starting Kindergarten or an older student heading to middle or high school, here are some tips on helping your youth get prepared for a successful school year.

  1. Encourage the caregiver to establish a bedtime and homework routine. While transitioning from the freedom of summer to a structured school day, it’s common for children to experience sleep disruptions and to struggle to be alert in school. Suggest that a few days before school starts, the child go to bed and wake up at the time that will be expected during the school year. Also, caregivers should talk to children about when they will be doing their homework, and make sure they have a designated place in the home where they can complete their assignments.
  2. CASAs should also talk to their youths about going back to school. If the child expresses fears, listen carefully to what they are expressing and share those concerns with the caregiver and a counselor at school. When you reach out to the school, see if the child can meet virtually with their teacher or tour the school to reduce anxiety.
  3. Once school starts, make sure that you reach out to the child’s guidance counselor or the social worker to get the child’s schedule. Also, get the dates progress reports and report cards will be coming out. Ask if the school is doing anything special to remediate children due to the past virtual learning situation.
  4. Literacy and reading are fundamental to a child’s ability to reach important milestones along their educational journey. If your student is in elementary school, reach out to the language arts teacher and find out what tool they use to assess the child’s reading level. Find out how often they use this tool, and follow up with the school during the year to make sure that the child is making progress.
  5. Remote instruction has also had a negative disproportional impact on students with disabilities. If you have a student who has an IEP (individualized education plan), reach out to the student’s child study team case manager and ask to be invited to all meetings. Also, ask if the school will be providing any additional programming and related services due to the pandemic. Make sure to get an updated IEP.
  6. During the school year, make sure that you reach out to the school and get progress reports and report cards. Do not depend on just talking to the caregivers or the children. Often we have found that children and resource providers will tell you that the children are doing “fine” in school. The children frequently do not want to admit that they are struggling, and the caregivers frequently do not know that the child is having difficulties or may have a very different standard for what is “fine”. Get the objective data to put into your court report!
  7. Encourage the child to get involved in extracurricular activities to bolster self-esteem and connection with peers and the school.

We all know that this has been a hard time for the children and families we serve, but as Maya Angelou stated, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” With your educational advocacy, the children we work with can have a productive school year. 

Carol Arnott currently serves as Assistant Director of CASA of Morris and Sussex Counties. Prior to joining CASA, Carol was a Deputy Attorney General and represented the Division of Youth & Family Services in Essex County. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute named her a 2019 Angels in Adoption® Honoree for outstanding service in educational advocacy for children in foster care. Read her full bio here.