When “Welcome Back” Doesn’t Feel Welcome

As the end of summer nears, many parents feel excited to send their children back into their learning communities, where they will be loved, nurtured, celebrated, and enlightened.

 With Labor Day just a few weeks away, parents of school-aged children are embracing the routine and structure that school provides; however not all parents feel that tinge of excitement as they anticipate the upcoming school year.  For many parents of Black children, ‘back to school’ excitement is often replaced by fear, anxiety, and worry. 

 Parents of Black children often fear that they cannot protect their children from experiences such as racism or bias from teachers and other students.  Anxiety increases at the thought of their children being forced to engage in a curriculum that has left them out entirely.  Tremendous concerns exist when thinking of the likelihood of their children receiving more severe punishments than their white counterparts who break the same rules.  

 Parents of Black children choosing homeschool over public and private schools has skyrocketed as of late.  While some attribute this choice to learning loss in the pandemic, many families of Black children identify bias, discipline disparities, and the lack of culturally responsive pedagogy as the culprit.  These families have expressed the need for more affirming, empowering learning environments for their children.

For parents looking to cultivate healthy, empowering environments for their children in a school setting, who experience more first day jitters than joy, here are a few tips to significantly decrease your dismay as you embark on a new school year: 


1. Focus on Building Relationships – Let’s face it, our children spend more of their awake hours at school, than they do at home with their families.  Because of this, it is important to know who they are spending their time with.  Be intentional about building relationships with the educators, volunteers, and students who will fill up your child’s day. Get on a first name basis with your child’s bus driver or spark up a conversation with the adults orchestrating the parent drop-off line in the morning.  Get to know the security guard and school counselors by eating lunch with your child a few times during the first months of school.  Take every opportunity to connect with your child’s teacher during back to school nights, conferences, and fall festivals.  Don’t be afraid to share your expectations for the school year, your family beliefs, or your child’s favorite out of school activity.  Consistently connecting with your child’s learning community will ensure the lines of communication stay open and stay strong.  

 2. Keep Abreast of NC laws and Local Policies – This past March our state passed a bill that will severely limit how schools teach race and American history this upcoming school year. Share with your child’s teacher the books you all enjoy and discuss what the books with which your child will have access. Take notes on the content their teachers have covered, as well as the content their teachers have left out. Make note of whether or not your child is represented in the characters and authors. Similarly, the NC General Assembly recently overrode the Governor’s veto of SB49 in which the NC schools must now follow ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights that seeks to disenfranchise the LQTBQIA+ community. To learn more about the local policies directly impacting your children, visit here

 3. Connect with Communities of People who Share a Common Experience – Strength is found in numbers.  Who doesn’t welcome the friendly reminder that they are not alone?  Empowered Parents in Community, EPiC, is a local non-profit that provides resources and tools to help parents, educators and others create better schools. On a mission to dismantle systemic racial inequities in education, EPiC will be hosting two Community Forums this Fall (10/17/23 and 12/5/23) with educators, parents and students bringing those with lived experience in the education system together to find solutions. EPiC will also be present at the DPS Family & Community Engagement Summit on September 9 from 8am to 3:30pm.

Summer may be coming to an end, but a healthy, loving, nurturing environment for your child does not have to. Our children deserve to be celebrated and seen both at home, and at school. Here’s to hoping all of the parents and students in our community experience ‘Back to School’ joy and excitement.

Happy School Year!