Back to school affects more than just parents: What you need to know

Summer is officially over for over 390,000 kids in 19 school districts in North Carolina. 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Summer is officially over for over 390,000 kids in 19 school districts in North Carolina. 

Starting Monday, they'll wake up early with their alarms, put on their best outfits, and hop on the bus and head back to school for the 2017-18 school year. 

CMS will track and videotape every school bus this year

School leaders announced the plan this month, raising concerns from parents over their children's safety

CHARLOTTE, N.C - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials announced that for the first time, every school bus will be equipped with an interior camera.

Due to fights inside school buses, new cameras have been installed and a GPS tracking app should help bring down the fights. But is it too far?

They also revealed plans to roll out an app in the next couple of months that would allow people to track school buses and all 126,000 CMS students on them.

CMS leaders say the new technology will be beneficial to students, parents and the district. But some parents are worried the constant surveillance might be too much.

“Many of the instances that came to light last year we would've never known about. The driver had no idea, had the child not been recording it,” CMS Transportation Director Janet Thomas explained when asked about the interior bus cameras and whether they will address fights on buses.

“That's another reason for the cameras, is that we are not dependent on video from students who took it, we'll have that camera video that we can pull and verify the allegation on the spot.”

Not only will the drivers and students be under constant video surveillance, but starting in October, their GPS location can also be tracked from a cell phone.

“That's been an ask from the community,” Thomas said, “so we piloted a program last May with good results, but we want them great.”

Some parents aren’t so sure the tracking feature is a good idea.

“The public being able to have access to that I'd be really concerned about that,” said Chuck Taylor, who has a daughter in CMS.

“Being able to track the whereabouts of your kids and anybody can end up doing that, especially if they end up knowing your area where you're at. And you have a young daughter like I do, I'd be really concerned about that.”

CMS officials have not released details about the app, or what security measures it will feature.

“So we’ll continue to work at some of the kinks,” Thomas said.

Similar school bus tracking apps available now in the iTunes store require only a school code to create an account.

How Union County Schools plan to reduce suspensions

Educators struggle to agree on discipline, but Union County leaders say they have a plan to cut down on behavior issues.

As students in Union County are getting ready to go back to school next week, they'll notice some changes if they get in trouble.

UNION COUNTY, N.C. – New initiatives at Union County Schools are aimed at strengthening the relationships between teachers, students, and the community.

One of those strategies includes a new approaching to a touchy topic: discipline.

District leaders in Union County are coming up with a new way to handle behavioral problems in the classroom, a subject that educators and parents may never agree on. But school officials did agree that something needed to be done.

“Bottom line is, we’re suspending way too many kids in elementary school, particularly in kindergarten through sixth grade,” said Union County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan.

The district’s goal is to reduce the number of suspensions by creating better relationships.

“By doing simple things (such) as shaking their hands, making eye contact, and having short conversations with students,” said Benton Heights Assistant Principal Yubely Zolke.

To give students an incentive for being on their best behavior, students will receive a tiny paper tiger paw that can be used as currency for classroom treats.

“They say, ‘Miss Hill, look, I got a paw,’” said Carrie Hill, a teacher at Benton Heights Elementary. “And so, they’re excited about getting that paw. They get that initial validation. And then, they get to trade that paw in for things that are also going to build more relationships.”

Educators are also looking to build relationships between students in the community one page at a time. They’re teaming up with the county library in an initiative called “Read with U,” to expand literacy efforts, which they hope will encourage students to pick up more books.

They’re asking everyone in the Union County area to take 30 minutes each day and read with a child in first grade every single week. The new initiative will provide teachers and students with free library cards. Click here to learn more about the program.

8 essentials for every kids' backpack

Now that you've got pencils and paper, what else could your kids need?

Now that you've checked highlighters and binders off your back to school list, what else could you need?

Although you have all you need for class, don't forget these essential items to get through the day: 

Water

Keep a full water bottle with you for whenever you get thirsty throughout the day. It'll keep you hydrated and keep you from missing the lesson by revisiting the water fountain.

Tip: Label your water bottle and all your other small accessories. If you lose anything, someone will be able to find you.   

Hand Sanitizer

Between lunchroom trades and science experiments, you never know what your student will come in contact with. It's best to keep some antibacterial spray handy.

A (healthy) snack

Between lunch and the end of the school day, you might need a slight pick me up. Try something packed with protein (like trail mix) to give you that extra kick to make it through the day.

Small pack of tissues

Tissues can be used for everything from runny noses to cleaning up small spills. You'll be prepared for any situation with your personal pack on hand.

Gum/mints

Something to chew on - or share with others. This is a life saver after a tuna sandwich at lunch, and a great ice breaker in class. 

Emergency cash

From forgotten field trip fees to book fair money, you never know when $15 (in all ones, of course) will come in handy.

Mini Toiletries 

Lotion, hairs pins and mini deodorant sprays are commonly forgotten but often needed choices. They're cheap and can slip into an inconspicuous bag at the bottom of a backpack.

Pain medicine

Given approval from a teacher, of course, ibuprofen can solve a midday headache before a long trip to the nurse. 

Donate to Gov. Cooper's Back to School drive

This is first annual Governor's school supply drive to address unmet classroom needs

Gov. Roy Cooper released the following statement to encourage North Carolinians to participate in local school supply drives:

Across North Carolina, students are heading back to class and teachers are reaching into their own pockets to cover the cost of essential school supplies when they shouldn’t have to. Before September 8, consider picking up an extra item from our supply list and donating it a drop off location near you.

The requested supplies include:

• All types of paper 
• Pens, pencils, and dry erase markers 
• Spiral notebooks 
• Tissues and sanitizing wipes 

Donations can be dropped off at State Employees Credit Union branches and state government offices. 

Charlottesville's impact on Charlotte's schools

CMS Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox says the district remains committed to "stand up and protect each and every child" in their classrooms.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the wake of Confederate protests in North Carolina and Charlottesville, Virginia, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox is addressing the possibility of racial tensions in schools.

Dr. Wilcox released a statement earlier this month, calling the situations playing out across the country as “some of the saddest days in our nation’s recent history.”

In the letter, Wilcox went on to say, “I stand firm in my resolve to address hateful behaviors or speech, or racism in any form, in our schools. Team CMS will stand up for and protect each and every child in our care and I hope you will stand with us in the days ahead.” 

"The events in Charlottesville, Va., have been particularly unsettling and have raised a national conversation that must be addressed. The racism and violence must be condemned in the strongest terms. As the new superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, I have struggled to find the right words to speak to some of the saddest days in our nation's recent history.

As we approach the opening of school, I want you to know that as your superintendent I will not and do not tolerate hateful words or actions, bigotry or any form of racist behavior in our classrooms, schools or on our grounds. There simply is no place for it. We have to be -- and we are -- better than that. Our work is educating our students, building a stronger and more vibrant community, building understanding and acting with a sense of positive energy focused on the future of our young people.

Our children and young people are watching and listening to all of those around them -- school leaders, teachers, parents, caregivers and elected officials -- to see how we react to these events.    My colleagues and the entire CMS team have been working hard all summer to ensure that students return to a welcoming, safe environment and that our teachers have resources to provide great classroom instruction and address difficult issues affecting our students and our classrooms.

As you have discussions at home and in school in the days ahead, I would like to share some resources from the National Association of School Psychologists that our staff members will use to guide their work:

As our students return to school on Aug. 28, all of us who are privileged to serve your families and children will follow the guidelines set forth in our policies and regulations on teaching and addressing difficult issues. We will remain sensitive to the diverse makeup of classrooms. We will respect age appropriateness and family values and the role of parents and guardians as children's first and best teachers. We certainly will recognize that individual students' exposure to hateful words and actions may vary widely and we do not want to create an issue where none exists.

However, I also want you and your children to know that I stand firm in my resolve to address hateful behaviors or speech, or racism in any form, in our schools. Team CMS will stand up for and protect each and every child in our care and I hope you will stand with us in the days ahead.

Thank you for your ongoing support in ensuring that our students feel safe, respected and protected in their time with us each and every day.

Respectfully offered,

Clayton M. Wilcox

Clayton M. Wilcox, Ed.D.

Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools"

Simple steps to help kids beat the back-to-school jitters

For many kids, going back to school is the source of some big-time anxiety

When shiny new lunch boxes and backpacks appear in stores, Kristin Kane’s kids tense up. Her high school aged son becomes quiet. Her daughter, who is just about to start middle school, gets testy. And that’s when Kane, a mother of three from Virginia, knows the back-to-school jitters have arrived.

“My 11-year-old asks daily how many days she has before school starts,” says Kane, whose son and daughter have learning and attention issues. Her daughter, for example, struggles with reading, and the thought of facing new textbooks and assignments makes her stressed. “As a parent, it’s important to get to the source of that anxiety.”

CMS students don't get back to class for another couple of weeks, but South Carolina kids are gearing up for their classroom return on Thursday. None

The start of the school year always brings mixed feelings. No more lazy days at the pool or camp. So long to staying up late and roaming the neighborhood with friends. For many kids, the season is tinged by anxiety.  Will my teacher be nice? How will I make new friends? Do I really have to learn long division?

For children who aren’t typical learners, the fears can be particularly intense. They wonder if their teachers will understand their perspective or if they’ll have a hard time keeping up with their peers. They might dwell on negative experiences from prior years. They might worry that they won’t be able to sit still, or understand the reading assignment or make friends. “For kids with learning and attention issues, like dyslexia and ADHD, the anxiety is magnified,” said Mark Griffin, founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, an independent school for students with language-based learning disabilities in Connecticut.

The good news is there are many ways that parents can help their children relieve stress around the beginning of school, including the First-Day Ready Guide from Understood.org – a free online resource and community for parents of the 1 in 5 kids with learning and attention issues. These brain-based conditions vary in severity, but can cause difficulties with reading and writing, math, organization and focus.

As the beginning of school approaches, Griffin recommends that parents stay alert for the signs of anxiety in their children. While some signs can differ based on your child’s age, the main ones include changes in behavior, irritability, changes in eating or sleeping patterns and unexplained stomach aches and headaches. These could be signs that your child is struggling at school – potentially with learning and attention issues – and needs some extra help.

So how can you help your child through this tense transition?

Find support

Looking for more tips to help your child through the first day of school – and the rest of the year? Or maybe you’re looking for a place to chat with other parents who understand the joys and frustrations of raising children with learning and attention difficulties?

One way to help you and your child better manage the challenges of school is to find a supportive community of parents. For parents of children with learning and attention issues, one such community is Understood.org. There you can connect with other parents who are dealing with similar issues. You can also tap into personalized resources and expert advice. The First-Day Ready Guide – tips compiled from experts and educators– is loaded with ideas to make the transition back to school easier for kids of all ages.

“Connecting with others dealing with similar situations helps our family be better able to speak to the school, pediatrician and even each other about what we are experiencing at home,” says Kane.

Talk through it

The most important thing parents can do, Griffin says, is to keep conversations open-ended. Check in with your child before school starts, on the first day and throughout the school year.

Keep an open mind when listening to your kids. Not being able to read aloud to the class or tripping in gym class might sound silly or trivial to you, but these fears might be very real to your child. Rather than discount children’s fears or make blanket statements such as “everything is going to be ok,” validate your children's feelings. Tell them that you understand. Then help them brainstorm solutions to potential problems.

It’s important for parents to keep their own anxieties in check. Project confidence that you will get through this together. “I think in the past, both my wife and I have been guilty of letting our kids see our anxiety,” said Jon Morin, the father of a 7-year-old boy with ADHD and autism and a 15-year-old boy who struggles with social skills. “They’re both really sensitive kids and they pick up on others’ emotions. Now we’re really mindful of how we’re talking to them. We’re careful not to create an issue where there is no issue.”

Connect with school staff

It’s important to talk with teachers early in the school year. There is often a formal process organized by the school for kids who receive special education. But any parent can ask to meet with school staff.

“I call a meeting with the [administrator], the guidance counselor and all the teachers who will be working with my kid. It’s a 20-minute meet-and-greet, so we can all get to know each other,” said Kane. Her children feel more relaxed and confident when they know their teachers – and know they are aware of their learning and attention issues.

Griffin recommends designating an adult, like a teacher, guidance counselor or coach who can be a point person for a child with learning or attention issues. If kids forget their locker combinations or lose their schedules, they know they can go to this person for help without judgement.

“It’s good to know that there’s someone who understands them,” he says.

Get familiar

One way to relieve some fear of the unknown is to schedule a visit to the school before classes begin, said Griffin. He advises parents to walk through the hallways with their children, if the school allows, to help them figure out how to get from one class to the next.

“For kids with learning and attention issues, just knowing what everything looks like, where everything is, really makes a large difference,” he said.

Kane and her daughter Lorelai, for example, walk the dog around the grounds of the girl’s new middle school, helping Lorelai, who has dyslexia and an anxiety disorder, learn her way around the campus – and create positive associations.

Stick to a schedule

Morin starts preparing his sons two or three weeks before school starts. The boys go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Mornings are more structured, too. “We start kind of gradually easing them into that school year routine,” he says.

Morin also creates a schedule to help his younger son, Benjamin, understand how his day will be structured. This helps Benjamin be more calm about his school day – reducing anxiety and hyperactivity. Morin even created a visual schedule before Benjamin could read, using pictures to represent the day’s activities.

Give your kids a role

Parents and experts recommend letting children take an active role in choosing and organizing school supplies. They’ll be more enthusiastic to open notebooks and folders in patterns that they picked out. Guide younger children through creating an organizational system: How can you remember which notebook and folder to take to math class? Would it help if they were the same color? Which color would you like to choose?

Older children need more autonomy as they make these decisions. Kane learned this lesson the hard way. She tried to organize her son’s books and papers, but soon realized her son would only adhere to a system that he created himself.

CMPD is cracking down on crashes and tickets in school zones

Last year, CMPD ticketed over 600 drivers in school zones, and there were more than 350 accidents involving buses

As students get ready to get back to school next week, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is making sure everyone stays safe on the road.

CMPD is trying to lower the amount of crashes related to school zones and buses this school year as kids go back to class on Monday. None

On Thursday, police highlighted the number of crashes involving school buses in the past, to promote safety this school year. Last year, police ticketed more than 600 drivers. According to CMS, there were more than 350 accidents involving school buses during the 2015-16 school year.

CMPD announced a coordinated effort to crack down on drivers around school zones.

“This is the warning to the public,” says Sergeant Jesse Wood with CMPD.

CMPD released the number of drivers ticketed in school zones in the past couple years; 585 drivers in 2015 and 639 in 2016.  Each ticket is $235 and three points on your license.

The fines more than double to a minimum $500 ticket, court costs, and five points on your license for anyone who passes a stopped school bus.

“If somebody is struck passing a stopped school bus, it automatically becomes a felony,” says Sergeant Wood.

Every year, CMS school buses are involved in hundreds of accidents.  410 accidents in the 2014-2015 school year and 353 the following year, according to the district.

“The speed limit is the speed limit, so if it’s 25 mph, you should not be going 27 mph,” says Sergeant Wood.

In June, a child was hit by a vehicle near Ballantyne Elementary school.  Parents circulated a petition to improve safety.

“I signed the petition for the safety of the kids,” said one father.

This week, CMS announced several new safety steps at the school, including rerouting traffic during school hours.

Meanwhile, police are asking drivers to leave early and give themselves more time to reach their destination.

The most important dates of the 2017-18 school year

Union County report card dates: October 18, December 7, February 8, March 21, May 9, June 8

September 21 & 22: Teacher work days for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

October 18: Early dismissal

November 9: Report cards are sent home

November 10: Students will receive a three-day weekend as CMS honors Veterans Day

November 22 — 24: Thanksgiving break for CMS

December 20 — January 2: Winter break for CMS students.

January 15: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

March 29 — April 6: Spring break

May 28: Memorial Day holiday

June 8: Last day of school

Back to school fun facts

Impress all the parents at your next PTA meeting with these nuggets of knowledge

Did you know? Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has 176 total schools. There are 93 elementary schools, 44 middle schools, 36 high schools and eight Pre-K schools. Coincidentally, the CMS school year consists of 176 days. 

121,000: The average number of daily miles driven by all 1,078 CMS buses.

Caldwell County Schools is the largest employers in Caldwell County.

The Class of 2016 in Cabarrus County earned more than $43 million in scholarships. Way to go!

Lincoln County’s 24 schools educate 11,627 students and have a 90.6% graduation rate.

In total, CMS has 146,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade in over 170 schools.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employ 18,000 teachers and is one of the biggest employers in Mecklenburg County. 

CMS offers magnet programs at 37 campuses across the district.

How much do meals cost at CMS schools? 

Breakfast: Free at every school to every student

Lunch: For Pre-K students, lunch is $2. Kindergarten-eighth grade students pay $2.25, and high school students pay $2.50 for lunch every day. 

Milk: A carton of milk is $.60 for every student in the CMS district. 

We want to see your back to school photos! Share them with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using #WCNCBack2School and we'll share our favorites on air and online! And for complete back to school coverage, download the NBC Charlotte mobile app

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