The start of a new school year can present challenges for any student – but those with autism or other intellectual/developmental disabilities might have an especially difficult time with the transition.
Bancroft’s education teams – from the school principals to teachers, social workers, therapists and paraprofessionals – play an integral role in helping both the students and their families navigate challenging times.
Principals Lisa Scaringelli (Preschool & Early Education) and Gary Pignatello (Kohler Academy), both veteran special educators who are new to The Bancroft School family this year, share how they help their own school communities start a new school year on the right foot.
What are some of the challenges students with special needs may face going back to school?
Gary: The first day of school can be a very difficult and a somewhat scary transitional time for students. A change in a classroom setting can affect the usual routine and can cause students to derail from the learning day. The slightest change can really affect them, no matter how small.
Lisa: This will be the first time ever attending school for some students. There is a sense of uncertainty for students and parents, similar to other students attending school for the first time. We try our best to assist parents on how to prepare their children for their first day to create an easier transition period.
How can parents support their children during the transition of going back to school?
Gary: The best way parents can support their childrens’ transition is to have a morning routine down. Having a schedule for the students can help build a greater sense of confidence and life skills.
Lisa: It’s pretty common that students with special needs have sensory related issues. In order to prepare them for the new school year, make sure students are exposed to any new clothes and/or new backpacks. This creates a better understanding of what your children might need, while also getting them accustomed to new things.
As school principals, how do you support the parents of the students?
Gary: The best way we can support the parents is to stay connected. Most parents have anxiety when sending their children back to school. Think about a scenario where your child is unable to properly communicate their needs and is attending school for the first time with people you aren’t familiar with. It can be nerve racking, so we try our best to keep the parents calm and happy. One of the ways to eliminate that anxiety is to keep the lines of communication open and transparent.
Lisa: During the admissions process, it’s a great opportunity to introduce myself and staff to the parents. By the time the first day of school comes around there’s a familiarity and greater understanding of the childrens’ needs. As Gary mentioned, the first day of school can be nerve racking, so creating that trust with parents and explaining the daily routine of school days helps ease their anxiety.
Can you share some of the ways you communicate with your team?
Gary: We have regularly scheduled teacher/staff meetings before the school day begins. We want to make sure everyone is prepared and on the same page before students begin arriving at school. In addition, I have an open door policy with all faculty and staff on the team. So if they have any ideas, concerns and/or questions they know I’m available to talk.
Lisa: There’s a daily agenda created before each school day, which is shared out to the rest of our team. Sometimes we break into groups to discuss ideas and events coming up. And other times it’s a quick email in order to respect the faculty/staff’s time.
Are there any activities or new experiences that you are looking forward to this school year?
Gary: I am really excited about this school year because we have begun implementing a fun way to teach students about street awareness. Not far from here is a small village that our students tend to take field trips to in order to get them engaged in the community. We are going to be decorating the school classrooms and hallways to mimic this small town. We will be calling it Kohler Village. This provides a great life skill opportunity for students to learn about things like, looking both ways before “crossing the street ” a.k.a hallways.
Lisa: This year I look forward to some traditions and celebrations such as: back to school night, the Fall festival, Halloween dress-up and holiday themed crafts.