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Seven tips for parents sending kids off to high school

Many Georgia students return to school tomorrow, 90 degrees or not. Now high school seniors, my twins will be among them.

Despite spending most of my waking time reading, writing or talking about education, I've made a few school missteps with my four children. None was fatal, but most were avoidable had I paid a bit more attention.

For example, my twins haven't visited many colleges yet, in part because I was on standby this summer for the arrival of a new grandchild. That means my husband and I will devote most fall weekends to driving our kids to schools and marveling how campus tour guides don’t trip as they walk backwards pointing out the science building, the student center and the new climbing wall.

(We did visit Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville last week, and our talented tour guide, junior Luke Johnson of Peachtree City, proved an able backwards walker and terrific salesman for the school.)

Given my experiences, here's some basic advice for parents of students starting high school:

  1. Pay attention. My twins go to a well-run public high school, but I’ve been surprised at the number of errors, often clerical in nature and easy to overlook if you’re not vigilant. (Some examples: A B on a transcript when they earned an A in the course. Failure to get on the list for a field trip, class or program even though they were approved or had paid the fees and turned in the forms.)
  2. Look at all the stuff on the parent portal even though it’s often as confusing as the toaster oven instructional manuals written in China.
  3. If your child is struggling, invest in tutoring. If the high school provides free tutoring, urge your teen to take advantage of it. However, if that tutoring is not consistent or high quality, find a reasonably priced tutor who will show up every week and work with your child throughout the year. For example, see if you can hire a Georgia Tech student to tutor your teen in math. Research increasingly shows one-on-one tutoring is the most effective way to catch up students. Our high school offered early morning and after-school tutoring but my kids invariably chose the same session as two-thirds of their peers so there was a crowd vying for the teacher’s limited time. (Important fact to emphasize to your kids: A teacher will award them more credit for effort if they show up at tutoring.)
  4. If something is important to you or if you have questions, send an email. If no one responds – and that happens -- follow-up with another email. If you have a meeting with counselors or teachers, send an email afterward thanking them for their time, but also stating what you believe was the outcome of the meeting and, if there are actions to come, what the timetable is.
  5. This is contrary to what many high school counselors say, but have your teen start taking the SAT and the ACT at the end of 10th grade or during 11th grade. One of my children’s classmates took the SAT three times in her junior year and she’s done. So, she's now concentrating on college applications while we're  still scheduling test dates and trying to squeeze in test prep around campus tours.
  6. I don’t care what anyone says – SAT and ACT prep make a difference. There are more colleges every year that don't mandate scores from standardized admissions tests, but UGA and Georgia Tech aren't yet among them. If your school has free prep, sign up. If not, consult with other parents about strong private prep programs in your area.
  7. On some calm February evening when your high school freshmen or sophomores are watching “Chopped,” sit down and show them a typical college application. Point out all the questions about how they demonstrated leadership in high school, how they displayed academic commitment or how they helped the community. Senior year is the wrong time to first think about those answers.

Here is a bonus tip from a teacher who commented on the blog via Facebook. She makes excellent points:

Don't disengage. If a teacher sends you an email, read it. When we tell you your child is having trouble focusing or maybe poorly placed, we are really trying to help you. When we tell you your child is doing okay even though he/she struggled on the last test, please trust us. Some struggle is good. On the other hand, please contact the teacher, if all you see is struggling and nightly tears or anxiety. You may see somethings we don't. Let us know, if your family is facing adversity. Your child brings that to school like a heavy weight. Communication is key in high school, because teens stop talking in many case. Teachers are in this with you.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.