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Topic: Lessons For All Parents - From Parents of Top Students
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
Lessons For All Parents - From Parents of Top Students
Posted: Sep 5, 1998 5:07 PM
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From: Bottom Line/Personal, Vol. 19, No. 12, June 15, 1998, pp. 1-2.

Education Plus: Lessons for All Parents from Parents of Top Students

Karen D. Arnold, PhD, Boston College

No matter how busy parents are today, there are ways that they can help
their children do exceptionally well in high school.

I recently completed a study of nearly 100 valedictorians around the
country, and I found virtually all had received substantial support and
encouragement from their parents and teachers.

Here are the lessons that can help any parent...

- Demonstrate the joys of working hard. Valedictorians love to work hard
in school, and they relish the resulting rewards and recognition. Many of
them openly admire and emulate their parents' hard work. They get a "buzz"
when working at the peak of their potential.

What you can do: Tell your child about your struggles and efforts at work
or with a hobby or a pastime. Make it clear that accomplishments don't
just happen. Express the excitement of tackling creative problems and
solving them.

- Cultivate your child's early identity as a good student. The
valedictorians I spoke with after graduation knew that they were good
students early in life. All said that their families labeled them as good
students, and all said they loved hearing their parents brag about them.

Valedictorians from large families basked in the extra attention--and used
their achievements to forge identities within their families.

What you can do: Establish a question-friendly atmosphere. Before solving
your kids' problems, ask them what they think and work the problems out

- Admire persistence and process--not just outcome. Parents need to probe
more into the scholastic lives of their children. Career planning can
start early if a student develops a passion for a specific subject.
Facilitate areas of fascination by placing your child in the appropriate

What you can do: Ask lots of questions--Did you learn anything neat
today?...What are you working on in math?...What are you excited about in
school these days?

Answers to a few of these questions will give you a sense of the areas that
could use your encouragement.

Examples: Perhaps an aspiring musician would like to go to a music camp
next summer instead of an all-around camp...or it may help to find a lawyer
who can serve as a mentor for a student interested in law.

A teacher or guidance counselor may help you locate someone who can have a
tremendous impact on your child's career development.

- Engage yourself in vital school activities and outside interests.
Valedictorians' parents are intensely involved. They keep in close touch
with the school and drive their kids to after-school programs.

What you can do: Busy parents can't join every committee. But they can
take steps to stay involved in key areas and, of course, attend children's
performances, debates and athletic events.

- Contact teachers with whom your children are close. They may have great

Example: A high school physics teacher raved about his alma mater's annual
engineering open house. The parent of one of his students picked up on
that and took his daughter to the university. She fell in love with
nuclear engineering, and now she is a research scientist.

- Intervene fast when difficulties arise. One disastrous class can ruin a
child's attitude toward school as well as his/her grade point average.

Do homework compelling books on subjects of interest...and
speak with teachers monthly--not to blame them but to ask them, What can we
do to help?

- Help children work comfortably within the system. Success in school
depends on conforming to a system of largely unspoken rules. You have to
acknowledge that the rules exist.

The valedictorians loved all aspects of school and had a thorough
understanding of how the system worked. They worked efficiently...had a
sense of what tests would be like...and knew what teachers expected from

What you can do: Explain the consequences of not buying into the system.
The trade-offs from doing one's own thing--messy papers, missed deadlines,
etc.--include low grades, a low class ranking and low self-esteem.

- Make life attractive outside the party scene. The culture of the party
crowd is almost always anti-achievement--except in sports and academic
clubs. Many valedictorians found their friends in elective classes or
religious groups. Valedictorians rarely drank alcohol--and never used

What you can do: Expose your children to social alternatives. Encourage
diverse friendships. Host alcohol-free parties. Encourage socially
conscious volunteer work, backpacking trips and other adventures where
independence counts, such as in the arts and in individual--rather than
team--sports. Create opportunities for your child to have fun alone so he
can look at the peer culture scene and decide whether to take it or leave

- Make homework an integral part of the daily routine. Valedictorians are
highly organized. They know how to summarize their notes and prepare for
tests. When a topic interests them, they follow up independently.

Whether or not they should do their work isn't a daily decision. It would
be a major decision not to do it. Most valedictorians have a special place
to work--at home or at the library.

What you can do: Provide a desk, an attractive lamp and special supplies.
Show a deep respect for the homework routine. Discuss ways to organize the take notes on file cards...and to use the Internet for research.

Be aware of your children's long-term projects, and show continuing
interest in how those projects are progressing. If reinforcement is
needed, permit socializing and TV only after work has been completed.
Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Karen D. Arnold, PhD, associate professor
of higher education at Boston College and director of the Illinois
Valedictorian Project, Urbana. She is author of Lives of Promise: What
Becomes of High School Valedictorians, Jossey-Bass Publishers/$35.95.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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