Brandon Neely, Director of School Impact for Teach For America Houston

Like many good things, summer fun in the sun eventually comes to an end. That means parents will have to focus on preparing their children for the back-to-school transition in the fall.

There is a degree of stress that comes with charting car pool schedules, homework wars, shopping and other hectic activities parents have to prepare for ahead of the school year.

Summer is a crucial time for students to start the academic year strong, particularly in historically disadvantaged communities . Many of these students begin the school year with achievement levels lower than where they were at the beginning of summer break.

Brandon Neely is director of School Impact for Teach For America (TFA) Houston. His role requires him to partner with schools and teachers to support classroom transformation by leveraging the resources and talent of the TFA network.

Neely spoke with the Defender about the public education landscape and offered advice on how to prepare kids for the upcoming school year. 

Defender: The pandemic exacerbated problems in the public education system that were already there. What differences have you seen from last school year until now?

Brandon Neely: There’s been a lot more imbalance as far as teachers being expected to take on additional roles in the classroom even during the time of quarantine or addressing learning loss in general. A lot of teachers are staying after school hosting group tutoring sessions; they’re using any free time throughout the day even on weekends to get students back on track.

Sometimes teachers will come on campus and find out that certain teachers will be absent, so they’ll have to cover classes. Teachers are wearing many hats to give the students the best. Teach for America is starting a leadership intensive program where we’re training about 103 midlevel leaders at one of our school districts to help them better support teachers as a whole.

Defender: Parent and teacher rapport is important. How are educators preparing to strengthen the communication between both parties?

Neely: Parent involvement in their child’s academic success and class curriculum has been a big topic in the last few months now, especially with the restrictions around critical race theory and LGTBQ rights. Out of 225 first-year and second-year teachers currently in our program, 66% identify as [Black, Indigenous and people of color]. Of that, 35% identify as Black, 25% identify as LGBTQ+. We figure out what the gaps of the curriculum and how to navigate them to still deliver the best education possible. We do a lot of community outreach bringing communities to our teachers and letting them know what is out there.

Defender: What are tips that parents should consider when preparing their child for the school year?

  1. Establishing routines and creating routines throughout the day

Neely: Just like anyone starting something new, it’s important to prepare physically and mentally for what’s to come. School’s around the corner, so students are going to return to an early morning schedule. It might be tough at first but the earlier you plan this routine the better the transition.

  1. Learn about your child’s academic and personal goals

Neely: Building a strong relationship with your child and their confidence is important. Parents play a vital role in guiding their children and knowing what is best for them. It is also important to know that children are individuals with their own dreams and feelings. Understand what their goals are, listen and empower them. It will go a long way.

  1. Listen to your child’s concerns and fears about what gives them anxiety at school

Neely: Some kids are excited to go back to school, and some are concerned because of the heightened media attention around negative experiences of others in schools such as the Uvalde mass shootings. Reassure your kids that regardless of the past, this is a brand new school year. Make sure create a safe space for them so in the case the child does go through a difficult time in school, they have the support of their parents no matter what.

Students deserve a stress-free transition as they head back to the classroom. By taking a few simple steps at home a few weeks before classes resume, children can be positioned to have a happy and healthy school year. 

MORE TIPS TO CONSIDER

– Use summer’s last “dog days” to stimulate kids’ minds by exposing them to learning opportunities. There are plenty of cost-effective or free museums, gardens, and other places to explore in and around Houston. 

– Check with your child’s school to see if there are any materials your child can be reading now to give them a jumpstart on the curriculum. 

– Take advantage of back-to-school drives to ensure your child has all the supplies they need to be successful in the classroom.

– If your child’s school requires that they wear a uniform, make a note to purchase those items early.  

-Go into the school year with a mindset that it will be a year of growth and success. Be optimistic about what is to come. 

For more information about Teach for America Houston, visit their website.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...