A Pat on the Back Can Help in a Right Direction

Receiving a pat on the back can really make someone’s day. I got to watch this exactly that with my daughter honored at her middle school. She was among around 18 students, covering the three middle school grades, who received a Student of the Month award.

The school principal listed off the many criteria that the nominating teachers wrote: responsible student, practices good citizenship, helpful to others, turns work in on time, participates in class, a joy to have in class, plays a sport, keeps on task … The list repeated for many of the young honorees. It tickled me as a mother of a sixth-grader what characteristics stood out for the nominating teacher. My daughter is sort of that ideal student – not overly chatty, participates in class, turns in work on time and keeps on task. She is an honor roll student. Her dad and I are proud.

We try not to live vicariously through our child. We support her physical and emotional needs, aid her when she has questions on homework or simply on life and we try to guide her to make choices that are appropriate and good for her and the world around her. The principal agrees with these parental responsibilities. I can tell that he likes parent support. He mentioned it during the Student of the Month breakfast.

A two-year-old study from ACT, The Forgotten Middle, makes the case that college readiness can be predicted as early as 8th grade. The authors of this study found that students need to be on track for college (both in terms of academic achievement and positive academic behaviors [e.g., good study habits, having positive relationships with school personnel, etc.] by 8th grade if they are to be successful in college.) I listened to the principal as he quoted the study and I nodded vigorously in agreement.

Yes, I want my daughter to go to college. However, I first want her to understand that each grade, each subject is a chance to build on her previous knowledge. I wish I could get young kids to understand this rather than looking at their classes as independent and in a vacuum. We don’t learn in a vacuum. There are threads that run through our education.

I love when people say I will never need to know history or algebra after school. Do many of us need to remember that the English Magna Carta dates to 1215 (and its subsequent revisions) or do we need to remember that many of the principles set forth are mirrored in our American Constitution? Dates and exact facts may fade, but the ideas and the intent of lessons remain. If you are like my daughter, then math is your strength and those principles seldom waver. Math is a great constant in her life and in the world around us all. It’s pretty amazing that she is this totally modern girl who believes that nothing should hold her back — not any of the stereotypes that girls aren’t good at math.

So what awaits my daughter during her last two years of middle school? Well, she has been approved for challenge classes in all her core subjects but communication arts. She’s OK with that because while she enjoys reading and writing, the two fall below her love of math and science. However, her father and I stress the importance of all subjects and to seek out enjoyment in all.

May be she will try our district’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Program which is a demanding college preparatory curriculum in the classical liberal arts. Or she may be happy with an honors diploma and rigorous coursework. Whatever the case, our daughter knows she needs to keep her grades and a life plan in mind. Yes, she has a life plan that includes completing high school, earning scholarships and going into college to probably study engineering. However, if she doesn’t study engineering, she will study to her strengths because that is what her teachers and her parents have taught her to do.

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