Heading back to school is always an exciting time. We get to see old friends, catch up on what we’ve been up to all summer, go back-to-school shopping, meet new teachers, and more!

This year, back to school may look a little different. Some kids are starting school earlier or later in the year. Those going to school in-person will likely wear masks and have less social interactions; others will be fully remote again; still others will take part in blended learning, a combination of the two.

Now more than ever, it’s important that all kids going back to school feel included and supported. We can all do our part to build community in the classroom and to ensure each one of our classmates knows there is someone in their corner.

If social interactions are permitted at points during remote learning, make sure everyone gets a chance to chime in–it should never be a conversation among only the bravest of the bunch. Pay attention to who gets a chance to talk and make sure everyone feels included. If there are people in your class who rarely appear online, it may be because they don’t have access to a device or the internet. Ask your teacher if you can reach out to them and to see if they need anything or want to discuss the assignment. That will help them feel less lonely and you can also share any information they may have missed during remote instruction.

If you know someone who is alone all day without parents, maybe reach out and text them during the day and ask if they’re okay. If you have a backyard or other outdoor space, you can ask your parents about inviting them over to study outside (wearing a mask and socially distanced, of course).

If you’re in school, remember that kids with severe asthma, intellectual or developmental disabilities, sensory concerns or other issues may find it difficult or impossible to wear a mask. These students may feel self-conscious about this sensitivity, so it shouldn’t be a cause for comment. Keep your mask on, maintain your distance, and you’ll be fine. And of course, if any other students are bullying them for it, remember to be an upstander. Speak up, defend them, and, if necessary, let a responsible adult know about it.

Many kids still feel isolated, and even if they’re in school, they may not be seeing kids outside of the classroom. You can start a group text for the class. Gather everyone’s phone numbers and initiate it. Again, make sure everyone gets greeted and feels included in the group chat.

Some kids may have lost a loved one to COVID, or have someone they care about struggling with it. It’s especially hard because they probably don’t have much of their support system around them right now. Make sure to be a special friend to them. Let them know how sorry you are and that you’re here if they want to talk.

There’s plenty more we can do for kids outside of our immediate class or community. Remember, many kids rely on school for breakfast and lunch, and they are increasingly food insecure due to remote learning. Starting a food drive and donating to a local pantry is a great way to help out. Also, lots of kids are missing out on remote learning because they don’t have access to a device or the internet. Including You is trying to address this by raising money to distribute this equipment. We’ve already sent a bunch to a community in Mississippi. You can help by spreading the world about our GoFundMe among your friends and social media.

As we always say at Including You, we’re all in this together.

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Daisy Hampton is the Founder of Including You, a peer-to-peer mentoring and philanthropic organization which she founded in April 2020 at the age of 11. Daisy is an advocate for disability rights and inclusion as well as tech and educational equity. She is the recipient of a 2021 Diana Award, the NYC Service Mayoral Recognition Youth Impact Award and was named a GoFundMe Hero. Daisy was also recently named a finalist for the Anthem Awards Young Leader of the Year - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

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