Education Matters: The Calming Power of Good Advice

Published on: December 30, 2013


The cry for help came from a Facebook thread. A beleaguered parent thanked two of her friends for reassuring her about her son's bumpy first week of middle school. "He's crashing and burning," she said. "Actually, he's not crashing and burning, but I am."

Her Facebook friend community, of which I am a member, jumped in to help. "Don't make the mistake of thinking the first week is an indicator of the whole school year," one person advised. "I always fell into that trap."

Amid shows of support came other cries for help. "My daughter is having trouble switching from summer to 90 minutes of homework a night," one parent lamented. Another wondered why her son was suddenly going to school with kids sporting mustaches.

I knew just how to contribute. My go-to reference for middle school is a homespun document entitled, "Understanding the Middle School Years, Pointers for Puzzled Parents." It was written by Alan Braun, assistant head of the Northwest School and an experienced middle school educator. The cover features three pictures of the same boy  — as a buttoned-down sixth-grader, a sloppy, big-footed seventh-grader and a cool eighth-grader mocking his earlier selves. At the beginning of each school year, as part of orientation, NWS middle-school parents are given the page of the handout that corresponds to the age of their child. It feels almost like a rite of passage.

I love reference materials. But as my kids have gotten older, and life has gotten busier, I don't always have time to delve into parenting books. Sure, I turn to them in times of crisis (like the time the daughter, with whom I had been at loggerheads all evening, found me lying in bed clutching Laura Kastner's Getting to Calm and not-so-innocently asked why I was reading it).

Increasingly, both public and private school parent associations are making parent education a priority — a welcome convention at a time when parents can be so overwhelmed with educational jargon and keeping up with our kids' academic progress, that we have little time left over to understand their emotional and social development.

Benchmarks and standards and project-based learning are all important concepts to understand, and believe me, we do care about our schools' strategic plans and mission statements and fundraising goals. And even their standardized test results.

But, just as we benefited from learning what to expect during the first year and understanding the touchpoints of baby and toddlerhood, we continue to crave expert advice as our kids grow, especially during major transition points and times of massive brain reorganization, such as adolescence.

Receiving this advice within the context of the school village  is an added benefit. Schools are, after all, community centers.

Teachers, school counselors and administrators, whom we know and trust, and who work with kids every day, are in a great position to dispense this advice.

Be the barge on tumultuous waters, a seasoned sixth-grade teacher told a group of shell-shocked parents. "Be the barge," my husband and I remind each other, when one of us loses our cool.

Add to this well-chosen experts to speak to the parent and teacher community about the importance of sleep, tips for safe Internet use, and coping with bullying and peer pressure and you have a recipe for strong school community engagement and shared values, which trickles down to the kids.

University Prep, a Seattle independent 6–12 school, has five years worth of parent education archives on its website. Whitman Middle School, one of Seattle's nine public middle schools, sent its eighth-graders on their way with a pamphlet full of tips for teens and parents on college and career readiness, which I have stored in a special place for easy reference. Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences has developed parent peer groups and a parent book group. Mercer Island's Parent Edge is a coalition of PTAs bringing together parents, students, teachers and staff to hear experts discuss child development and education.

Public-school parents in Northeast and Northwest Seattle have banded together to form regional anti-drug coalitions to educate parents and kids on alcohol and drug prevention. South Seattle's Rainier Beach High School PTSA President Carlina Brown was honored at the White House last year for her efforts at strengthening parent engagement in Seattle south-end schools.

I'd like to see every school kick off a new school year with a snapshot of what parents can expect, not just academically, but also developmentally, for each grade.

Wouldn't it be reassuring hear from an expert teacher, counselor or administrator that seventh-graders are sloppy, first-graders can succumb to the pressure of increased expectations, fourth-graders begin to rely more heavily on peers and twelfth graders often "spoil the nest," to make separating from their parents easier?

Often the parenting problems that seem new and daunting to us are in fact typical for kids of a certain age.

Confused on how to handle a situation? Think of McKinley High School guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury, from the popular TV show Glee.

"I have a pamphlet for that."

At ParentMap we're proud to contribute to parent education through our lecture series, which brings renowned experts to share their insights and inspiration on current parenting and education topics. Our fall lineup includes national Internet safety expert Katie Greer and Rosalind Wiseman (of Mean Girls fame) on boy social dynamics. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Education news briefs:

First charters: Spokane becomes the first Washington School District authorized to operate charter schools. Charter school applications are due on Nov. 22, and Spokane school officials will decide on them by Feb. 24. A spokesperson from the Washington State Charter Schools Association says people in  Battle Ground, Seattle, Tacoma and Yakima have also expressed interest in opening charter schools in those school districts.

Watch out: Results of a national survey of school bus safety show Washington drivers committing  1500 violations  in a single day. In 2011, the legislature authorized school districts to mount cameras on school bus stop arms, a practice which has been implemented in Highline and Bellevue. Seattle, which sees 300-500 drivers per day ignoring school bus stop conventions, is considering installing these cameras.

Go SPS: Seattle Public Schools has been awarded a 2013 Partnership District Award from the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) at Johns Hopkins University. The award recognizes SPS's leadership on partnerships and its guidance to schools in setting community engagement goals.

Marijuana-free zones: Following pressure from the Department of Justice, Washington State has changed restrictions on the location of legal marijuana-related businesses. They will have to be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, daycares, playgrounds and other facilities frequented by youth. The state had wanted to measure this distance by common travel paths, which would have opened up opportunities for some marijuana businesses to locate, especially in crowded cities. The more restrictive DOJ ruling requires that the 1,000 feet be measured in a straight line.

HIV grant: Washington's Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction has been awarded a five-year HIV/STD prevention grant from the Centers for Disease Control. The grant, which will total up to $1.85 million, is geared toward teaching high school students about healthy relationships and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

Super fresh: Seattle Public Schools launched its "Salad Bars to Schools" with a ceremony at North Beach Elementary, marking the transition of schools from pre-packed fruits and vegetables to salad bars. Eighteen remaining Seattle schools have yet to make this transition, which is expected to be completed during the current school year.

246Alison Krupnick is ParentMap's Education Editor and a former world-traveling diplomat turned minivan-driving mom and writer. She chronicled her transformation in her book Ruminations from the Minivan, Musings from a World Grown Large, then Small. Her writing has been published in Harvard Review; Brain, Child; Seattle magazine and a variety of news and trade publications and literary journals and anthologies. You can find more of her education reporting on and enjoy sweet and savory moments and recipes on her blog Slice of Mid-Life. Have an education question or suggestion? Let her know!

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