A s the new school year draws near, teachers are preparing their classrooms and students are brushing up on skills like reading. Seems everyone is getting back-to-school ready.

But what do parents need to know about this pivotal time of year?

“Everyone thinks it’s all about school supplies, but it isn’t,” said Toni Hiatt, a fourth-grade math and science teacher at Selah Intermediate School.

The Yakima Herald-Republic asked teachers throughout the Yakima Valley what they wish parents knew as they send their kids into a new classroom. Here’s what they had to say:

High school

> Chris Berouty, engineering teacher and robotics club adviser at Wapato High School:

“Attendance is most important, and there’s many different reasons for that. If the kids aren’t in school, they can’t learn what’s being taught.

“Education is the one thing that can’t be taken away from you. No matter what your situation is, no matter what type of family you come from, no matter where you happen to live, no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation … the more education you have, the more choices you have.

“That all starts with being present at school and taking charge of your education and learning.”

> Jen Rosie, ninth-grade math teacher in the West Valley School District:

Rosie said it’s important to get to know your child’s school alongside them. This could help freshmen and sophomore students settle into their new campus better.

“What their classes are, what their schedules are, where the library is and things like that. ... Start a dialogue for what their student’s expectations are for the school year, whether that be personal or social or academic. Because at the high school, there’s a lot more things to get involved in, with clubs and sports.”

> Ali Bernard, who teaches English and creative writing to juniors and seniors at Naches Valley High School; she has been teaching in the district for six years:

Families should know “that I genuinely care about their kids and the successes they have in my classroom. I am proud of the work that the students create and the amazing things they write, say and do. I am often in awe of how truly impressive many of them are.”

Middle school

> Lucia Tovar, who has been a school counselor for 13 years; she works with Mabton students in grades seven to 12:

It’s important “to be as involved in their education as possible.”

Tovar said parents shouldn’t stop their involvement at parent conferences. Instead, they should know what the graduation requirements are and talk with their kids about what they plan to do after high school.

“I don’t think that we as parents talk to our kids enough about what their goals are and how we can support them in it.”

> Jenna Leaverton, eighth-grade science teacher at West Valley Junior High School:

It’s crucial “to encourage your kids to join clubs or sports or groups and get involved in the school. You’re going to find somebody that you like (this way) and get into a good group and then try something new. Just be willing to try something new.”

Leaverton said teachers are interested in maintaining the communication channels that are strong in elementary school but often suffer when students move up to middle school or junior high.

“We still want them communicating with us and asking questions and seeing how we can best support their kids.”

> Veronica Sustaita, fifth-grade teacher at Sunnyside’s Chief Kamiakin Middle School:

“The teachers are on the kids’ side 100 percent of the time. They’re doing what they need (to support them) academically, but also to make sure they’re leaving the building better people.”

Sustaita said she makes an effort to go deeper than teaching core classes to teach her students respect and integrity, for example.

“Teaching them how to say good morning to people. For me, I shake every kid’s hand in the morning so they know when you see an adult, you shake their hand and say, ‘How are you?’ (So they can be) respectful as they grow up, meet new people.”

Elementary school

> Toni Hiatt, fourth-grade math and science teacher at Selah Intermediate School:

“The biggest thing is … giving kids the idea of a growth mindset. There are going to be things that are hard, but there’s nothing that they can’t do.

“Sometimes we hear kids say, for example, ‘I can’t do math. My parents aren’t good at math.’ So that sometimes gives kids the idea that they can’t do it.” Instead, she said parents should help instill in their kids that challenging things can be accomplished if they keep trying.

“We’re as excited and nervous as the kids are.”

> Beth Poston, third-grade teacher at West Valley’s Mountainview Elementary School; she has been teaching for 26 years:

“Read. It’s the best thing they can do to build their kid’s vocabulary and help them understand language. Read to them. Read with them. Talk about the books they’re reading. Talk about the topics in the books they’re reading.”

Poston said parents should also start brushing up on things like math facts and have uplifting conversations about school this time of year.

“Get them in the mindset that they’re going to have a good year.”

> Deb Ogura, fourth-grade teacher in the Yakima School District’s Hoover Elementary School; this will be her 27th year teaching:

“I would like them to know how much we are excited to teach their kids and looking forward to getting to know all of them, and that we want to team up with them to do the best that we can for their kids.

“It’s hard sometimes for summer to get over and kids to go back and parents to send their kids, but we’re all in it together. It’s an exciting time for kids and it’s an exciting time for teachers.”

Ogura said she’d also encourage parents to check in on their kids to ask them how things are going, and to make sure they’re getting enough sleep.


> Sandy Butler, Victoria Harris and Nicole Sullivan make up the kindergarten team at Union Gap School; they had a variety of tips for parents sending their kids into the school system:

“The importance of attendance, even at a kindergarten level. It’s really important that they’re there. The rigor at the kindergarten level right now is so much more advanced than it was when we were kids,” said Butler, who’s been a classroom teacher for 14 years. Butler said that if these young students miss even a couple of days, “They’ve missed a lot.”

Harris said getting into a bedtime routine before the first day of school, and making sure to be prepared with potty training and shoe-tying skills, is important.

“It’s really important you read to your children. It’s really good, quality time and it’s important that they get to experience books,” Sullivan said.

Harris added that it’s important to talk to your kids at home, as it helps develop vocabulary and language skills. For families that don’t speak English at home, keep speaking your home language with them: “Data shows they’ll be better at speaking English if they continue practicing their home language.”

Harris added that parents should limit kids’ screen time: “Electronics are not good for a growing brain.”

And Butler said it’s OK to leave your crying kindergartner at the classroom: “The longer someone stays with a crying child, the longer the child will cry.”

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka