I hate doing my kid's homework, a mom's blog

For my son, the GED was the perfect solution to finishing high school

December 14, 2017

I was pleased to see Idaho’s high school graduation rates have risen, ever so slightly (nine schools in Idaho that have 100 percent graduation rates!). Upward progress is good, though Idaho ranks 40th in the nation.

How can we encourage our kids to graduate? What are the factors that keep our kids from finishing high school?

My oldest son did not finish traditional high school. He took online classes for the majority of his high school education.

When his senior year rolled around, we considered enrolling him in a public high school. We met with the school counselor and I was disappointed to discover it would not be easy. A lot of his online credits were not credits that the school required and conversely, a lot of the credits that the public school required, he had not yet taken. In order for him to graduate, he would have had to repeat his junior year.

I sat with him and we discussed his options; continue with online school and audit choir (he loves singing) or transfer to public school and repeat his junior year. A third option would have been to discontinue his education and work full time.

We chose to continue with online school (and take choir). As we reviewed the online classes he needed to graduate, we realized that there wouldn’t be enough time for him to complete his high school education and start college in the fall. We were all very frustrated, and my son was losing the motivation needed to continue taking online classes.

My son wanted to go to a local college, so I decided to call and ask about the Boise State University application requirements for online/homeschooled students. They were understanding and took the time to discuss options. Because my son had a good score on the ACT, BSU informed me that if he got a good score on the GED, he could be admitted.

I had never considered the GED as an option for finishing high school. I didn’t know that students who got their GED could still apply to college. To be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about the GED or about applying for college. I learned that, not only can a student go on to college with a GED, but if the student scores high enough, they can even earn college credit and apply for the honors college (at BSU).

So he decided to take the GED and apply for college. I found the link to the website and got it to work. This is what I learned about the GED; there are four tests that can each be taken separately.  The tests are given at several locations around the state (the website can help you locate the nearest testing site). The student can take one test at a time, or combine any number of tests. There are study guides available (for purchase) and if needed, the test can be retaken (to improve scores).

My son did well on the Language Arts test, but had to take the social studies test more than once. He was able to send all of his test scores directly to the BSU admissions department, along with his ACT scores and application.

For my son, the GED was the perfect solution to finishing his high school education. He was ready to be done with high school, and wanted to start college to pursue his career goals. If he had transferred to the public high school, or continued with online school, he may have gotten discouraged and given up. Taking the GED and applying to college gave him hope and excitement about continuing his education. His GED test scores gave him the confidence and the knowledge that he was ready for higher education.

I know that the GED is not the solution for everyone, but it was a great solution for my son.

What can we do to encourage our kids to complete their high school education, and go on to higher education?

Student council taught my son leadership and responsibility

December 6, 2017

I was on the student council when I was in high school (a long time ago). I learned a little bit about leadership and how to work with other people. I thought it was a good experience, so I have encouraged my kids to run for office, but none of my kids were ever interested… until last year. My son told me he was running for sophomore class vice president… and, could I please help him find a good picture, make a poster, get them printed, and put up all over the school… that day. I didn’t have anything else to do (ha), so I helped him get it all done. He made a great poster, ran a good campaign (against two others) and got elected.

Now that he has been part of the student council for a few months, I decided to ask him about his duties and responsibilities.

— Each student council member participates in teacher appreciation. Once a month he gets a small gift for an assigned teacher, and then the student council presents it to the teacher. It takes the entire school year to ‘appreciate’ all of the teachers.

I love that my son is learning to appreciate the many teachers that spend their time educating students like him.

— He is required to complete 12 hours of community service, that must be approved by his advisor.

He even volunteered at a local half marathon that I ran, but could not count the hours for student council, because it was not approved. He was really disappointed, but I wasn’t. Community service is always a good thing.

— He spent three hours checking students in and out for the school “blood drive.”

I was surprised to learn that students who are over the age of 16 can give blood — as long as they have parent consent.

— He helped plan and attended the Homecoming Dance.

— The student council planned, and made posters for ‘spirit week’ and ‘red ribbon week’.

Kids need the opportunity to plan and run events and activities. The more they are involved, the more they can appreciate the hard work that goes into a great event.

— Student council members were excused from school, for the day, to help with the middle school reality town. (I wrote about that experience here.) They were in charge of helping eighth grade students make decisions about (pretend) money and services. Unfortunately, my son didn’t participate due to school obligations.

I was really proud of him for being responsible. He wanted to participate with reality town, but instead he chose to go to class.  

— Each member is asked to set a good example for the whole school. They all wore these student council shirts to school on Monday.

— My son had to learn how to run an effective campaign (with a voting population of 450 sophomores). We put up all of his posters after school, and the next morning they were taken down, because he failed to get them approved.

He learned the importance of following the campaign rules, especially after he had to remake all of his posters.

— He attended a student council conference, with students from 30 other high schools. He learned how other schools run their student council and he made new friends.

— The student council members take a student leadership class (for elective credits).

I think that any leadership opportunities are good experience for the future.

— Because of student council, my son has gotten to know the students, administrators and teachers better.

Overall, student council has helped my son learn leadership, planning and cooperation skills. He’s still not a big fan of service. He told me, “Doing service is lame, but I signed up for it, so I guess I have to do it.”

So proud.

Are your kids in student council? Do you think it is beneficial?

 

Take time to talk to your principal

December 6, 2017

I met with the principals from an elementary, middle and high school in the West Ada School District to ask them about how they do their jobs.

I asked them questions from the book, The Smartest Kids in the World;

  1. How do you choose your teachers?
  2. How do you make your teacher better?
  3. How do you measure success?
  4. How do you make sure the work is rigorous enough?
  5. How do you keep raising the bar to find out what kids can do?
  6. (My own question) How can parents be more involved in the school?

The responses were varied, and very interesting.

  1.        How do you choose your teachers?

To determine what new teachers to hire, each principal begins by looking at applicants who met the district standards. After the applicant meets the criteria, they looked at:

  • Do they have a love for the students and can they connect well with kids?
  • How much experience do they have (more was usually preferred)?
  • What skill set can they bring to the school (preferably new skills)?
  • What are their certifications (can they teach higher level/college credit classes)?
  • What is their teaching style?

One principal stated that before he meets with candidates he checks their references. He even reaches out to others in the education community who might know the applicant.

All of the candidate interviews are conducted with a team of people; the principal, a counselor and teachers. The team helps to evaluate the candidate and determine how well they would fit at their school.

  1.      How do you make your teachers better?

Each teacher is randomly observed. If the teacher is new, they are observed a few times a month, while more experienced teachers are observed less frequently.

When a teacher is new (first or second year teacher), that teacher is assigned a mentor. A teaching mentor is a more experienced teacher (five or more years of teaching experience) who has taken a district course on mentoring.

Some of the other methods used for teacher improvement were:

  • Filming the teacher (with their approval).
  • Collaboration with other teachers in their subject matter.
  • Checking the teachers to make sure they were connecting with every student (if the student does not think the teacher cares about them, then the student is less likely to care about what the teacher is teaching).
  • Does the teacher know each student’s name?
  • Approach teachers that need correction in a non-threatening way, give them feedback and encouragement.
  1.      How do you measure success?

One principal told me that he checks to see if his teachers are focusing on teaching to the student, or the content. Connection to the students is vital for success.

I was pleased with this answer. When the focus of education is on the scores, sometimes the individual student gets ignored. As a parent, sometimes I put too much focus on the grade and not enough focus on understanding the concepts.

Other responses included:

  • Are they aware of the students’ needs and are they meeting those needs? (They didn’t specify how they learn the student’s needs, or meet those needs)
  • Are they meeting district and state goals?
  • How does the school data compare to the district goals?
  • How are the teacher/student interactions?
  • Are the teachers giving regular daily assessments to find out if their students are understanding the material being taught (if not, then reteach)?
  • Check for holes in the data, where students may need more instruction.
  • Check small and large tests to monitor growth.
  • Are they following the S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely)?
  1.    How do you make sure that the work is rigorous enough?

This was a tough question. Most of the answers I got were about meeting the state and district standards. I was told that the state and district standards were already quite rigorous. One principal mentioned the fear of losing students, if they tried to push the standards too high.

Here are the other responses about rigor:

  • It is useful to compare Idaho state standards with the standards of surrounding states.
  • The ISAT has great questions, but the weight put on the results is not helpful.
  • There are so many required standards set by the state, it is important that the school focuses on meeting priority standards (set by the district).
  • The schools provide advanced and gifted classes to the students who are ready to excel.
  • The schools use academic coaching to give their (math) teachers additional training.
  1.    How do you keep raising the bar to find out what kids can do?

This did not seem to be a focus for the administrators. I was told that students in the United States could not be fairly compared to students in higher achieving countries because our students have a lot more demands outside of the classroom (music, sports, etc.). This is a good point, but does that mean that we should be content with our students learning less than students in other countries? I am not sure. We need our kids to excel in math, science and English so they can be prepared to succeed in a growing global economy.

The middle school principal said that it is important that we challenge our kids, but we need to let them be kids. The individual student needs to be the focus. The students need goals and measurable ways to track those goals.

The elementary principal said that it was important that the students had a solid understanding of the basics. Students can not build on knowledge that they do not have.

  1.       How can parents be more involved with their kids and their schools?

I asked this question because I wanted to hear what the principals thought of parent involvement and what advice they had to share.

One principal said that parents tend to interact with the students less at the middle school (and higher) level. He tries to encourage parents to stay involved, volunteer, eat lunch with your kids, and continue asking meaningful questions of your older kids. Another said that parent involvement at the school is great.

Overall it was a great experience. I enjoyed getting to know the administrators at my kids’ schools. I have a greater understanding of how each principal is trying to manage their respective schools. It gives me hope for our students and the direction that our local leaders are taking.

Have you met your principal?

‘Reality Town’ was a dose of … reality

November 30, 2017

My local middle school recently hosted a “reality town” for all of it’s eighth grade students. Reality town is an exercise where each student is given a career, an income and required expenditures, broken down into one month. Each student has to decide how to budget, save and spend their money.

A few days before the event, each eighth grader is given a career and a salary (based on their current GPA) for reality town.

The day arrived for my eighth grader to be assigned a career and income. She assumed she would get a high paying career, due to her good grades. Instead, she came home crushed that she had been assigned the job of a college administrator with an annual salary of $42,000. She loathed the job title, stating that it sounded like “the worst job ever.” She was completely shocked at her salary, especially when compared to other students’ income of $100,000. When I tried to explain that it was just a game, and not a true indicator of her future profession or income, she just shrugged her shoulders and exclaimed that there was no point in doing homework or getting good grades anymore.

Fortunately, she still does her homework.

I decided to join her at reality town, to see how her career as a college administrator worked out.

The students met in the gym where they were each given a booklet with the details of their life. These booklets listed their family status (married or single), the number of kids they had (zero to three) and annual salary; with taxes and benefits taken out. Each student started at the bank with one month’s salary. After that, it was up to each individual to decide where to spend their money.

Most of the booths were mandatory, with the exception of home improvement, military service, life insurance, entertainment, personal care, investments and a pet store. Each student had to make a lot of choices, including what kind of home they wanted. When some students realized how much housing cost, I heard several kids choose to live in their parents basement (it was a listed option). I hope they went home and told their parents!

They students had to pay for transportation, car/home/health insurance, groceries, phone, clothing and child care, all based on their family’s needs. The list of necessary expenditures was very detailed. Some of the students even chose to get a second job or enlist in the military to boost their monthly income.

When I went to the child care booth, I heard one student complaining about the high costs of child care. She noticed additional options for kids to be involved in sports. She looked confused and asked,  “How will it (kids sports) benefit me?” The volunteer responded that there would be no financial benefit and she quickly replied, “No, thank you!”

It didn’t take long for the required expenses to quickly deplete each student’s monthly income, leaving them surprised and frustrated.

This exercise was a great way to help kids understand personal finances and expenses. What do you do to teach your kids about finances? Do you talk to them about household expenses? Have you showed them how to budget?

How do we balance school safety and parent involvement?

November 29, 2017

Keeping our kids safe at school is very important. It is important to protect them from physical harm, verbal harassment and cyberbullying. In fact, a school district in Northern Idaho recently had to deal with dangerous cyberbullying.

Schools need to be safe, or kids cannot learn.

But what about cupcakes?

When school began, I secretly copied my kids’ locker numbers and combinations so I could leave them fun locker surprises throughout the year (for birthdays, cross country meets, big exams, etc.).

On my daughter’s birthday, I showed up at the school with cupcakes.

I could have walked to her locker without going into the office, but the sign at the entrance states: “All visitors need to check in at the office”. I wasn’t planning on visiting anyone, just a locker, but since I am a rule-abiding mom, I went into the office.

I stood there, with my plate of cupcakes, and listened to the school secretary tell me that no one is allowed “on campus” during school hours. I would have to come back after school was over. Since it was during school hours, I was not allowed in the hallways, much less to my daughter’s locker. Feeling unwelcome, I took the cupcakes back to my car and drove home.

I appreciate school security. I want my kids to be safe.

But I also want to be a part of my kid’s school. I want to do more than pay my taxes and wave at my kids when I volunteer at the school. I want to be able to make school a joyful place. I want my kids to associate happiness along with rigorous learning. I want to leave them surprises in their lockers. I want to feel welcome.

Are we only allowed to be at the school if we are volunteering to help in the classrooms?

How can school administrators keep our kids safe, while also allowing positive parent involvement? Tell me what you think.

My daughter was able to eat her cupcakes at home and even made herself a beautiful cake.

Give thanks to educators, custodians and volunteers

November 22, 2017

With school out for the Thanksgiving break, how many of us will be giving thanks to an educator, for the time and compassion they have shown while teaching our kids?

Our kids spend roughly 30 hours a week at school. They spend time with teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, custodians and volunteers. We pay for these services with our taxes, but we can also show our appreciation with notes, emails or a simple, ‘thank you’.  By showing gratitude, we model good behavior for our kids, while lifting others and warming our hearts.

I still remember an influential math teacher that I had in junior high school. He was a charismatic teacher that made learning math fun. I credit him for my love of math. He continued to show kindness and ask about my other classes throughout the years. He made school feel like a safe place. I was always grateful for the positive impact he had on my education.

Who was an influential teacher in your life? Who has been influential in your kid’s education?

  • Have you talked to your kids about showing gratitude for the many services that the schools provide?
  • Do they thank the bus driver for getting them safely to and from school every day?
  • Do they thank the cafeteria worker for making them a hot lunch?
  • Do they thank the custodian for keeping the school clean? Do they thank the principal for keeping the school running smoothly?

This eighth grader showed her gratitude to the teachers and educators that took the time to encourage her to pursue her passion for writing, by writing about her experience here.

What will you do to show your gratitude?

This book changed the way I interact with my kids

November 14, 2017

I just read the book “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley.

I found it to be an insightful book that looks at the differences in education practices and policies throughout the world.

The book focuses on the two top scoring countries — Korea and Finland. It also discusses the changes that have occurred in the American education system.

There were several gems of information that I learned from this book:

  • “Taxpayers in the smartest countries in the world spent dramatically less per pupil on education than taxpayers did in the United States. … And, most encouragingly, the smart kids had not always been so smart.” (page 18).

This is very encouraging! Improving our education system does not mean that we need to throw more money at the problem. It also challenges the notion that low-performing kids cannot become “smart”.

The book quotes these findings from a 2009 survey of 5,000 parents worldwide: “Strange patterns emerged. For example, parents who volunteered in their kids’ extracurricular activities had children who performed worse in reading, on average, than parents who did not volunteer, even after controlling for other factors like socioeconomic background… By contrast, other parental efforts yielded big returns, the survey suggested. When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they were fifteen… As kids got older, the parental involvement that seemed to matter most was different but related. All over the world, parents who discussed movies, books and current affairs with their kids had teenagers who performed better in reading.” (pages 107-108).

Working and busy parents don’t have to feel guilty if they are unable to volunteer in the classroom. We can be more influential in our kids’ education and understanding of the world by reading to them and engaging in meaningful conversations. This particular paragraph changed my family’s dinner table discussions. Now, along with asking each one of my kids to talk about their high and low for the day, we talk about current events (like how women in Saudi Arabia will soon have the right to drive). It has been fun and eye opening.

“High school in Finland, Korea and Poland had a purpose, just like high-school football practice in America. There was a big, important contest at the end, and the score counted. Their teachers were more serious, too: highly educated, well-trained, and carefully chosen. They had enough autonomy to do serious work; that meant they had a better chance of adapting and changing along with their students and the economy. The students had independence, too, which made school more bearable and cultivated more driven, self-sufficient high school graduates. The closer they got to adulthood, the more they got to act like adults.” (page 191).

How do we treat our kids when they reach adulthood?

When my kids reach their senior year, I try to give them more love and support (like I do with my adult friends) and worry less about discipline and control. I consider it a practice year for our kids to act like adults, while still living in the safety of our home.

The book recommends asking these questions of your principal: “When searching for a school, the leader matters more than any other factor… How do you choose your teachers? How do you make teachers better? How do you measure success? How do you make sure the work is rigorous enough? How do you keep raising the bar to find out what kids can do?” (Pages 215-217)

These are powerful questions. I plan on scheduling a meeting with the principal of our local school to ask these questions.

Please join me. Send me an email with your principal’s answers. I will write a blog about the results in December.

Start early helping your teen plan for life after high school

November 10, 2017

If you have a senior, have you gotten this letter in the mail yet?

Idaho is working hard to encourage all of its seniors to further their education after high school. Ideally, Idaho would like those graduates to stay in-state. Next steps Idaho has made the application process simple and free! I was able to help my son apply to Boise State University in under an hour (the-out-of-state schools he applied to, took much longer).

This application process was easier than my experience last year helping my oldest child apply to college. We waited until January to look at his options. When he decided where he wanted to go (BSU), we began the application process. We felt rushed and worried about getting all of the transcripts and documents in before the deadline. He was unable to apply for scholarships because he applied too late. Now that I am a more experienced parent, I understand the importance and benefits of applying early.

  • Has your senior made plans for after high school?
  • Have you discussed the many different options; four-year college, community college, trade school or the military?
  • Have you discussed with your high school kids what they want for their future?
  • Have you discussed the costs?

Maybe what our kids want for their future, is different than what we want for them.

There are a lot of different paths to finding a great career. Some Idaho students have found trade school to be a great way to develop the skills they want, for half the cost of a four-year college. This story highlights families who have found vocational school to be a great fit.

Have you joined any online groups to keep you updated on available college options or scholarships? I joined Mom Knows College on Facebook. Where do you get your help planning for college?  What do your kids want to do after high school?

How important is it to make the team?

November 3, 2017

School sports can play a valuable role in a child’s adolescence. Sports can teach the importance of healthy eating habits, rigorous exercise, sportsmanship, teamwork, determination, time management and how to deal with defeat.

School sports had a big impact on my life. I participated in soccer, cross country and track. Sports were also meaningful to my husband. As parents, we were excited for our kids to have a similar experience.

Unfortunately, school sports taught my kids a lot of things, but not just the aforementioned values.

Because of where we have lived, my children have had the chance to play football at both 5A and 1A levels. Surprisingly, both schools provided much of the same experience; sitting on the bench.

I understand a lot can be learned from sitting the bench. I am under no illusion that all kids are good enough to be starters. Not all kids are gifted athletes. Schools compete to determine who is the fastest, strongest, most skilled, and talented team or individual.

So, what should be done with kids who are not the most athletic, fast or strong? Should anyone who wants to play, be put on the team? Does cutting a student from a sport hurt or help that student?

Cutting kids who want to play sounds like a bad idea, until it is your kid who is sitting on the bench. When it’s your kid on the sideline, no matter the score of the game, what does that teach them about commitment and dedication? When it is your kid who spends three hours a day in the summer, and over two hours a day after school practicing, your opinion might change.

When my kids decided to play high school football, I worried that they might be cut from the team. I worried about how they would handle rejection. After a long summer of intense workouts,I was surprised to learn the school did not have cuts. They allowed anyone to join the team, and asked them to pay a several hundred dollar fee. They took my money, they took my kids’ time and they crushed their love for the sport. Week after week, my kids sat on the bench. And week after week, I encouraged them to speak up, quietly endure, or quit. They chose to quietly endure.

Is it better to cut kids from sports, or should everyone be allowed to play? When schools don’t have cuts, does it dilute the coach’s ability to train his/her athletes? Are schools gladly taking the athlete’s money just to bolster their athletic department?

Research, ask questions and be an informed voter

November 2, 2017

We need to be informed taxpayers and parents so we can vote responsibly.

There’s an election Tuesday that will have an impact on your taxes and local school funding. We all need to take time to investigate what’s best for our families and our communities so we can become informed voters.

On November 7, voters in five school districts will decide the fate of supplemental levies. The largest levy is a two-year, $18.75 million proposal in Nampa. Other communities will decide on plant facilities levies and bond issues. Click here for a rundown of school elections statewide.

Idaho’s supplemental school levy bill is at a record high — nearly $200 million — with 93 of 115 school districts collecting.

If you are in one of the districts that is holding an election Tuesday, do you know what your school district plans to do with the money? Does it have a specific purpose?

Are you familiar with your district’s budget? State law requires districts to make their budgets easily accessible on their websites for parents and patrons to review. I looked around and in a few clicks I was able to find 2017 budgets for the Blackfoot, West Ada, Kimberly, Moscow and Idaho Falls school districts.

Have you been able to find your district’s budget on the website? Will you be voting on Tuesday? What questions do you have about school elections?

More voting information can be found at Idaho votes.