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Catherine Durkin Robinson: Engaged parents = student success

 Those three months between school years keep getting shorter as my boys get older. We take part in familiar rituals – they go to summer camp for a few weeks, several days are spent lazing around the house, we embark on a family vacation that miraculously ends without divorce or felony charges.

We even make our annual trek to Ichetucknee River where I try not to flash everyone as I get in and out of the inner tubes.

But it goes by quickly. And now we’ve reached the end of another summer.

Look around. It’s not that folks in Florida need to recognize the shift from 98 to 96 degrees to know it’s mid-August. There’s another signal that summer is almost over: frantic moms and dads about to kill someone at the local store for the last package of mechanical pencils.

That’s right folks, it’s time for back-to-school shopping.

Parents maneuver carts through crowded aisles, carrying lists provided by their children’s schools. They carefully check off glue sticks, composition notebooks, and pocket folders. Uniforms and backpacks are tried on and discarded, only to be snatched up a moment later by someone else.

My twin sons used to take half an hour picking the perfect lunchboxes, debating the merits of several superheroes before finally settling on Spiderman. I always allowed them time to work it out, remembering my own struggles between Nancy Drew and The Bionic Woman. Nancy won several years in a row.

These days we are past all that. We’ve moved on to high school preparation where kids don’t wear uniforms and therefore have to use reasoning skills to determine if “Embrace the Suck” is inappropriate or not.

I really miss Spiderman.

As a mom, I enjoy rituals that begin each new school year. My kids get their schedules and haircuts, ask for sliders but get running shoes instead. I look around the stores and aisles that look like a hurricane has blown through town.

But frazzled parents are doing more than searching for specific pencils and the right kinds of notebooks. They’re supplying children with the tools they need to learn. As a former teacher, I appreciate their efforts. The more parents who are involved in their kids’ education, the better off we all are. However, let’s not stop at the store. School lists should contain a few more items to gather before classes begin. These additional supplies aren’t found at Target or K-Mart. Still, your child won’t make it through the school year without them.

Guidance: Schools can be overcrowded and scary; most children learn more from fellow students than from textbooks. Have dinner with your kids and get to know their friends. The complicated issues students deal with every day, from elementary through high school, would land most adults in therapy. Children cannot handle it alone.

Support: Turn off television and help with homework. Be willing to pick up kids after tutoring sessions and reinforce lessons at home. If your kids are learning about geography, join in. They’re studying Turkey? Serve some kebabs and pilav for dinner and play some Turkish music on your iPod. The kids are assigned to read “To Kill A Mockingbird”? Read it with them and watch the movie afterwards. You’ll have more to talk about — because maybe the school year should be a time where everyone learns. Visit their school and meet their teachers. Children behave better when they realize their parents and teachers talk. After all, you’re on the same team and odds are your kids will win if everyone works together.

Patience: When all else fails, take a deep breath and smile. Those little brains aren’t fully formed until their late 20s – so just take it one day at a time. Let your children make mistakes and don’t always try to rescue them. Strength is cultivated when we fall and rise again. Use humor to deal with the frustrations of youth and encourage within children the idea that nothing is insurmountable. They need to know that a loving family will cushion even the most devastating blows.

Take it from me, these are essential items on every teacher’s wish list. Go shopping for papers and pens; dig deeper to stock up on the rest. Remember that a parent’s participation is one of the most important tools for a successful school year.

It’s a team effort.

Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


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