Step Up Parental Involvement for the New School Year

By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

Different people may have very different ideas about what it takes to be “involved” in their children’s schooling. Parents of self-motivated, high achieving students, for example, may only need to check homework and review report cards to be assured their children are on-track. In contrast, parents of children who need stronger organization skills and remedial work need to be more vigilant in ensuring their children receive extra support and attention. For both types of parents (and those in between), August marks a good vantage point for mapping out the key dates and practices that will mark and support student achievement in the year to come. Here is a checklist of steps to keep in mind.

Look out for key benchmarks on the academic calendar.

In most communities, the last few days of August bring new friends, new teachers and everything else that goes with the new school year. But by the early fall, many school districts are already administering important tests to gauge students’ preparedness for the months ahead. By going to the Department of Education Web site for your state, you can usually find out which tests will be given to students by grade level, and when. You can find out the key subject matter that will be tested and when you should expect to see your child’s results. Keep in mind that these tests are not given simply to see how your child “measures up.” They’re offered as a diagnostic tool for revealing academic strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these strengths and weaknesses in the fall will help you and your child prepare for the higher stakes tests given in the spring – the results of which may be factored into decisions about grade advancement and graduation.

Get familiar with the college pipeline.

If your child is a sophomore, junior or senior, make sure you’re aware of the college admissions calendar. Turn to the National Association for College and Admissions Counseling (NACAC) Web site at www.nacac.com and click on “For Students” and “Prep for College Calendar” to find out exactly what steps your child should be taking, and when. Pay particular attention to when the PSAT, SAT and ACT are given, and find out about test prep opportunities that may be available through the school system, and through providers in your community.

Remember to schedule extra help for high achievers.

Most people tend to think of after-school tutoring as a service for students who need extra help to catch up. But it can also be a boon for students who want to nurture special aptitudes and accelerate their achievement. In addition to Advanced Placement and “merit” courses, parents and students should become aware of opportunities to participate in special projects, experiential learning and mentoring to strengthen skills in subjects that will enhance students’ preparation for higher education and careers.

Create the right home learning space.

Studying is hard work, even more so amid the myriad distractions of television, technology and other factors that may get your child off-track. Establishing a quiet, neat, well-lit space for studying will help your child focus on homework, and significantly enhance his or her ability to retain material. Be sure to have materials such as paper, pencils and pens, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a calculator readily at hand. The seating area should be moderately comfortable – with a straight-backed chair that will keep your child relaxed but alert as opposed to soft upholstery, which can encourage drowsiness. It’s also a good idea to have enough space to read and write in the same area.

Establish the right learning schedule.

The beginning of the school year is also a good time to set aside a designated period of time after school that is to be used only for schoolwork. Some children may complete homework more successfully right after school, leaving the rest of the late afternoon and evening for other activities. Others may need time to “wind down” before they’re relaxed and focused enough to complete homework successfully.

Strike the right balance between learning and leisure.

Keeping in mind the significant amount of study time most children need to make good grades, take a look at all of the other activities that your child wants to fit into his or her day. Have a frank discussion to determine which activities are most important to your child, and see if you can arrive collaboratively at a decision about which should be pursued.

Finally, make sure you take time to establish a collaborative relationship with your child’s teacher. By establishing the right environment at home and a strong, positive connection to what’s happening at school, you can give your child a head start that will drive success all year long.

Dr. Raymond J. and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has helped children achieve success in school for 26 years. For more information about how Huntington can help your child, visit www.huntingtonlearning.com or call 1 800 CAN LEARN.

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