At the first publication of this book, our younger son was 5 years old and our older son was 11 years old. Our sons are now 19 and 25 years old respectively. Our older son has graduated from Amherst College and our younger son is a 2012 Gates Millennium Scholar and currently enrolled in the Honors College at Morehouse College. My wife and I have not only been actively involved in their respective schools (including college), we have made teaching, counseling, mentoring, and expanding college access for all students our life’s work. Through this work, we have been engaged in reviewing research, writing curriculum, building faith- and community-based partnerships, providing staff development for teachers, workshops for parents, and both large group presentations and small group guidance for students.
Far too many students are failing in school, below grade level in reading and math, and leaving high school lacking the skills to be successful in college or to pursue a career. Our role in this crisis has been to provide guidance for teachers, parents, coaches, mentors, and students. Research has shown that any of these groups of people can make a difference in achieving successful outcomes for students—teachers in the classroom, coaches on the field, counselors and mentors through their guidance and assistance, parents in the home, or students through their own determination and self-motivation.
The focus of this book is on those things that we, as parents, can do to prepare our children for school and to shape what happens to our children while they are in school. A Middle School Plan for Students with College-Bound Dreams, A High School Plan for Students with College-Bound Dreams, and Show Me the Money: Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Making the Right College Choice supplement the information provided in this book by focusing on specific strategies for the middle and high school years within the context of ensuring that students are both prepared for college and that they qualify for the necessary financial aid to pay for college. However, a successful journey through the seven-year middle-through-high school experience requires a solid preschool-through-elementary school foundation.
My wife and I went through many school years, through joys and pains, hopes and frustrations, and parent-teacher conferences, as our sons journeyed from preschool through high school and into college. The schools that our sons’ attended could not take total credit for the successes that our sons’ experienced, nor could we as parents attribute total blame for any failures that our sons’ experienced to their respective schools. What and how much our children learned was just as much a function of their learning styles as it was each of their teachers’ teaching styles. How our children behaved in class was influenced by how my wife and I “taught” them to behave at home, coupled with how their classroom teacher “allowed” them to behave at school.
While my wife and I worked diligently to ensure that our children left home with dreams and aspirations which inspired them to learn, we worked equally as diligent with the teachers and staff in their respective schools to ensure that what happened in school did not destroy their dreams and aspirations once our children got there. We did not believe that our children nor any other children, should sit in classrooms for 180 days each year from kindergarten through the twelfth grade to just “get an education”—we believed they needed to get the education which best prepared them to pursue their dreams and aspirations. Having experienced over 30 years of research, changes to school structures, and the most recent adoption of the Common Core State Standards, my wife and I are more convinced of this than ever.
Instead of chapters, this book sets forth 10 steps, with each step designed to provide a focal point for the types of conversations you should engage in on your child’s behalf in order to both increase your child’s success in school and to nurture your child’s growth and development. In addition to these conversations, consider keeping a journal or notebook. Make notes and highlight the strategies you intend to immediately use. Gather your information slowly and over an extended period of time. Throughout the school year, as you gain more insight into your child, expand your conversations and pass helpful information on to your child’s teachers. Your child’s best opportunity to succeed lies in your ability to establish productive dialogue, develop a positive relationship, and create a partnership with your child’s teacher.
As a result of the interest by parents as to how success in school today relates to their child’s future college and scholarship opportunities, I have added information from some of the college and scholarship planning quick guides as they pertain to each step.
According to the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Your child will benefit from your willingness to engage in conversations and collaboration with many people in your village (e.g., parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, social workers, and other students). The strategies that follow provide ways of strengthening the village so we may better prepare our children to succeed in school today and to pursue college and careers in the future. The future success of our families, communities, and country is contingent upon how well we prepare our children for careers, service, leadership, and participation in this increasingly global landscape.