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NHA Educators Help Students Curb Back-to-School Anxiety

It’s natural for students to have a mix of back-to-school jitters and excitement when a new school year begins. The root cause: fear of the unknown, according to Julie Breakiron, a special education supervisor for National Heritage Academies (NHA) partner-schools.
Among these unknowns are getting back into a routine and what the school year will look like workload-wise. “When the new school year starts, there’s a lot of new, and kids are uncertain of what that’s going to look like,” Breakiron said. “‘Are my friends going to be in the same class? Is my teacher going to be nice? Where are my things going to be?’ Those things cause anxiety.”
Knowing this, NHA educators prioritize creating a welcoming environment where each student feels welcomed, cared for, and loved.
Behave with Care
Students should experience a welcoming environment the minute they step on campus. It’s one way educators can alleviate some of the back-to-school jitters, Breakiron said. For example, the expectation we set is that every child is greeted upon entering the school, walking down the hallway, and entering their classroom.
These positive interactions first-thing each morning create a baseline for student-teacher relationships that day and throughout the school year.
"If I see a student come in who looks angry or upset, I keep that in the back of my head," Breakiron said. "Then I will try to have a touchpoint with them early in the day to address it and see how I can help. I think teachers being in tune with their students and even looking at body language is important."
Decrease Anxiety by Stimulating the Senses
Depending on the student, sometimes these worries linger. The new school year adjustment period looks different for every student and can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.
From the first day of school Westfield Preparatory Academy Special Education Social Worker Yasmeen Nagi shared one the best ways to decrease feelings of anxiousness is by using “fidgets.” Fidgets are handheld trinkets with features that stimulate the senses.
"I have a basket in my office full of fidgets and puppets," Nagi said, adding that she knows they’re working when fidgets start disappearing from her office. She shares her fidgets and puppets are also often used when big tests are around the corner or when students have situations that might be distracting at home.
Parent Partnerships
Families also can use strategies to help curb their students’ anxiety while at home. As she works with students, Nagi recommends workbooks they can use throughout the summer. She also shares that students should enjoy spending time doing hobbies they love in preparation for the new year.
Breakiron adds that parents can help kids struggling with anxiety by asking open-ended questions about their feelings and giving students space to share at their own pace.
“It’s just about maintaining a judgment-free environment and reminding them that we’re there for them and can help,” Breakiron said, concluding that it’s sometimes about reading the signs. Your child may not want to talk that instant, but if they know you’re there for them, that can provide a window for them to talk when they’re ready.

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About Westfield Preparatory High School
Westfield Preparatory High School is a tuition-free, public charter school in Redford, Michigan, serving students in seventh through 12th grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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