Few days on the American calendar mark the passage of time like the first day of school. For those of us with students in the house, it’s a reminder that everyone’s a year older, with new experiences, new teachers, new friends and new knowledge on tap for the upcoming 12 months. New backpacks, new lunch boxes, new outfits and freshly coiffed hair are de rigueur for the under-18 set this week.

It’s also a day that can bring with it some butterflies, whether it’s for parents seeing their 5-year-olds off to kindergarten for the first time, elementary school kids meeting a new teacher, or, from the teachers’ perspective, starting anew with a fresh batch of hopefully eager young learners.

As the yellow buses return to the streets and roads in and around Helena this week, we urge parents to be as active and involved as possible in the education of their children. Many parents breathe a sigh of relief this week, but the start of the school year is no excuse to lose touch with what the kids are up to.

“It’s very evident that parents who stay involved and want to know what’s happening, it’s a better chance for their children to be successful,” Superintendent Keith Meyer told us.

There are lots of ways Helena parents can keep tabs on their children’s education:

- Get to know your child’s teacher, or if the student is in middle school or high school and has many teachers, develop a “point” contact in the school who can be a first person to talk to if any issues arise. Let the teacher know a little bit about your family and any circumstances that may be affecting your child, and be in touch whenever you’ve got a concern.

- Volunteer in your child’s class or for other events at the school. In addition to being a presence in the classroom and showing your child you care enough to take time each week to be part of his or her education, volunteering gives parents an opportunity to meet for themselves the peers their kids come home talking about. When children come home and talk about things that happened during the day, parents who spend time in the classroom will have a better understanding of the dynamics at play.

- Ask questions. It may, at times, come across as meddling, but it’s another way parents can show they’re interested in where their kids spend about half their waking hours. Ask about exams, homework, social dynamics or anything else that’s on your mind. Ask your children and ask their teachers, too. Parents may feel like they’re meddling or creating more work for teachers, but as Meyer noted, this is what teachers are there for, and they would prefer to have parents involved.

- If your child is in gradex six through 12, take advantage of the PowerSchool program for tracking your student’s progress. The online system, which will be used for the third year this fall, allows parents to track test grades, homework assignments, make-up assignments and more. The system also has an email interface that allows for easy dialog with teachers, and teachers can provide log-in information.

With just 179 days left in the school year after today, we’re hopeful for an educational, memorable and fun-filled school year for Helena’s students and teachers alike. And we strongly encourage Helena’s parents to be along every step of the way.

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