Seven tips for parents sending kids off to high school

Are districts doing enough to get unsafe drivers out of school buses? (AJC file)

Many Georgia students return to school tomorrow, 90 degrees or not. Now high school seniors, my twins will be among them.

Despite spending most of my waking time reading, writing or talking about education, I’ve made a few school missteps with my four children. None was fatal, but most were avoidable had I paid a bit more attention.

For example, my twins haven’t visited many colleges yet, in part because I was on standby this summer for the arrival of a new grandchild. That means my husband and I will devote most fall weekends to driving our kids to schools and marveling how campus tour guides don’t trip as they walk backwards pointing out the science building, the student center and the new climbing wall.

(We did visit Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville last week, and our talented tour guide, junior Luke Johnson of Peachtree City, proved an able backwards walker and terrific salesman for the school.)

Given my experiences, here’s some basic advice for parents of students starting high school:

  1. Pay attention. My twins go to a well-run public high school, but I’ve been surprised at the number of errors, often clerical in nature and easy to overlook if you’re not vigilant. (Some examples: A B on a transcript when they earned an A in the course. Failure to get on the list for a field trip, class or program even though they were approved or had paid the fees and turned in the forms.)
  2. Look at all the stuff on the parent portal even though it’s often as confusing as the toaster oven instructional manuals written in China.
  3. If your child is struggling, invest in tutoring. If the high school provides free tutoring, urge your teen to take advantage of it. However, if that tutoring is not consistent or high quality, find a reasonably priced tutor who will show up every week and work with your child throughout the year. For example, see if you can hire a Georgia Tech student to tutor your teen in math. Research increasingly shows one-on-one tutoring is the most effective way to catch up students. Our high school offered early morning and after-school tutoring but my kids invariably chose the same session as two-thirds of their peers so there was a crowd vying for the teacher’s limited time. (Important fact to emphasize to your kids: A teacher will award them more credit for effort if they show up at tutoring.)
  4. If something is important to you or if you have questions, send an email. If no one responds – and that happens — follow-up with another email. If you have a meeting with counselors or teachers, send an email afterward thanking them for their time, but also stating what you believe was the outcome of the meeting and, if there are actions to come, what the timetable is.
  5. This is contrary to what many high school counselors say, but have your teen start taking the SAT and the ACT at the end of 10th grade or during 11th grade. One of my children’s classmates took the SAT three times in her junior year and she’s done. So, she’s now concentrating on college applications while we’re  still scheduling test dates and trying to squeeze in test prep around campus tours.
  6. I don’t care what anyone says – SAT and ACT prep make a difference. There are more colleges every year that don’t mandate scores from standardized admissions tests, but UGA and Georgia Tech aren’t yet among them. If your school has free prep, sign up. If not, consult with other parents about strong private prep programs in your area.
  7. On some calm February evening when your high school freshmen or sophomores are watching “Chopped,” sit down and show them a typical college application. Point out all the questions about how they demonstrated leadership in high school, how they displayed academic commitment or how they helped the community. Senior year is the wrong time to first think about those answers.

Here is a bonus tip from a teacher who commented on the blog via Facebook. She makes excellent points:

Don’t disengage. If a teacher sends you an email, read it. When we tell you your child is having trouble focusing or maybe poorly placed, we are really trying to help you. When we tell you your child is doing okay even though he/she struggled on the last test, please trust us. Some struggle is good. On the other hand, please contact the teacher, if all you see is struggling and nightly tears or anxiety. You may see somethings we don’t. Let us know, if your family is facing adversity. Your child brings that to school like a heavy weight. Communication is key in high school, because teens stop talking in many case. Teachers are in this with you.

Reader Comments 0

17 comments
DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

Fantastic advice for parents of high schoolers, Maureen. 


My son was a campus tour guide at Western Carolina University, and he loved taking high schoolers and their parents around campus. 

Pamela Barnes
Pamela Barnes

Actually, they should commence doing practice tests online to get comfortable with the format in the 6th grade, then take it in the 7th grade for the first time. Each week, select 20 new vocabulary words to learn the definition and use in a sentence.

kaelyn
kaelyn

Thanks. Great advice.

Amy Blafer
Amy Blafer

Don't disengage. If a teacher sends you an email, read it. When we tell you your child is having trouble focusing or maybe poorly placed, we are really trying to help you. When we tell you your child is doing okay even though he/she struggled on the last test, please trust us. Some struggle is good. On the other hand, please contact the teacher, if all you see is struggling and nightly tears or anxiety. You may see somethings we don't. Let us know, if your family is facing adversity. Your child brings that to school like a heavy weight. Communication is key in high school, because teens stop talking in many case. Teachers are in this with you.

trifecta_
trifecta_

This blog usually insists standardized tests are meaningless wastes of time, and regularly encourages parents to opt out of testing altogether. 

Though few parents are foolish enough to agree.

redweather
redweather

@trifecta_ Some parents have decided to opt out. Not sure that is such a good idea. What this blog frequently discusses is how standardized testing reduces instructional time. There have also been quite a few blog articles about the inadvisability of linking standardized test scores and teacher evaluations. 

gapeach101
gapeach101

@trifecta_

This blog does often times rail about standardized tests.  That would be those tests designed by the state.  I don't believe I've ever seen objections to meaningful tests (SAT,ACT, ITBS)

trifecta_
trifecta_

@gapeach101 

Oh, you will ... if any of those test results are ever used as evidence of ineffective teaching. 

Another comment
Another comment

It is really sad that one has to hire a private tutor at public school in Georgia for their child to get a fair shake. That really separates not only who is middle class from poor, but who is wealthy from middle class. It allows school districts to get by with keeping teachers who are just plain incompetent ( or continue using the foreign India contract teachers).

I am greatful everyday that I was a poor child in a union state like New York. Where at least we had single high school districts ( like you have Maureen in Decatur). I had study hall every single day, monitored by actual teachers. These teacher monitors in high school would answer homework questions. Two or three days a week we had PE on the opposite days of the week in that period we had library, were you worked on any research projects or searched for college/career information. You see as the bus on the 17 mile ride ( home ) passed through town, I got off most days to go to my part-time job ( first at a dinner, later at a Grocery store). My parents would then pick me up at 10:00. What time did I have for leadership activities, extracurriculars, even homework. If I had not had a school system with Study halls in classes, when would I have gotten it done. I asked my father once to buy me an TP-Calculator that was a $200. He said are you crazy. Somehow I made it all the way through college and grad engineering school without one. I even told graduate professors that you have to allow students to use the tables and a regular calculator because not everyone can afford that calculator. The professor gave in. Technology separates the haves and have nots.

Now I just sadly tonight was texting back and forth with the private tutor I had to hire for my daughter last year due to a bad teacher at a private school. ( I can't afford the $26k per year Private schools and their is a huge difference in others). Well actually several bad teachers at the private school. So we are heading back to public school and at least I won't be paying tuition to a mediocre private school. I have found a good tutor, so I will pay him and try the public school.

Another comment
Another comment

Yes they have. The teachers were better at the Union high school in NY that I attend. Where teachers can make 70- $100k. There is very little turn over. My seventh grade science teacher who had his first year is still teaching. On our class Facebook class for which they are already planning the 40 th reunion two years away wants to invite several of the teachers who made significant impacts on our lives back. Many of the teachers have taught two and three generations of families. Not the constant churn like here where you pay $40-50k. My high school class of 365 only lost 3 students who did not graduate with us. So we had 99% graduation rate!!

When you get an East Indian teacher for Physics and first the counsellors try to steer all the students into taking Physical Science or Earth Science that is a clue their is a problem. Then when no one can understand her. Then the rich kids have hired tutors three days per week to help them learn what is not being taught. That is at a minimum of $40-50 x3 or $150 per week if the tutor sees the house. I paid a Teacher of Russian decent ( from a Jewish school)to tutor my oldest daughter one day a week. He said physics isn't difficult it was obvious the teacher wasn't teaching correctly or at a level understandable to American students. The same East Indian teacher then sends out a project on calculation an interstate truck runoff ramp with the absolute wrong methodology and calculations. I very politely inform her that I have a Masters in Civil engineering from one of the top CE programs in this country. What she sent out is incorrect. All Federal highways and then state highways follow Federal DOD guides. I also included the specific truck deceleration guidelines on design and construction, with the required formula and calculation. I also included the. GA, Tenn, KY. Colorado, Utah and Alaska. They all match with the state name substituted. Instead of thanking me a subject matter expert in my field. She ignores me and continues teaching her erroneous and false information.

Examples like this when I took a friend home from college she started telling me that the Great Lakes were salt water lakes. I told her they were not. I said where did you get that Mary Jane? From my high school teacher. I said you are confusing Salt lake. She went on and on. Finally I took her to Lake Erie, just 15 minutes from where I grew up, made her get in it and taste the water. I said is it salt or fresh Mary Jane? Do you want to drive down to Lake Ontario we can check that one too? No. But my teacher told us. Your teacher was wrong!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Another comment Gee, another comment, your daughter has the WORST LUCK!  Wherever she is, she has bad teachers!  (Teachers who speak English poorly, lose her work, and don't know the subject matter!)  Every year!