Tag Archives: School Issues

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Conversations about College

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I started talking to my kids about their college education about a week after they were born. OK, that is a bit of exaggeration, but it is not too far from the truth. Education is important to any new parent, and I spent my 30s having children and pursuing graduate studies. During that decade of my life, my own education and my children’s future consumed my thoughts.


Parents have a huge influence on their kids, and children will adopt family ideals if Mom and Dad share their beliefs. Therefore, I recommend that college conversations begin when the little one enters pre-school. The purpose of these higher education dialogues, however, should not be about where to attend; rather, parents should share their college experiences, talk about the importance of education, and explain how some careers—such as being a doctor or a teacher—require many years of school. Setting the stage for lifelong learning begins in the early years.

Serious conversations about attending college should start during seventh and eighth grade. In fact, it is best to prepare for life after high school before the first high-school bell rings. Talk with your eager adolescent about choosing college preparatory classes, participating in community service and developing personal talents. With the right encouragement, a child could easily develop a passion that guides him to future educational and life goals.

In ninth grade, the college indoctrination process truly begins. Students take standardized tests, complete interest inventories, and participate in initial meetings with their guidance counselor. These exploratory steps pave the way to junior year when students and families should become motivated about researching their options.

There are more than 9,000 colleges and universities, and even the most organized student will benefit from parental assistance. Don’t, however, be the over-involved ‘helicopter’ mom who hovers over every move or the ‘talent-scout’ dad who tries to brand their teenager and broker the best deal. It’s more important to ask your maturing child the right questions, listen, and be supportive.

Size truly matters. More relationally-oriented individuals tend to prefer the intimate classroom environment of a smaller campus. These schools are more person-centered and offer better opportunities to interact with professors. On the other hand, seniors looking to break out of the high-school fish bowl or wanting to stay under the radar should consider big school opportunities. Larger institutions also offer a wider range of classes, a variety of housing options, and big-time sports.

Location is the next topic to tackle. A school’s setting can have a significant impact on the college experience. Some may want to be close to home, but others may prefer to be on a mountain, near a beach, or in a major metropolis. College is both an education and a journey; it is a great time to push beyond one’s comfort zone and live in your dream location. And no matter where the school is, a student can always pack their books and transfer credits to a new university if things don’t work out.

Some may allow their course of study to drive their college search. This is an important consideration, but the majority of college students switch degree programs multiple times prior to graduation. Also, most college-bound high school seniors don’t have enough experience or information to be absolutely positive about what they want to study. It is important a university has the proposed area of interest, but attending the most prestigious program will not ensure success or happiness.

Watching your child mature and make major decisions can be challenging for any parent. College is a huge step toward adult independence, and it can be difficult for mom or dad to recognize the line between interference and support. Trust you have a raised an intelligent individual who makes good decisions and celebrate this exciting life transition.

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Learning Disabilities: Trust Your Instincts

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St. Louis truly is a unique educational marketplace. There are more private schools in St. Louis than most any other city in the United States. Because many of these institutions have small classes and a unique educational niche, students who learn differently thrive in our city. In fact, many of these children and teenagers enroll in honors-level curriculums, take advanced placement classes, or attend the city’s best preparatory schools.

One can have a superior IQ yet still have cognitive challenges. In fact, being learning disabled (LD) does not directly correlate with having a lack of intelligence or low motivation. However, LD students do manage information differently because they have a neurologically based processing challenge that interferes with the ability to master specific concepts when taught in a traditional manner.

Learning differences can take on multiple forms. Some students have difficulties getting content into the brain. These children struggle with information integration such as the ability to organize, sequence, retrieve or infer meaning. Other students have difficulty getting information out of the brain. These children struggle with fine motor skills (handwriting), organizing thoughts on paper, or finding the right words to express ideas.

Knowledge acquisition is unique for each child and difficulties can surface at any age. There are, however, some specific signs that may indicate your child learns differently. During the pre-school years, look for language complications such as acquisition difficulties or word-pronunciation problems. And some young students may have struggles with coordination and finger use, finding simplistic tasking unusually frustrating. If any area of development feels delayed, check with a teacher to determine if an early intervention is needed.

As children enter the elementary years, subject-area concerns often become more prominent. LD students may be able to master many skills but have difficulty grasping certain concepts. Frequent reading errors, constant misspellings, or atypical troubles with basic math computations can be markers of a learning issue. Additionally, some may experience social struggles and communication problems, which also impact knowledge acquisition.

Further confusing the identification of LD students is that these problems can go unnoticed during the elementary years because these intelligent kids often develop self-compensating strategies for their learning deficits. Additionally, grade school teachers are particularly talented at supporting individuals of all abilities. Maturing students, however, face new challenges as they juggle the demands of a busier scholastic schedule, attempt more demanding academic tasks and negotiate increased independence. Grades may decline and unknown learning issues can surface during the high school years.

It can, however, be difficult to sort out typical teen distraction from true learning issues. Some older students struggle with classroom attention, avoid homework, and fail literature tests because they have no desire to read Jane Austin. Others, unfortunately, put forth appropriate or even excessive effort, but still experience low grades. Review homework and look for unusual sequencing, overly sloppy work or excessively long completion times. Also, check on your child’s emotional state. School anxiety or a confidence crisis often can be the result of an unknown learning issue.

Trust your parental instincts and pursue assistance if you think there is a problem. Start by talking to your child’s teachers. Next, consult with your pediatrician and rule out any medical concerns. Finally, and perhaps most important, work with a qualified educational specialist who will review academic records, interview the family and consult with the school. These professionals also can administer a comprehensive set of intelligence tests and academic assessments to develop a detailed learning profile and determine if a problem exists.

It can be upsetting for a parent to consider the possibility that their child may learn differently. It is, however, important for families to own the problem, understand how their child thinks and learns, and seek the services they need. Don’t adapt a wait-and-see approach; attack the problem. With intervention, advocacy and support, LD students succeed in school, college and life.

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Are you a Procrastinator?

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What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference of more urgent tasks or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable things.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

People procrastinate for different reasons, but, for the most part, there are three basic types of procrastinators.

  • Thrill Seekers – Those who wait until the last minute so they can get that euphoric rush that goes with completing the job right before the deadline.
  • Avoiders – Those who avoid tasks due to fear of failure or due to a fear of success. In either case, these individuals would rather have others believe they lack effort than lack ability.
  • Decisional Procrastinators – Those who choose to avoid making decisions so they can be absolved of the responsibility or the outcome of an event.

What are the costs of being a procrastinator?

  • For yourself, procrastination causes stress and anxiety. This physiological response can compromise the immune system and make one more susceptible to colds, the flu, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • For the spouse of a procrastinator, resentment often builds because it shifts many of life’s responsibilities onto to them.
  • For the child of a procrastinator, a procrastinating parent models bad work habits and may create a procrastinating child.

Tips to Avoid Procrastination.

  • Make a good to do list– Focus on items you typically avoid and then set a deadline to do those evasive tasks.
  • Break down big tasks into little ones – Devote short chunks of time to a big project. Once you make some progress, the momentum builds and most will want to keep moving forward.
  • Choose appropriate surroundings -Make sure your work environment works for you and not against you.  Placing yourself in situations where you don’t get much done such as “studying” in bed or working at a café can actually be a method of avoiding work.
  • Stop checking your email, Facebook, Youtube, etc. – Digital distractions are the arch enemy of the procrastinator. It is too easy to get sucked in to the electronic vortex and waste hours of valuable time.

Procrastination is one of the most sure-fire methods to avoid success in life. Procrastinators sabotage themselves by placing obstacles in their own path and also choosing paths that hurt their performance. Procrastinators can, however, change their behavior but doing so consumes a lot of psychic energy. Commit to change and find a therapist or life coach if you can’t do it on your own.

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Set a Positive Tone for the School Year

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Just a few short weeks ago, students were filled with anticipation about the start of school. Some were excited to see their friends and share summer stories, and others were dreading their loss of freedom and prematurely missing those lazy August mornings. Now, however, vacation memories have faded and school structure is everyone’s reality. Summer is firmly in the rearview mirror, and it is time to look forward.

Many consider New Year’s Day as the opportune time to create resolutions, but I would propose that the new school year is an even better time to make positive changes. And it all starts with setting proper goals. Ask your children what they might want to improve. Goals should be about personal fulfillment rather than a parental obligation because internal desire builds intrinsic motivation, a key quality for any successful student.

Creating a proper goal, however, can be difficult, as many tend to overreach or construct vague objectives. Parents should assist their student by discussing how realistic and measureable their plan is. For example, if your child says he is going to make all As, that might be unreasonable if he doesn’t typically earn As. Instead, redirect your student to focus on an attainable strategy, such as conferencing compositions with his English teacher to become a better writer.

Another way to ensure that your child experiences success is to assist him with balancing academics, extra-curriculars and free time. Many kids want to do it all, which creates stress as one struggles with meeting classroom demands and after-school requirements. Others prefer to be disengaged, often resulting in an unmotivated and lethargic student. Parents should establish realistic grade expectations and encourage their child to participate in at least one activity. Upfront conversations about how to manage homework, school activities and free time will set the tone for a realistic schedule and a positive school year.

Students also often struggle to understand the school day starts when the alarm clock rings, and ends when their head hits the pillow. Efficient mornings that allow time for a healthy breakfast and on-time school arrival creates a ready-to-learn brain, and conscious thoughts about after-school studying allow students to maximize their potential. Some prefer to complete homework before relaxing, while others want an after-school break. Commit to the process that works best and build evenings around that schedule. Consistency will ensure life responsibilities are successfully met.

To further support students during their return to routine, parents should also renew their school commitment. If you don’t already, volunteer for a couple of events and attend all teacher conferences. These connections will provide valuable insight into how your child’s classroom operates and facilitate a trusting home/school relationship. Teachers are quick to call involved parents not only about minor issues but also about personal triumphs.

Lastly, use this transitional time to revisit family routines. Start the year off with a commitment to have couple of family dinners every week. Also pledge to spend quality alone time with each child on a weekly basis. A short stop at Starbucks on the way to school can be a powerful relationship-building time that your kids will value (even if they don’t tell you).

When life gets hectic, individuals tend to get caught up in their own worlds. It is a parent’s job to provide structure so a child can experience both academic and personal success. Families that set a positive tone in September also are building a strong foundation for responsible decision-making. Good grades always are a goal but developing quality character and a positive attitude will bring even greater rewards. Make this fall a new beginning and create long-lasting resolutions.

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Do Grades Matter?

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When I was in elementary school, I distinctly remember earning ‘letter’ grades. In fact, I also remember the occasional—OK, frequent—parental lecture that went along with my C-quality work. To mom and dad, my ‘average’ marks signified that I was “not working to my fullest potential.”

Things have really changed in modern-day education. My elementary age kids do not earn traditional grades; rather, their school uses a standards-based approach, which consists of telling students that their skills are emerging, satisfactory or exceeding expectations. Interestingly, educators have long debated the merits of a standards-based evaluation system versus the traditional letter-grade approach.

Most professionals tend to prefer the newer, modern-day methodology because evaluation is based on a clearly defined set of standards, as opposed to a more subjective teacher-generated letter grade. Further, it has been validated that younger kids are not motivated to study harder when given a letter grade; rather, they look for easier assignments so they can score a better mark.

Parents typically are frustrated when their children do not meet expectations, and this new standard of evaluation can be confusing. Some students score low marks because they are disorganized, have difficulty communicating their knowledge, and/or need additional assistance. Others, however, may be on the verge of a light-bulb moment and about to master the content. Don’t panic; instead, consult with the classroom teacher for additional insight and strategies that can assist with building your student’s educational development. Furthermore, parents should make sure they truly understand the grading system because most schools provide different marks for mastery, attitude and behavior.

To ensure the best possible performance, speak with your kids in an age-appropriate manner about academics. Interestingly, younger kids often are mystified about how grades are determined—sometimes assuming they are based on luck or magic. Parents should communicate that good grades are a result of hard work without focusing too much on the actual outcome. When excessive emphasis is placed on a final score, younger children often develop premature anxiety about school performance.

As students enter middle school, the grading system changes to a more traditional ‘letter’ system. Kids also start to understand the importance of doing well as they wonder about what it takes to be successful. However, some question if middle school marks matter because colleges will not see them. While that is true, grades still are important because they impact what classes a student takes in high school. Additionally, a large number of St. Louis students attend private preparatory schools and an academic record review is part of the admission process.

If a family has not done so, middle school is the time to instill proper motivation. Create a family culture that values hard work by celebrating good grades received on papers or projects, not just high scores on report cards. This doesn’t mean buying the latest video game or paying for As, instead bake a special dessert or go out to a fun family dinner, making the hard-earned grade a celebratory event. Emphasize that you are just as proud of the process as you are of the high mark.

In high school, academic measurement becomes even more confusing with GPAs, weighted grades and AP curriculums. Furthermore, your child may actually work very hard at a difficult subject only to receive a low mark. Examine effort and attitude before criticizing a performance. Have a conversation about why your student is struggling, and ask what can be done differently to improve the situation. Being supportive can build confidence and teach students to understand both when and how to seek assistance. That lesson often is more valuable than a high test grade.

Good grades can have a rewarding effect on any student. Earning a C in trigonometry; however, does not doom one to a life of underachievement and minimum wage. Yes, grades do provide valuable insight into a student’s proficiency, but keeping scores in perspective is the key to creating a child who is a lifelong learner. To earn high marks as a parent, teach your children to celebrate successes, understand failures, and work to the best of their ability.

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Are Community Colleges the Future of Higher Ed?

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By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

“I would encourage the young as well as the old to find what excites them and study it.” -Dr. Russell Hyken

The verdict is in: Stereotypes of higher education past have dealt community colleges and vocational schools a bad hand.

And a Time magazine special report on higher education showed the general population (74 percent) strongly or somewhat agreed that there is just too much emphasis on attending a four-year college as opposed to community college or a vocational school.

So, what’s the deal then? These educational experts weigh-in and dish why there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a community college or vocational school for your next educational step after high school.

“Community colleges and/or vocational schools are better than elite universities.”

Surprisingly, this quote comes from Adrian McIntyre, PhD, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley. That’s right –– a public university.

So, why would McIntyre have a seemingly conflicting opinion?

“I have over 13 years experience in university teaching,” McIntyre said. “I’ve also lived and worked in over 30 countries as a journalist, educator, social science researcher, and humanitarian aid worker, so my perspective is rather unconventional.”

Here, he lists his top three reasons for attending a community college:

  1. They tend to serve the broad public interest, rather than the narrow self-interest of a privileged intellectual elite. This means that classroom instruction and practical training is more focused on what’s working now in real-world situations, rather than on the esoteric interests of a career academic whose own reference group is almost exclusively comprised of other career academics.
  2. They’re a good deal cheaper, in most cases, and provide a far greater emphasis on the acquisition of important work-related skills.
  3. They provide an excellent environment for students who are unsure of their long-term commitments –– which is most of them, try out lots of things and fail at them. (People tend to forget that trial-and-error necessarily includes error!) In my experience, students are in too great a rush to “get somewhere” in life without having a clear sense of where they’re going.

“I like that the general population is seeing that too much emphasis is being placed on four-year college.”

Dr. Russell Hyken, author of The Parent Playbook, said the “problem” with four-year colleges being the expected next step after high school is that, while some students are fit for the environment, many are better off attending a community college or vocational school.

“The key to being happy is following your passion in life. If a student loves cars, then go to community college and become a certified mechanic; if a student loves animals, then go to vet tech school; if a student loves literature, then go study English at a four-year college,” Hyken said. “I would encourage the young as well as the old to find what excites them and study it. There are growth opportunities in just about every field. Find your passion, work hard, and life will be better than being stuck in a job that does not fit your interest.”

Hyken points out that regardless of what form of education a student chooses after high school, the key is choosing something.

“Community colleges are great places to explore different courses and figuring out where your passion and interests lie.”

Dr. Francisco C. Rodriguez, superintendent and president of MiraCosta Community College District, a comprehensive two-year community college in Oceanside, CA, said he often tells students, “it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”

“From a two-year community college, students can transfer to nearly any university in the nation,” Rodriguez said. “Here at MiraCosta College, we have a large number of students transfer to UCSD, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and to private universities like Harvard, Duke and USC. The students who take this path are at a substantial advantage because of our smaller classes and emphasis on teaching excellence.”

Rodriguez said students also find two-year community colleges, like MiraCosta, advantageous because they are not only saving money, but learning skills that may not be taught in traditional four-year colleges. As a result, Rodriguez said they’ve seen a jump in enrollment as a result of students who are seeking education as trained workers.

“Most people would be better suited pursuing vocational training instead of attending a traditional college program.”

Chris Surprenant, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Orleans, maintains that the focus in today’s society needs to be on “vocational training, and not so much on the type of school that someone is attending.”

“Advanced study of the sciences, arts, or humanities is not suited for everyone. But everyone needs to get a job, and to get a job you need useful skills,” he said. “To the extent that vocational training will develop these skills, the vast majority of people should be pursuing some form of vocational training beyond high school.”

“Not everybody has to follow the same path to find career satisfaction and a good source of income.”

Dr. Brian Mauro, the associate provost of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s College at Florham in Madison, NJ, said that regardless of what path a student chooses, it’s important he or she considers whether the time, energy and expenses will provide career earning potential and career satisfaction.

“Each individual must choose his or her own educational path,” Mauro said. “He or she must determine which educational experience will provide the quality experiences he or she is looking for as well as the support to help him or her succeed.

Mauro said benefits of attending a traditional four-year college, such as FDU, include more job opportunities because the “unemployment rate is significantly lower for people with a college degree.”

“Community colleges offer locality.”

Dr. Kelli DuCloux offered a unique perspective on the subject when explaining the reasons she sent her 13-year-old son to Riverside Community College District in Perris, CA, after realizing his academic advancement.

“The community college setting offered a more conducive arena that could bridge that gap from the rigors of a major university setting with all its nuances, while still providing some academic challenge beyond that of traditional school for a 13-year-old child,” she explained.

DuCloux said she was also drawn to the fact that the local community college was close to home.

“Our local community college has three colleges in our vicinity,” she said. “He has taken classes onsite at a satellite location as well as online classes with instructors based at the main campus. Both sites are within 15 miles of our home.”

“Today’s community college students are looking for more than simply value.”

Jon Frank, founder and CEO of Admissionado, pointed out that, while budget concerns might have been the original reason students were choosing community colleges or vocational schools “today, reduced cost is just part of the picture.”

Frank referenced a study from Sallie Mae that reported 22 percent of college students with a family income of over $100,000 opted for a community college last year. Four years ago, it was at 16 percent.

“The bottom line is this: the image of the older student returning to community college to take a few certificate classes is changing,” Frank said. “Across the U.S., 46 percent of community college students are younger than 21, according to a 2007 report from the American Association of Community Colleges, up from 42.5 percent in 2003. These younger and often more affluent students also expect a rich on-campus community, complete with extra-curricular activities, upgraded campus facilities, perhaps even the ability to earn credits through summer travel experiences. To meet this demand, today’s community colleges are cultivating ‘the complete college experience.'”

“Students should pursue the degree program that is the best fit for their needs and aspirations.”

Ultimately, said Meredith Principe, vice president of operations and college counseling at CampusBound.com, the driving factor behind any choice to attend an institution of higher learning should be the student’s goals for his or her career path.

“The pressure to attend college directly after high school, as opposed to taking time off to work, explore careers, volunteer, or travel, causes some students to enter college without putting serious thought into what career path will be best for them,” she said. “As a result, some students end up in a four-year curriculum before determining whether or not they need a four-year degree.”

Quick Tips:

  • Adequately research all higher learning opportunities to discover the school that will offer the best training for your future career.
  • Don’t let traditional standards interfere with your goals for school.
  • Keep in mind that a community college or vocational school can be used as a stepping stone toward eventually earning a four-year degree.

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The number of children diagnosed with ADHD has increased by 66% over the last ten years. While this number may be shocking, it’s not all bad news. Dr. Hyken was on Fox2Now discussing the symptoms to look for, how to be tested and the available treatments.

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Helping Kids Reduce the Pain of Comparisons

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When kids return to school this fall, they will do what kids have always done—start making comparisons. Unfortunately, some may feel they don’t measure up as they compare vacations, clothes, or their relative popularity. In a recent segment on KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Russell Hyken discusses what parents can do to better understand why their child may feel inadequate and how to help them cope with that “everyone else is better than me” feeling.

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Separation Anxiety and the First Day of School

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Most back to school articles tend to talk about preparing kids for the first days of school, and this is an important, attention worthy topic. I, however, want to focus on us, the parents, and how we deal with the freedom that September brings. While many are excited to reclaim their homes and their free time, some actually dread the start of school and experience significant stress about their child’s academic success, social circles, and self esteem.

Parents, just like their children, can experience anxiety as summer vacation ends. Furthermore, an anxious adult can negatively impact their child’s mood as kids have an intuitive sense about their parents’ emotional state. If we don’t keep our feelings under control, our kids may mirror our behavior.

The pangs of separation often impact parents as they overly worry about how their children are adjusting to the start of school. In fact, some mothers drop by the classroom and send teacher emails to alleviate their concerns. Others overcome their anxiety by delving into household projects or other “productive” tasks. These short-term fixes, however, may not relieve those anxious feelings, so try to engage in some endorphin boosting activities such as running or scheduling extra time at the gym.

Many parents also rightfully fear that the initial separation associated with the first day of school will be overly emotional for themselves and their children. Visions of a crying child often loop through a concerned mother’s mind especially because this could actually happen. Emotional or not, parents need to exit school quickly after the initial drop off. In fact, a parental presence typically prolongs the stressful situation. While it is painful to see a panicked child, parents need to keep a stiff upper lip and move on. Teachers are well equipped to handle these opening day meltdowns.

Another big stressor is being unprepared for the start of the new school year. Many women focus on getting kids ready with back to school shopping, visiting the appropriate doctors, and attending to last minute details. It is just as important, however, to review school paperwork which contains valuable information about your child’s teachers, room number, and needed school supplies. Also, pay attention to adjusted hours that often accompany the first few days of school. This will ensure the first week goes smoothly reducing not only your anxiety but also creating a positive experience for your kids.

The start of school has also been known to create moody, cranky children causing many parents to be overly apprehensive about the first few weeks. These elevated emotions are the result of newly imposed structure. Students spend all summer waking when they want and lounging about the house. Overnight, they must get up early and eat at scheduled times. A week before the opening bell, structure the day like school is in session. Adjusting the internal body clock prior to the big day puts everyone in a better mood.

Also, don’t forget to talk to your kids about opening day jitters. Parents should not only reassure but also problem solve. Show empathy, work on real solutions to their valid concerns, and avoid dwelling too much on the situation. Parents can create bigger issues if they over focus on a child’s problems. Once you realize that your student is well prepared, your parental anxieties will be significantly reduced.

Lastly, to further alleviate any anxious parental feelings, email your child’s teacher. Professionals are happy to provide feedback about school progress. In fact, be specific about your concerns to receive relevant information about your situation. Teachers appreciate the inquires, and this will further insure that both you and your child have a stress free start.

The beginning of the school year is a period of adjustment for all family members. A good start, however, will benefit a student’s attitude, confidence, and performance long after the opening bell has rung. Even if things get a bit shaky, parents need to maintain a positive attitude. Time will resolve most issues, and kids are actually more resilient than their parents realize.

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When to Hire a Tutor

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My son struggled with his math homework the other night: The cost of two televisions and three DVD players is $1,421. The cost of one DVD player is half the cost of one television. What is the cost of one television? After 15 minutes of deliberation and a trial-and-error algebraic approach, I solved the problem. The next day, my fourth grade child came home with a much simpler solution using the new math.

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