Heading Back 2 School:
3 Ways to Help Students Make this Year Their Best
By Janna M Hall
Well, it’s official: summer break is coming to an end. The signs are all around us; swimsuits are replaced by backpacks on store racks, the beach toy displays are now stocked with school supplies, and the weather’s slowly creeping down from the 90s and into the 80s. Soon, it’ll be in the 70s, and our short-sleeved shirts will be covered by light jackets as football season kicks off. Whether a student’s summer was everything they hoped it would be or just another hot three months, we must face the inevitable: school is back in session, and it’s time to get prepared.
When it comes to school, preparation is about so much more than buying school supplies and new clothes for the upcoming year. Our students need a refresher, or a crash course on a what constitutes a successful academic year, if you will. Too often, students—from elementary school to college—dart out the classroom on the last day with no plans of looking back until that dreadful September day. (For many, that day comes even sooner, in August.) They forget the lessons they’ve learned, ditch the textbooks they’ve used, and vow to make the most of their summer. But as summer comes to a close, parents have a unique role in getting their student equipped with some nuggets of wisdom that’ll make this upcoming year their best yet. No matter what year the student is entering, parents can play an integral role in their success by simply encouraging them and imparting much needed wisdom before and during the year.
While the ways in which a parent, teacher, or guardian can help shape a student’s future are endless, we’ve got three keys that’ll help you make a monumental impact on their academic year.
- Help them to set realistic goals.
Success and strategy go hand in hand. There are very few people or businesses who have seen success without actually planning for it and strategizing the best way to get there. The same applies for education. As the school year commences, sit with your student and identify what their goals are for the year. Do they want to reach a certain GPA? Do they want to improve in a particular subject? Maybe they’ve had issues with attendance and want to be better at making it to class on time. Having goals like “to make better grades” or “to get involved on campus” are too broad and set your student up for failure. What do “good grades” look like? Is it a C on those tough Calculus exams instead of the D’s they struggled to raise last year? Is it finally getting an A in the class they consistently made a B+ in? Earning a 4.0 GPA is a great goal to have, but breaking down that 4.0 into subjects, exams, and homework assignments that need to be aced is a much better way of achieving that goal. Remember: Success looks different to every student, and without clear cut, realistic goals, they won’t be able to recognize success when they see it.
- Encourage them to get Involved in Organizations
Without a doubt, campus involvement enhances the college experience. Unlike high school, the people you see on a regular basis in college depends on your field of study. More often than not, if you’re a Business major, you’ll spend a great deal of time in the School of Business engaging with other Business students. Joining organizations allows you to build friendships with like-minded people you’d otherwise never meet around campus, so encourage your student to attend mixers and get familiar with what the school has to offer. And if one of their goals is to get involved on campus, discuss what that looks like to them. Being the on-campus party promoter looks much different than being the Treasurer for the Black Student Alliance, for example.
Talk with your student about what type of organization they’re drawn to. Do they want to join one that’s community service-based, or do they want to interact and connect with other students and organizations around campus? Do they want to join a fraternity or sorority? Are they interested in religion or politics? There are organizations for those, too! Getting involved on campus is a great use of student time, and you want to make sure your student has the support and information needed to get involved in a way that truly enhances their college experience. The reality is that with so many options for students, it can get so overwhelming that students opt out altogether. But helping your student identify their options and think about what they want out of campus involvement will help them make the best decision.
- Remind them that Extra Credit is the Icing on the Cake, Not the Entire Cake
At the end of the school year, students flood their teachers’ email and book appointments after class to discuss what can be done to raise their grade. It never fails; students who have either slacked off on assignments throughout the year or failed to ever ask for help finally realize they’re not getting the grade they’d hoped for, and they panic. They rely on the help of extra work to boost their grade instead of using it to supplement the hard work they put forth every day in school. Our students should complete work each day with the belief that what they score on tests and homework is their final grade—there are no do-overs or extra credit assignments they can fall back on.
Jimmette Jones, former English Department Chair at George Wythe High School, spent her years in education reminding her students that relying on extra credit is no way to excel.
“Waiting until the close of a quarter is super stressful,” she explains. “It’s stressful for the student because they’re forced with a sometimes unrealistic timeframe in which to complete extra credit assignments, and stressful for the teacher who will have to grade them all.”
Jones goes on to explain that as a result of the stress, students who rely on extra credit assignments never maximize their full potential. “Extra credit should be used as a tool to improve a grade by a couple points—for example, if you’re two points away from an A,” she says. “Extra credit will not be what will redeem your grade from an F.”
Encourage the students in your life to form study groups or set up after-school tutoring with their teacher. Quiz them regularly. Have them calculate their grade throughout the year so they’re always abreast of where they stand in the class. The idea is to have your student aware of their progress so that there are no surprises at the end of the grading period. Your student won’t need to beg for additional work, and their teacher won’t have to scramble to grade that extra work. Everyone wins!
The cure for the Back-to-School blues is not an extended summer. The only real cure is the feeling of preparedness and hope that this year will be better than the last. Our youth don’t possess all the answers or hold the keys to success, so they need our help along the way. It’s our roles as the adult in their life to help equip them with a new execution strategy for all of their 2016-2017 goals. With a clear idea of what they want to accomplish and how they’ll do it all, they’ll start the year with confidence and be sure to finish strong.
Photos: Ervin B. Clarke.