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Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

For five years, the Wellness & Prevention Center has been supporting families as their students return to school. There are some common concerns that we hear from teens, families, and educators each year.

Speaking with administrators at our middle and high schools as students get ready for the return to a more normal school year, they had several tips and advice to offer. Dr. Chris Davis, principal of Shorecliffs Middle School, had this to share:

“Middle school is an equally exciting and scary time for both our students and for parents. Students are going from an elementary setting, where they have been with one teacher and one group of students, to a larger school, where they’ll have six different teachers and six different groups of peers. However, this is also when our students begin to really discover and embrace their independence and develop their individual voice.”

Additionally, Davis shared some tips for parents to help navigate the next three years:

  • Talking to your student—Ask them how their day was. This may take a little more prying than when they were in elementary school. Rather than asking them, “How was school today?” or “What did you do today?”, ask some specific questions to get the conversation going beyond “fine” or “nothing.” Try, “What is something new you learned today?”; “What was something challenging in one of your classes?”; “Who did you eat lunch with today?”; or “What class did you attend for your tutorial time?” Vary the questions, and don’t be afraid to ask follow-ups.
  • Signing up for a Canvas parent account and downloading the Canvas app. Students will be provided with agendas in which to write their assignments down. We encourage students to familiarize and use these planners, but being on top of Canvas is an added layer of support. Canvas is a great tool for teachers to communicate with parents. You can see your student’s grade in real time and see what assignments are coming up. Remember, teachers are human, so don’t expect every grade to be updated instantaneously, but make a habit of checking your student’s grade weekly so there aren’t any surprises. If you have questions, reach out to your student’s teacher; this can also be done through the Canvas app. Parents and teachers are a team committed to seeing your student do well, so don’t be afraid to reach out. 
  • Encouraging your student to self-advocate and seek help when necessary. Every school has time built into the day for academic enrichment and support. We call them by different names, but the goal of all of them is the same: to help your child succeed academically. Whether you’re attending SWELL at Bernice Ayer Middle School, NEST at Shorecliffs Middle School, or RISE at Vista del Mar Middle School, there is time built into your student’s school day when they can connect with a teacher to get additional help or dive deeper into a concept.
  • Getting involved—Elementary school provided a sense of comfort for parents, too, but don’t be afraid to try something new and get involved with your new school. Organizations including your school’s PTSA or Foundation are great ways to stay in the loop on what is happening at the school while still giving students a little bit of freedom as they transition into their teenage years. The work of these organizations helps our San Clemente schools offer unique experiences to our students.

San Clemente High Principal Chris Carter and I discussed how academic loads and expectations might affect students differently this year after an unusual 18 months.

He suggests that “parents keep an eye out for signs that their child may have taken on too ambitious of a course load, such as doing homework until late at night, late and missing assignments, or a change in mood or behavior.”

“Students have six weeks to level down an accelerated class for a better chance to learn the material successfully,” Carter continued. “If students have an extra class they do not need for graduation, they may drop that class within the first six weeks as well.” 

Nick Stever, principal at Bernice Ayer Middle School, reminds parents that “the social and emotional health of students is a priority for all of our San Clemente schools. Our staff are always on the lookout for students exhibiting any signs of social or emotional distress, and they are quick to respond with support for our students.”

“If a student or parent would like to request social or emotional support, this request is as simple as calling the front office and asking to speak to one of our school counselors,” Stever added. “Our school counselors are experts in this field and can either provide the support a student needs or direct them to additional resources for support.”

Finally, I spoke with principal Dr. Manoj Mahindrakar, shortly after San Juan Hills High School students registered for the new school year. He said, “Students are extremely excited to experience as much of a typical school year as possible. They are motivated and eager to return to the sports, activities, and the classroom with their friends.”

“I was really encouraged to see students so spirited and happy at registration as they experienced a bit of normalcy,” he added. “I really feel like we are going to not only pick up where we left off a year and half ago, but push ahead in terms of participation, school spirit, and community.”

The Wellness & Prevention Center supports students with a mental health professional on-site and prevention education at San Clemente High School, San Juan Hills High School, Aliso Niguel High School, Shorecliffs Middle School, Vista del Mar Middle School, Bernice Ayer Middle School, and Don Juan Avila Middle School.

Please visit our website ( to learn more about how you can support your child’s well-being and for how to contact us if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s mental health.

Susan Parmelee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of the Wellness & Prevention Center: She can be reached at

Editor’s Note: An abridged version of this column was published in the Aug. 19 edition of the San Clemente Times.

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