Education

What to do before the school bell sounds

Today is the last day of summer vacation for thousands of school kids around the region. Monday brings the opening bell for most N.C. public schools. So enjoy that last bit of laziness, set your alarm and get ready. Here's what you'll need to know.

Drivers

Regardless of whether you've got kids in school, plan extra time for the morning commute as buses hit the road and car-poolers converge on schools. If you live or drive by one of the new schools opening, expect a few extra snarls as traffic patterns work themselves out.

Remember: When you see a school bus stop with lights flashing, you must stop, too. And if you're driving behind one, be patient. They're required to stop at all railroad crossings, aren't allowed to turn right on red and can't go faster than 45 mph.

Bus riders

Plan to be at your assigned stop 10 minutes early – and that's mighty early for some students. The first assigned pickup for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is 5 a.m.; all high schools start at 7:15.

Try to line up adult supervision. CMS has redone stops this year; kids will be walking a bit farther and may be confused by their new locations. Even older kids can get goofy in the excitement of seeing friends again, so it's smart to have someone keeping an eye on them. And it's not uncommon for buses to run late the first few days, so an adult can help kids make a new transportation plan if they need to.

Wait at least 10 minutes past the assigned time; if the bus still hasn't appeared, try calling the child's school, the CMS information line, 980-343-6192, or the transportation call center, 980-343-6715.

Late buses are even more common in the afternoon, especially at schools on a later schedule, where buses arrive only after they've finished runs for earlier schools. Again, call the school first if a child is significantly late. The last expected CMS drop-off is around 6 p.m. Most years, a few students get home much later.

Kindergartners

In North Carolina, children must turn 5 by Oct. 16 to be eligible for kindergarten; however, parents can choose to wait a year. Children should have been registered by now, but if not, plan to register at the child's school.

CMS does a staggered entry for kindergartners; they probably will not attend every day this week. Check with the school if you're not sure of your child's schedule.

Parents

If you're sending your first child to school, brace yourself for a barrage of paperwork. Root through those book bags every day to see what the teachers are sending home.

Many schools are still holding open houses and meet-the-teacher nights, plus PTA meetings will be coming up. Check school Web sites (along with student book bags); if you think you're missing something, call the school.

Supplies

Supply lists are posted on many school Web sites. Don't panic if you don't have everything the first day.

If you can't afford supplies, ask about help at your child's school. Many community groups donate book bags and other materials.

Shots

Children entering kindergarten must present proof of immunizations and a physical exam by the first day of school. If you haven't already taken care of this, you'll have to do so immediately.

Sixth-graders must also have a tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis booster shot before starting school, beginning this year.

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