The College Search – Tips

I spent last weekend looking at colleges with my daughter. Of course, it had been my plan to complete this process a bit earlier this time around, yet here we are, the fall of senior year, we’re ready to launch, and we are just finishing up our college visits. However, I do think we are in pretty good shape. Of the final three remaining school visits, one is a third visit—to sit in on classes—at the current first choice school; one is an “official” visit to my son’s college; and one is a school that was added to our list just this week. Once those visits are complete, we’ll stop visiting. But for those of you just beginning this process—no matter the age of your child—I have compiled a list of helpful tips.

Start Early. Let’s face it. High school guidance is not what it once was. I remember in my public school days, we sat down with a guidance counselor and developed a list of the colleges we should investigate. That list contained safety schools, reach schools, and several schools in between. Perhaps that is why I have helped my children to create lists of schools that run the gamut. And then we have taken the time to investigate each school and visit the most promising schools on the list, a time-consuming process that should be started in late sophomore or early junior year. Even in the fall of senior year, our list is changing, evolving, and constantly re-ordering.

Invest your time. If you pay attention on the tours, you will know where you will be investing your resources—both your money and your child. If I am going to invest a good deal of money in a school, I want to know about it. Recently, I was on a tour with another mother who was so busy texting that she was not at all focused on anything the tour guide was saying. I felt bad for her daughter, who will receive little meaningful advice from her mother, and I also felt bad for the tour guide, who was more than aware of this mother’s inability to put her phone away and offer her full attention.

Be an advisor in the process. High school seniors are still kids in so many ways. The decision of which college to attend is a big one. My kids have always attended the local schools and been with the same people. How do they know where they will be happy for the next four years? I can gently guide and suggest, and I can push them complete each step of the college process. I can pay attention to things we see and hear on the college visits, but most importantly, I can listen to what my child is saying and how he/she is reacting on our various campus visits.

Don’t be afraid to say the things your child needs to hear. I have been known to comment on the minimal endowment of a school and how that shows fiscal instability. I have commented on the glaring lack of students on a campus as well as inattentive faculty and staff. I have also been known to say, “That wasn’t the cleanest campus I’ve seen,” because maintenance is often the first area where cuts are made. As parents, we can spot problem areas that our children might miss.

Trust your gut (and teach your son or daughter to do the same). Every college campus has its own atmosphere and feel. When you walk onto the campus, you will get a feel for whether the school is a place you will be comfortable or not. The students, the buildings, the attitudes are all apparent, and they all reveal secrets. Pay attention. Feel the feels. If you don’t feel enlivened and comfortable with what you see, it’s probably not the school for you. Then again, if you look around and think, “I could definitely be happy here,” maybe it is your school.

Watch your step. And finally, a tip for the wanderer. If you decide to wander around a school on your own, be careful. Some doors will lock behind you. Those with a school ID can use it to unlock the doors, but those without may find themselves trapped in a hallway or stairwell they didn’t intend to be trapped in. I have no reason (at least not one that I will admit) to know this information. I will just say, trust me on this one. Check all doors before you let them close.

As I finish up my second time through this process, I am constantly learning. Next time, I’m going to complete the college search earlier, especially because my youngest has very busy summers. But also, I have a feeling the third time around—the last time—I might be able to get it right.

High School Awards

Because this morning, I was grappling with how I would address this topic–one that is so important–I am reblogging this excellent post: http://www.karensargentbooks.com/blog/kid-doesnt-get-award/

A Mom’s Reflections on High School

When I was a teenager, I attended high school. Well, you’re thinking. Didn’t we all?

Yes, we did. But recently, I have become convinced that many of us block out the truth of our high school experience—the feelings of being a lone boat adrift on an endless sea—and that is a distinct barrier to effectively parenting our teenage children.

In reality, my high school experience is the single best training I have in my quest for effectively relating to my own teenagers, and I will be a better parent if I can tap into the feelings I had in high school.

If I can recall all the times I felt out of place and lonely, when I was laughed at or pushed aside, I will be able to relate to my children when they come to me in tears after being rejected or treated poorly by a peer or peer group.

If I can conjure the relief that came with the end of the school year and the long summer vacation, I will be able to reassure my children that two months off fixes a great many ills that have festered over the long months of a confining academic year.

If I can elicit the intense need I felt to stretch my wings beyond the walls of the school, I can help my children to see the promise of the future rather than dwell in the tedium of the daily life of cliques and classes.

If I can remember all the reasons I was never seen without a book tucked under my arm and all the times I used the book to hide, I can help my kids find their own healthy means of escape.

But most importantly, if I am able to reflect back on my own high school career with an honest perspective—remembering both the good times and the challenging, I can help my kids to recognize that high school may not be the best four years, but it doesn’t have to be the worst four years, either. Instead, it can be the beginning of a period of intense growth as they begin to discover who they are and what they want from life.

Yes, I attended high school. And yes, my four years in that environment can help me to better understand and empathize with my children. I will be a better parent if I can not only tap into the feelings of being in high school, but be willing to share those feelings and experiences with my own children.

And maybe, just maybe—as we navigate the challenges—I can convince my kids that they not only have the ability to make their own lives better, they also have the opportunity to better the lives of the other students they pass in the hallways.

Collaboration Qualm

I came across this quote today, and I found it intriguing. Visualize a qualm….

To me, an academic assignment that involves group work is sort of like a dish of melting ice cream. You might be deeply interested in the topic or the assignment, but the fact that you have to complete it with a group is disappointing and takes the fun out of the process. You know that you will have someone in the group who doesn’t carry his or her weight, and you are concerned that one person’s lack of contribution will affect the outcome of the entire project. And the evaluation of said project. And ultimately, the grade.

I have witnessed a few too many group projects gone wrong. In truth, if I had a dime for every time a student came to me with a complaint about a group project, I would be a wealthy woman. “This person isn’t doing any work, so now I have to do her part and my part,” or “So-and-so won’t respond to my texts, and he hasn’t completed the research we need.”

Wouldn’t you think by now, teachers would realize that a group will always carry one or more individuals. Group projects are a punishment to the good students because one or two of them will be forced to do all of the work and the others will skate through on the work (and the grades) of those students.

I have qualms about collaborative assignments. You probably have your own qualms. A dish of melting ice cream, a deflated balloon, a sailboat in the middle of a lake without a lick of breeze in the air. Think about your own qualms and come up with a good metaphor to describe them.

[Image credit: http://www.relatably.com/q/qualms-quotes%5D

Saturday Wanderings

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Back when he was in fifth grade, maybe sixth, my son created a simulated Black Hole for a project for science. Now, this was not just a table-top diorama. No. When my kid creates a Black Hole, it is going to be a big one.

He thought long and hard about how he would complete this project. On Amazon, he discovered that he could purchase a large sheet of black lycra. He set about to create a frame for the material, and he used PVC pipe and joints.

Actually, the finished product was pretty impressive. He carried it to school unassembled in his sister’s duffle bag. When he put it all together, it was three feet tall and four feet from one side to the other. His teacher was impressed. But as impressive as this project was, it is not the point of this blog post.

Fast forward to this past fall. The large sheet of lycra had been hanging around my house for awhile. We all knew it belonged to W, but it was in the living room; it was in the bedroom; it was in the basement. It really hadn’t found a home. After it had kicked around for too long, W picked it up one day and said, “Do you think I could make a hammock out of this?” And the next thing I knew, I had a hammock hanging from the beams above the ceiling tile in my basement. The best part was that the ceiling tiles had to be pushed aside to make this work.

But then he decided he wanted to make it into a real hammock rather than just a piece of lycra tied to some rope tied to the beams. He spent the better part of a day pleating the material and stitching it together on my sewing machine. The parts that were too thick—where he looped the lycra over and connected it to the rope—were sewn by hand. His newly reconfigured hammock passed the basement test with flying colors.

So last weekend, he took the hammock on a camping trip to test it out for real. Yes, it is February, which means that here in New Hampshire, it is the middle of winter. Personally, I am not sure if I would rather sleep on the frozen ground or in a hammock at this time of year. When I was discussing this issue with my daughter, she had the same first response I had. “Bridges freeze first!”

(And that, my friends, is a clear indication that if nothing else, my daughter learned one important fact in her Drivers Education class, and it is one that she will never forget!)

The argument on whether it’s warmer to sleep on the ground or in a hammock (if you must sleep outside in the dead of winter) is still out for debate, but here’s what I did learn. Getting out of a hammock in the middle of the night in the dead of winter to use the latrine is not too much fun.

[Image credit: FreeImages.com / Orlando Alonzo]

The Process of Learning

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At dinner recently, my children mentioned the struggles some of their friends face with their parents. They recounted stories of friends who are grounded for having unacceptable grades when their parents check their Powerschool account.

Ugh, Powerschool. For those not familiar with academic technologies, Powerschool and other similar online grading tools can be valuable for checking on grades and making sure your child is on task, and also allowing them to adjust their studying and homework as necessary before grades close. But this type of technology can just as easily be abused as a micro-management tool.

When I was a student in high school (as with most parents of teenagers today), my parents saw my grades at the end of each quarter when I received my report card. Between report cards, I had the choice of what I would share with them and what I wouldn’t. If I chose not to share an “oops” grade, I had to be pretty certain that I could bring up my grade in that subject before the end of the marking period; and not sharing a bad test grade would give me extra drive and motivation to do so. Nowadays, parents can see grades along the way. Every day, if they’d like. Every. Single. Grade.

Here’s the thing. Learning is actually about growth, not grades. Learning is a process—one that we hone over time—that is sometimes successful, and sometimes not so much. The process of learning requires constant revision and self-evaluation.

Grades are part of the process of learning, and can help students with the self-assessment and re-evaluation necessary for improvement. Grades are not merely a product of the learning process, as people often think.

I work with college writers on a daily basis, and by the time students come to my office, they are already focused on the grade they will receive and not on the process of improving their writing. Very seldom does a day go by when I don’t say to one student or another, “Writing is a process.” Students want to focus on the product—the final, graded draft—and be done with it. But it is a rare writer (at any level) who can write a quality, finished essay the first time around and not have to go back and revise.

Overall, learning is a lot like writing. As students learn more challenging material [or learn a different subject matter … from a different teacher… in a different textbook or context], they have to put into practice what they know about learning, the subject at hand, and their past experiences, all while they constantly adjust their process to fit the situation. What worked last week for one bit of material might not work as well this week. A poor grade on a test or quiz will alert the self-aware student to what is not working, and will allow that student to re-evaluate and revise what he or she is doing.

Come to think of it, this is a lot like life. We are constantly editing and revising; we are examining our approach and making adjustments—fine-tuning, if you will. If we, as parents, don’t step back and offer our children some space to figure things out and some room to grow and examine their own performance, we are teaching them that learning is about the product, in this case, the grade. This parental approach to academics does a grave disservice to our children. Not only are we hijacking our children’s learning process to get the result we desire, we are teaching them that the grade is more important than fostering the innate intellectual curiosity and creativity that comes when they follow their learning in a direction that is of interest to them.

When children are conditioned to only look at the end result—the grade—the fear of failure can become paralyzing. And more than likely, children in this situation will learn not to take risks, but to take the “safe” path. Learning how to deal with failure, on the other hand—how to bounce back from a low essay grade or a bombed test—is a far more effective life lesson than learning to be afraid of failure. They also begin to realize that failure is an integral part of the process.

My son recently completed his first semester in college. For the first half of the semester, he struggled with one particular class—it was a subject he had never studied, and the professor had a well-earned reputation for being tough. In the end, my son received his lowest grade of the term in that course. However, I believe that grade was the one he was most proud of because he learned more about the process of learning, approaching the academic rigors of college, and self-advocacy from that class than he did from all of his other classes put together.

If I were to give advice to parents, I would say, step back. Give your children some room to fall while they still have you there to guide them and help them navigate the rough waters they encounter. Without a little room to figure things out on their own, not only will children have no motivation to get up when they fall, they will not learn how to get back up—to recover from setbacks and move forward.

Let your children stumble so they can assess and reassess and redirect. Help them to learn the important lessons that lead them toward resilience. Now, more than ever, our society is going to be looking for people who can not only face setbacks with grace, but can help others do so, as well.

Summer

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Today was the official last day of school, though only one of my children actually had to attend school. The high school finished up last week, with today set aside for students who needed to take make-up exams. The middle school—and lower grade students—had a half-day of school today. The last day.

When my son came home from school at 11:40 this morning, my daughter looked at him, confused. “Where did you go today?” she asked him.

He looked at her, a steady, blink-less stare, as if to say, Really? But he turned and walked away without saying a word.

Today is the first official day of summer, and my house is full of teenagers. A pile of shoes greets anyone who dares to enter the house. I think my boyfriend and I—both seasoned educators of teens—are the only ones who dare. The parents who arrived for drop-off and pick up waved tentatively from their cars.

Giggling, laughing, screaming, some piano playing, a bit of singing, chatting, and a lot of texting were the activities of the day. Swimming, pizza, and more laughing and giggling were sprinkled in for good measure.

Because I reside in a townhouse and share walls with others, I warned my neighbors of my houseful of teenagers. They didn’t seem to mind. Then again, it is only the first official day of summer….

Meanwhile, I sit at my kitchen table trying to complete the day’s work. Over the years, I have learned to navigate the noise and commotion of children in the house while I work. Because in the summer, I work from home. My crazy home.

Over the years, little has changed. Friends have come and gone. Voices have grown deeper and the shoes… they have grown bigger.

It’s officially summer. Welcome to my crazy home. Hopefully, the pile of shoes at the door won’t scare you.

 

Daily prompt: summer