Summer is fading; fall is on its way. Familiar back-to-school sounds echo loudly across the country as bells ring and students clamor to get settled in their new classrooms. Teenage minds buzz with eager anticipation about the new school year has in store.
Amidst the excitement, it can be easy to overlook the fact that heading back to school can be an anxious time for many students. Natural social pressures accompany adolescence, like what to wear, who to hang out with, and how to handle peer influence. A new grade level means new, challenging coursework and a corresponding increase in workload. For older students, the prospect of college brings the added pressures of test prep, school searches, and application deadlines. For any student, heading back to school brings many challenges.
Now, imagine you’re returning to school after having been out of the traditional school system for some time. For many Excelsior Youth Center alumni, successfully transitioning out of a treatment program and reentering school can be daunting. In addition to the “normal” pressures mentioned above, they have unique obstacles to deal with.
Many at-risk students – even after successful treatment – continue to deal with depression and anxiety, a challenge amplified by new responsibilities and social settings. Students may also have trouble concentrating in a busy school setting with larger class sizes. Perhaps most challenging is the fear of social rejection resulting from the stigma attached to having been away in treatment. Add in a fear of relapse and these students have a mountain of obstacles to contend with, putting them at a higher risk for social isolation or academic failure.
As parents and educators, it’s important that we recognize the unique challenges that face students returning from treatment and proactively support their successful return to school. In addition to our educational treatment program, Excelsior has a continuum of services, including community- and family-based programs, designed to support students through transitions like these. These services are just the beginning – it’s important that school leaders look for ways to address common stressors every day.
We’ve outlined below four key ways that adults can better serve students transitioning out of treatment to increase their chances for success.
- Learn the stressors and signs of stress. Educators and caregivers should learn potential stressors and signs to look out for. Common signs of stress include expressions of hopelessness or wanting to give up; or they can manifest in physical ways such as stomachaches and headaches. Knowing these signs and looking ahead to identify times of day or new experiences that might be particularly challenging, can be very helpful.
- Work with students to develop strong and simple study habits. Structure is key for students as they reenter the school setting. Building effective time management skills can help them be more in control of all the new changes. Additionally, utilizing school resources such tutors and academic clubs, is very effective.
- Encourage healthy habits at school and at home. A healthy mind and body will help students deal well with the stress they encounter. Ensuring that students are sleeping at least eight hours every night and getting regular exercise is important. Additionally, creating routines for homework and other activities will breed consistency and discipline. Once work is taken care of, ensuring that students are able to participate in fun activities and socialize with friends will help them to relax. Let the kid be a kid!
- Plan ahead. It’s not a question of if a child will need support, but when. Setting up dedicated workspaces for homework times provides an effective and familiar environment for getting work done. Additionally, doing a walkthrough of the new school environment can give a student an idea of what to expect, building confidence and even the opportunity to identify potential obstacles before they arise.
By using the above strategies, adults can ensure that students returning to school from treatment programs are supported and empowered. It will no doubt be a challenge, but attention and planning can help ease the pressures of the transition. Above all else, patience and understanding will let the student know that no matter what they face, there will be adults ready to help them continue to become healthy and successful.
For more information on how to support at-risk students, feel free to contact our team. You can contact Deb Huerta at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find helpful resources here: