Category Archives: School

Helping with the middle school transition

School has been in for about 4 weeks now, and the reality of middle school is finally hitting the fan for my 7th grade son. With 6 classes and homework assigned in each, my organization-challenged son has been fumbling a bit with the amount of work he still has to do once the school bell has rang. Last week was especially hard for him since he was sick on Monday, and then tried to play catch-up all week long.

Friday morning he came to me in tears because his homework wasn’t done for his hardest class. Of course, he’d had plenty of time the day before to use up his videogame time and play with his friends in the evening. And when asked if his work was finished, he swore that it was. Obviously that wasn’t true.

Looks like we’re in for a few changes in our household.

I’ve had to come up with a new plan to hopefully encourage success this 7th grade year, and maybe help him take on a few better habits before the year is up. To help out other parents of struggling middle schoolers, here are a few things I’ve incorporated to help him gain control over his school work.

Get them a daily planner.
Most schools now require these. If not, get one for your child anyway. Have them write down their homework DAILY, and then check it every day to make sure their homework is done. If necessary, ask each teacher to partner with you on this to ensure your child knows their homework assignments. After all, your child’s teachers want your child to succeed.

Write down your expectations.
Your child is 12 or older. They’re not little kids anymore. However, some kids this age are going through such information overload, they can’t keep two thoughts straight. Create a checklist of what you expect them to do so they won’t forget. If it’s an unchanging list, you can even laminate it. Trust me, many kids will actually appreciate this.

No electronics until work is done.
That means no TV, no computer, no videogames, no phone…no nothing. If they need to use the internet for their homework, have them do it in a common room (if possible) and stay close enough that you can check to make sure it’s actually homework and not social media they’re working on.

Enforce appropriate restrictions.
If your child isn’t capable of pulling a B in his class because the work is too hard, don’t punish him. However, if your child’s grade is affected by not turning in homework, by all means, start taking privileges away! And be firm – don’t give them back until progress is made. Nothing works like a little incentive.

Limit after-school activities.
I’m sorry to all you sports families out there (we’re one of them, too), but if your child is struggling to get their homework done, then they may need to take a pass on Fall Ball or soccer. It seems ridiculous to be challenging your kid in sports, dance class, or any other extra activities if their school work is suffering.

Be available.
School is hard. Junior high is hard! I look at my kid’s homework, and I am grateful I don’t have to go to school anymore. But they do – and they need your help. You might not know everything they’re learning (which is a humbling realization), but you can at least be there for moral support, and to guide them in how to figure out the answer. Who knows, you might remember a thing or two from your Jr. High Algrebra class…

What are some ways you help your kid be successful in school?

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When banned leggings become only half the story

The big news in the newspaper today is about Kenilworth, a Petaluma Jr. High that is mandating rules in regards to leggings, skinny jeans, and yoga pants. While not banning them, they are restricting these particular pieces of clothing by declaring they can only be worn over something that will cover them up – be it a skirt, shorts, or long shirt.

This is not exactly big news. Schools all over the place put restrictions on certain types of clothing to give educators and what they are teaching a better chance of being center stage than questionable fashion choices. But what made this big news was one particular statement made and how it was presented:

The girls, in a private assembly away from the boys, were told to cover up because it was distracting to boys and their raging hormones.

Suddenly the entire reason this assembly was called in the first place was forgotten. And parents inundated the schools and the news stations in anger.

Read more opinions about this issue at SantaRosaMom.com

First of all, will boys be distracted by their female peers if they are wearing tight fitting apparel? Absolutely. But will boys be distracted by girls if they are wearing modest apparel? Absolutely.

So the school’s huge mistake was to put emphasis on the boys reaction as a reason to not wear revealing clothing.

However, are girls in middle school guilty of dressing a bit too maturely for a girl aged 12-14?

Absolutely.

Call me old-fashioned, but the way some young girls dress these days is shocking to me. Last year on my way into a grocery store, I saw a girl around 13-years-old hiking up her shorts so that they covered less of her rear than a bathing suit would. And on a recent evening, I watched as a young girl around age 15 consistently adjusted her mini skirt so that it remained high enough to just cover her bottom. Leggings have become a popular article of clothing, both for their comfort and for the close-fitting appeal. Except that nowadays, the material on leggings has become so thin, you can see right through them. And still, they are being worn as pants even though they cover NOTHING.

So when I see parents up in arms, arguing against the school’s “new” policy about girls covering up and how it was presented, I feel like they are being distracted from several bigger issues:

– That it’s alarming for a child under the age of 14 to be wearing anything meant to show off that much of her body.

– That while it’s true we cannot control someone else’s reaction to what we are wearing, it is also true that the kind of clothes we choose to wear send very specific messages.

– That it’s pretty sad when the school, instead of the parents, has to step in to teach what is decent to wear in public.

– That the school is concerned enough to take action because the dress code has gone past appropriateness.

– That it has become the norm for schools to get in trouble as parents fight against them instead of supporting the rules they create in efforts to improve the learning environment.

 

I agree that this could have been handled better. I get that parents are pushed out of shape because the girls were talked to, and not the boys. But the reason the assembly was brought up in the first place was because the dress attire among the female population at this school was getting out of hand.

Shouldn’t we spend more of our energy promoting modesty in our kids than fighting the schools against it?

Confession: I hate school projects

This post will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, Feb. 22.

I hate school projects. There. I’ve said it. I’ve often felt like it was more homework for the parents than it is for the kids. Yes, I understand that school projects are meant to be for the kids. But please tell that to the students who bring in the projects they worked on all by themselves only to be shown up by the child whose architect father built an exact replica of the Golden Gate Bridge out of toothpicks.

True story.

At any rate, I am not a parent who does my child’s project for them. But I do have to sit and hold my child’s hand from start to finish on these projects just to get them done, feeding him ideas because he just can’t come up with them on his own. I suppose these projects are meant to help kids learn in a more fun way. However, forcing a child to sit for hours during the weekend as I suffer through glue gun burns while talking him off the ledge is anything but fun.

Recently my son, Taz, brought home a packet of papers detailing the upcoming science fair. He had a choice to either do homework during this time or create an elaborate project. Of course, he chose the project because it’s “more fun” than homework. In the meantime, I suffered flashbacks of every project we’d done in his 12 years of life.

One year, Taz had to create a report on different leaves he found. He was to collect about twenty leaves, dry them, and then tell a story about where he found them. Sounds like a sweet project, doesn’t it? Wrong. Between his tears and whining and my threats that he’d never see the light of day again until this project was done, I don’t think either one of us wanted to see a leaf ever again. Even now I shudder a little when autumn comes around.

In 4th grade, Taz was given the infamous Mission project. For kids with parents who know how to build, this must have been a blast. For me, it was a really bad joke. The book he brought home from the library with the instructions on how to build a California Mission from scratch was totally wrong in all the measurements. I had to stretch my brain to capacity to figure out what the measurements were supposed to be so that the building would actually stay intact. Then I used way too much hot glue, both on my fingers and on the house, because I just couldn’t trust him with the tool.

mission

This year, my son was given a month of lead-time before the project was due. Taz had chosen an experiment that compared the growth of sugar and salt crystals, which he assured me was very quick and promised we had plenty of time to finish it. Since he is now in sixth grade, I took him at his word.

A week passed by, and then another. The science fair project was pushed to the back of my mind as it slipped off my radar. But when I received the teacher’s reminder that the project was due in five days, I began to hyperventilate. She happily noted that we were probably already done with the experiment, and just needed to finish the poster over the weekend. But we hadn’t even started. Even worse, through research we learned that sugar and salt crystals take 7-10 days to properly grow.

We were so in trouble.

Actually, the Taz was the one who was in trouble. But as his parent, I couldn’t help feeling responsible that I hadn’t pushed harder for him to get this done much sooner. I dragged him to the store to gather up all the materials he needed to finish the project and make a beautiful poster to go with it. Then the two of us went to work setting up jars of water, one with salt and one with sugar, and a stick for them to grow on in each.

The first day, the salt one began to crystallize on the stick while the sugar one did nothing. The second day, the salt one grew a tiny bit more. The sugar one did nothing. The third day, the salt one was still slowly growing while the sugar one was asleep at the wheel.

The science fair was two days away and the experiment had failed. There wasn’t enough time to start over. We were forced to make a choice – keep going and hope that something would happen in the nick of time, or scrap the whole experiment and do something completely different.

That was how we discovered which household item cleans pennies the best.

The completed poster
The completed poster

Have I mentioned how much I hate school projects?

Goodbye Bennett Valley

The latest rage in books, 50 Shades of Gray (or is it ‘Grey’?), was typed out using a Blackberry. While this post will be slightly less blush-worthy, I am not in front of my computer. So this post will be completely typed out using my iPhone. 

Today was the Taz’ last day of school. The milestone of finishing 5th grade was huge, since this has been a pretty tough year. I’ve come to cringe when I open my email, half expecting a ‘love note’ from his teacher once again detailing another way my kid has screwed up. He was getting in trouble for everything, from bouncing a ball in line to doing a 360 before throwing a ball. The latest incident was when the kids were all given splash balls to fill with water and throw at each other on a hot day. According to the teacher, the activity was meant to be ‘fun and engaging’. So the teacher couldn’t understand when Taz and his friends got out of hand in their pummeling activity. 

Let’s see. Splash balls + rowdy boys. And the equation is supposed to equal ‘fun and engaging’? It was almost like they were setting the boys up for failure. 

This was the bow on a particularly hard year. And yet, last night I actually burst into tears as I realized today would be our very last day in attending a school district we’d all grown up into. 

All week long I’ve been on edge. I thought I was just stressed out and possibly heading into my hormonal time. Could be all three, which meant Mr. W was basically screwed. I nitpicked him for days, and he graciously let it slide off. But it eventually got to be too much, and he asked what was up. I rattled off the looming baseball schedule, the many deadlines at work, my lack of time for personal projects, the stress from planning a wedding, my social life going down the tubes, and the litany of money requirements right now – just to name a few. It was so rich, you could almost hear the violins. And then school came up, and I mentioned this was the last day ever for the Bennett Valley district.

And then the tears. 

There are so many factors that go along with why this is so bittersweet. First there’s the friends we’ve made over the years. Sure, we only live 20 minutes away. But when it’s hard enough to get together while we’re conveniently in the same district, I can only imagine how it will be when we’re immersed in Petaluma schools. I’m afraid for Taz and how he’ll make friends at his new school. Will he be miserable? Will this shatter his already fragile self image? How about his new baseball league, how will that go? 

But most of all, it’s the end of an era. Our whole life was in Santa Rosa. It’s where we were all born, where we grew up, where we went to school. When DQ switched over, I wasn’t as affected since Taz was still there. I had my little commute buddy every morning and afternoon. This was time I had to visit with him, and when we’d get uninterrupted talk time. Now we won’t have that specific time. And this is the very last part of leaving behind our family-of-three life in Santa Rosa. 

It’s just a little sad, as silly as it seems. 

Of course, it’s not like it’s all bad or anything. Taz’ new school is a bike ride away. Now he’ll have a chance to make friends in our neighborhood. We’re leaving behind a school of ridiculous rules. And I no longer need to leave early to get him to and from school. The wedding is getting closer and closer, and I can’t wait to be married to Mr. W! And I really do love living in Petaluma so much, even more than Santa Rosa.

As I dropped Taz off at school this morning, I passed by the friendly crossing guard who waves at everyone each morning. 

“Have a great vacation!” he called to me in his thick accent. I rolled my window down and grinned as I wished him a wonderful summer. “I swear I could kiss you,” he laughed. And the statement was so ridiculous and out of the blue, but the perfect goodbye from the whole Bennett Valley experience, that I put my hand to my lips and blew him a kiss goodbye.  

Goodbye Bennett Valley. It’s been real. 

Is a "C" mediocre?

My daughter’s soccer team was already positioned across the field on picture day when we pulled up in our car. They were the first team up, meaning I had to crawl out of bed bright and early on a Saturday morning and suck my coffee through an IV just to be awake enough to get her there on time. We raced from the car and joined them. I handed my coffee to my daughter while I furiously filled out the paperwork the coach gave me while my daughter and the rest of her team lined up. And in the nick of time I was able to hand it to the photographers in exchange for my coffee cup.

I wasn’t the only one guzzling coffee and hiding tired eyes behind shades. Moms and dads held their coffee mugs and Starbucks to-go cups like buried treasure, sipping from them as if their lives depended on it. And all around me I could catch snippets of conversation.

Overheard next to me was a frustrated mom relaying the story of her son who was struggling in school.

“Do you want to grow up to be a mediocre person?” she quoted herself saying as she relayed the conversation she had with her son to another mother. “Because that’s what a “C” is – mediocre. How do you think you’re going to get into college?” She went on to lament the cost of tutoring and how asinine it was that they even dared to ask if she was going to continue it when her son’s grades were still failing.  “It obviously isn’t working,” she stated angrily.

Something about this conversation made me furious. I’m not personally involved in the lives of this mom and her son, so I don’t know the struggles they’re going through in the day-to-day.  But the conversation just didn’t seem right. If her son is already in tutoring and it wasn’t helping, it seems like there is an even bigger issue at hand – like the kid needs even more help or to have the workload eased up. To me, it seems that the worry over getting in to college should be less of a concern than the fact that he is currently drowning in his high school studies.

Perhaps he isn’t even ready for college yet.  Or (and don’t throw things at me) perhaps going to a 4-year university isn’t really in the cards.  It’s possible that the plans for college are more a dream of his parents and less a dream of his.  And who’s to say a community college, trade school, or even an apprenticeship isn’t a better option to help him be successful later in life?

In my house, I wouldn’t say grades are unimportant. They are important. But I look more at the effort being made. Is my son doing his best work every day? Is my daughter studying so she can do well on her tests? Are they turning in all their work on time and performing to the best of their abilities? Then I am proud of them. When grade time comes around, I judge it by the efforts made and whether there has been improvement. I do not give money for great grades. I do not punish for bad grades. I put more emphasis on their efforts than a letter on a piece of paper. And if there is an area of concern, I talk with the teacher and see what I can do to help my child pull out of it.

I finally had to move out of earshot from this conversation, it bothered me so much. But it stuck with me throughout the rest of the day. I put it out there to some friends, and received several different opinions:

“Oh, that’s how I grew up!” Claudine said. “Not very helpful to a child.  I would have asked the mother what she does to help her child.”

But Kari had a different view on it and was able to relate. “I get frustrated when I know my child’s abilities and I see the opposite,” she said. “I try to be there for her but I have to admit I get frustrated at times.”

“I am absolutely fine with a “c” if my child is doing his/her best,” Jeney said. “If I know they could do better, I’ll encourage them to do so, but if their best efforts produce a C? I’m thrilled!”

My aunt, a teacher, gave a heart-breaking story – one that isn’t so uncommon: “One of my students was having a hard time with a task yesterday and he started saying, “I’m a loser, I’m a loser!” It almost broke my heart. Where did he learn those words? One can only guess.”

And my friend “Stray” offered her sage wisdom over the subject of a “C-average” being considered mediocre: “I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, yes, judging too harshly and not trying to work with your children and help them excel is bad parenting…on the other hand, I see a lot of the opposite these days, where parents either ignore/forgive low grades, OR rant at the teachers for grading too harshly, bringing grading into the realm of the ‘participant’ awards handed out at games. Encouragement and love are important, but if a child isn’t putting their best foot forward, I see no problem with telling them that isn’t acceptable. And colleges? They don’t care about effort. They care about results. Yes, this child might need help or a different learning strategy to succeed, but let me tell you, when I was growing up, a ‘C’ was not acceptable…and I wouldn’t have been surprised to be asked a similar question by my own (very loving and supportive) mom.”

Bianca, a local mom here in Santa Rosa, was describing her own situation with her daughter and the struggles they’ve had in education. She finally took matters in her own hands and had her daughter repeat a year of school. And for the first time ever, her daughter is flourishing and loving school. “If you have a child who would benefit from repeating a year or needs additional support in class I want you to know this: Don’t give up, build a really good case, stick to your guns, trust yourself,” Bianca offered. “It has been the best decision I made for my child.”

It’s a passing grade, but it’s still not an “A” or a “B”.  Would you consider a “C” mediocre? Or is a “C” completely acceptable?

Stop driving stupid!!!

I’m appalled by the recent news of the 4 year old boy hit in the crosswalk on one of our Santa Rosa streets yesterday afternoon. He was crossing the street with his family when a driver sped around the waiting car and hit the little boy full force, causing him to fly through the air.  (Update:  this young boy died from his injuries at the hospital, leaving behind a twin sister, along with the rest of his family) Reading the comments, the conversation has turned to target those who are unlicensed and uninsured. But let me tell you, this problem of being unable to wait exists in all kinds of drivers, not just the ones being, let me just say it, racially targeted.

This is not a race problem, this is an IDIOT DRIVER problem.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had cars speed around me when I’ve stopped to let pedestrians cross the street. Several times, the fear on my face and my hand on the horn have stopped those crossing in front of me from being hit by some idiot who doesn’t understand that someone might be stopped at the crosswalk for a reason.

But it doesn’t just stop at crosswalks.

Towards the end of the school year last spring, I was floored when a father zigzagged around other cars IN THE SCHOOL ZONE on the way to dropping off his kid. Judging by the time, he was just as late as I was in getting his kid to school. But rather than just letting his kid face the consequences of being late with a tardy and possible detention, he was risking the lives of all those around him just to get his kid to the curb 2 minutes earlier. A tardy is not the worst thing in the world. In fact, it might motivate your child to get ready in a timelier fashion next time.  Oh, and by the way?  My kid got to school at exactly the same time as this kid with the maniac father.

And then there are those who are still on their phones. WHY? I mean, seriously, why???  If you think you can drive with a phone in your hand, you’re wrong.  I can point out exactly who is on their phone when on the road just by the way they are driving slowly or all over the road.  And if I can tell, so can a cop.  But more than that, after all the press regarding kids who have been hit by those texting or talking on their phones – why are there still people on the road who continue to use their phones while their car is in motion? Ever since little Calli was hit and killed crossing the street with her mother last year by a teenager using her phone, I have made it a strict policy that my phone stays away from me while I’m driving. If it’s in my purse, I have no idea that someone is calling or texting me. After all, the majority of the things that someone might want to reach me for can wait the 5 or 10 minutes it takes me to get to my destination.

Your phone can wait too.

Why am I so jaded about driving in this blog when this isn’t even the Road Warrior Blog? Because this is a parenting blog, I’m a mother, and THERE ARE CHILDREN on the very streets that all these stupid drivers are driving on. School is back in, which means the possibility of a child getting hit by a car goes up significantly.

In case anyone needs a briefing on how to drive on the road, especially during the school year, let me give you a crash course:

1. Scan the road at all times. Don’t just look straight ahead, but weave your eyes across the road and on the sidewalks to anticipate anyone or anything darting across your path. If you are about to drive through a crosswalk, be especially sure to check both sides for someone who might want to cross.

2. If someone has stopped in the middle of the road, slow down and check out the reason they have stopped. DO NOT PASS THEM UNTIL YOU ARE SURE IT IS SAFE.

3. Yellow means RED. Trying to beat the light might mean running though a biker, walker, or someone else’s car.

4. Your phone call/text/email can wait.  Put the phone away.

5. Driving recklessly or fast on city streets will not only fail in making you any more on time, it could kill someone. Is avoiding a tardy really worth taking a life?

6. School zone during school hours means 25 MPH. Period.

7. Your car is not just a vehicle, it is a piece of heavy machinery that can cause serious damage when used improperly.  Drive responsibly.

School is now in session. Please protect our kids by driving safely and smartly.

Stop driving stupid.

5 ways to be prepared for school

At the beginning of the school year you can usually find me kicking and screaming my way from summer vacation. Schedules? Homework? 20 more things added to my already hectic calendar? Nooo! Luckily, I’ve found a few practical ways to avoid being overwhelmed by the suddenly busy days of the school year.

School lunches
Probably the biggest time waster in the morning is the school lunch battle. I’m a firm believer that kids should be involved in planning their school lunches, even packing them on their own. But leave them to it on a rushed morning and they’re liable to snag a few convenient snacks as their lunch, ending up hungry by the end of the day. A better way is to start the bagged lunch planning before the week even begins. Sit down with them on the weekend and create a list of lunches together for every single day – from the sandwich to the snacks. Then, have them pack up anything they can the night before school so there’s barely anything left to do in the morning.

Create a routine
Left to his own devices, my son would come home from school and make a beeline for the fridge, and then to the TV. That’s why we’ve created a routine. He may get a snack first, but then he must finish all of his homework and have me check it before placing it in his backpack and by the door for the next day. Then he has chores he must complete that are clearly listed on a weekly chore chart. Only after all these are done is he allowed to watch TV or play outside. Before bed, clothes must be picked out, his lunch must be prepped, and then it’s shower time. A routine is even more vital in the morning, since kids tend to be groggy. This is also why we prep everything the night before. All my son has to do in the morning is wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, finish making his lunch, and then be out the door with all his belongings.

Keep your child’s space organized
If your son or daughter can’t find their clean shirt in the morning or don’t have a cleared off space to do their homework, things are only going to go downhill quickly. Get your child in the habit of putting all their dirty clothes in the hamper, and keeping their clean clothes in their drawers by category. Teach them to make their bed. Create a space for every one of their belongings so they can easily put them away when they’re finished using them. Help them keep their work station cleared off and supplied with pencils, scissors, tape, glue, and anything else they may need to finish their homework. File all papers worth saving (artwork, notes from teacher, project guidelines), and throw away everything you don’t need. An organized space does wonders for an organized mind! And you’ll be creating valuable habits for them to grow up with.
(note: we’re still working on perfecting this tip in my family)

Keep in contact with the teacher
Our most successful school years have been those when the teacher and I were conversing regularly about my child’s progress, and what was going on for the week at school. Some teachers keep parents updated through a website. Others use email or letters home. And in some instances you may have to visit the class regularly to find out what’s going on. Whatever the method, stay involved with what’s going on in your child’s class. This way there will be no surprise projects or reports due, and you will know how to help your child if they’re struggling in an area of school. Your child will see that you care enough to be involved with their education. And their teacher will fully appreciate your involvement in their efforts to educate your child.

Keep a detailed calendar
The start of school can be quite a culture shock to those of us used to the lazy days of summer. Suddenly there are new activities, sports, clubs, and responsibilities that dictate our days. And this usually means everyone is going in separate directions. It’s enough to drive anyone insane! We tackle the crazy schedules by keeping a huge dry erase calendar centrally located on the kitchen wall, detailed with all our schedules in time order, and color coded to show which schedule belongs to which family member. This helps us to know when there’s a conflict we need to work around, and also helps the kids know where they need to be and what they need to be doing every single day. There are no surprises. And it also helps us to avoid overscheduling by seeing at a glance what’s going on day by day.

Here’s to a brand new school year!