As new high school students adjust to the move from middle school, some of them might still be looking around at their larger classes, new classmates and bigger buildings, and finding them a little impersonal.
Lee’s Summit High School Principal John Faulkenberry suggests that freshmen get more comfortable by becoming involved right away in at least one sport, club or activity.
“Research is very clear about the positive relationship between involvement during high school and academic achievement,” Faulkenberry said. “Getting freshmen off to a good start is very important.”
While high school is an exciting time for students, it can be unnerving for parents as teenagers have more latitude to make their own decisions, said Park Hill High School Principal Brad Kincheloe. Although it’s important to jump in before a mistake puts teens in the way of long-term harm, it is equally important to let them make mistakes with smaller consequences.
Mistakes, Kincheloe said, can result in one of three outcomes. “Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you get justice and sometimes you get mercy. If a student hasn’t experienced making mistakes, they never experience justice and mercy.”
Parents should guard against attributing their children’s failures to themselves, Kincheloe said. “Let the student own not only his own successes,” he said, “but his own failures.”
“From my experience, the parents who produce students most capable of leaving the nest with reasonable assurance they will succeed in the next endeavor are those who systemically encourage their children to advocate for themselves and work through their problems, on their own, as much as possible,” he said.
If a student is struggling in a class, for example, his parent could encourage him to meet one-on-one with the teacher, possibly multiple times, before the parent emails or calls. A parent who always steps in right away denies the child an important learning opportunity.
So how should parents who regularly monitor progress online react when a low grade or incomplete pops up? Kincheloe advises enacting a 48-hour rule — telling a child he’s going to be asked in 48 hours how he intends to fix the problem.
Educators say the desire for impressive GPAs can overshadow the fundamental goal of education.
Seniors who forgo rigorous courses such as college-preparatory writing, laboratory sciences and math are making a critical mistake, Faulkenberry believes.
“It is far better for a student to have earned a B or C in a rigorous course that tested his capabilities versus earning an A in a less difficult course,” he said.
He often counsels college-bound juniors and seniors who may steer away from math that a passing grade in college algebra is non-negotiable if they want to earn a degree. Using high school as a time to improve areas of weakness makes more sense than waiting until college, when students might have to shell out hundreds of dollars per credit hour.
But adults often approach education differently than they do most other facets of life, Kincheloe said. A baseball coach helping a player who’s good at hitting but not fielding will work on fielding. But parents of children who are better at math than English are likely to steer their kids toward math classes.
“Education should be about learning what you don’t know,” Kincheloe said, “and enhancing what you do.” He hopes parents will encourage their teens not to shy away from what seems difficult. “I have never in 39 years had a single graduate come back and say, ‘I worked too hard in high school.’ I have, however, had some say they wished they had taken more difficult courses that would have better prepared them for the future.”
Once students identify their post-high school goals, Faulkenberry said, parents should help them work backwards. Those heading to college should take, at a bare minimum, one high school college-level course, such as an International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or dual credit class. It will give them and their parents a preview of the experience to come.
“It is highly unlikely that you will ever again be able to take a college-level course at this particular pace or with as much support as you will find at your high school,” Faulkenberry said. “Take advantage of the opportunity.”
Kincheloe has similar advice for parents of kids who are on the verge of adulthood: “Take these last four years and relish every moment!”