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Child Advocate September 2008 Issue 1, Volume 17

Back-to-School:

Developing Habits for a Successful Year


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Introducing “The Child Advocate” Online WSPTA’s Premier Parent Involvement Magazine

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he Washington State PTA is happy to announce that for the first time ever, Washington State PTA’s premier parent involvement magazine, “The Child Advocate,” is now available as an online membership benefit to all 150,000 PTA members statewide. This is your first digital issue of the same parent involvement magazine that the Washington State PTA has produced over the past 16 years. It contains the same great articles with helpful tips geared towards parents. As always, feel free to cut and paste articles or portions of articles from “The Child Advocate” into handouts at PTA events or in school newsletters. PTA’s mission is to promote the welfare of children and youth leading to the success for every child, not just the children of PTA members, so please share the relevant parent involvement information contained in this magazine with all the families at your children’s school. We hope you enjoy your first issue!

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Adapting to a New Teacher Moving Up... Making Successful Transitions into Middle School and High School

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Parent Involvement in Education:

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Helping Kids Succeed

Helping Your Students with Homework

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Developing Efficient and Effective Study Habits

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The Child Advocate is published online every month from September through June by the Washington State PTA, 2003 65th Avenue West, Tacoma, WA 98466-6215, (253) 565-2153 or toll free: (800) 5623804 (Statewide), Fax: (253) 565-7753, Email: wapta@wastatepta.org, Website: www.wastatepta.org. Contributors are welcome. Call the State PTA office for guidelines. Whenever PTA is used it also refers to PTSA. PTA is a registered trademark of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers.

Building Successful Partnerships Hear the compelling evidence that parent involvement programs bring to schools and student learning and learn about the components of building a successful parent/ family involvement program. Call 1-800-562-3804 to schedule a workshop!

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Laura Bay, Washington State PTA President Bill Williams, Washington State PTA Executive Director Karen Fisker-Andersen, Editor

nt : e r a P t to very Child n e r Pa ss for E S

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Understanding the WASL... What are Washington’s standards for student learning?

What are the new graduation requirements for the Class of 2008? This workshop does NOT include how to prepare for the WASLs, what questions are on the tests, or how to boost your child’s score. Call today 1-800-562-3804 to schedule your workshop!

a Washington State PTA parent involvement magazine


Adapting to a New Teacher

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he beginning of the school year can be an anxious time for students as they anticipate a new teacher, a higher level of coursework, and different classroom rules and procedures. This is especially difficult for students who have heard from older students that the teacher they got is the “hard” teacher, or for students who have been placed in a different class than their friends. Well-intentioned parents may be tempted to “rescue” their kids from these situations by having them transferred out of the class at the beginning of the year. These parents are depriving their children of a valuable opportunity to learn to cope with disappointments and make the most out of any situation. In addition, sometimes when teachers are rumored as being “hard” by other students, it is because they keep orderly classrooms or have high expectations for quality workmanship. In fact, often the best teachers are the ones that students view as strict. Another caution for “teacher-shopping” parents is that sometimes a student is better off in a classroom other than the one their friends are in. Not only does this provide an opportunity to get to know more kids, but it takes some of the pressure off if a student tends to be a slower worker. Some students will rush through their classwork, so their friends won’t see that they are the last ones working on a test or paper.

The Child Advocate, September 2008

How Parents Can Help Students Adjust

Most importantly, establish a positive attitude about your child’s teacher at home. Keep an open mind. The new teacher, the teacher who is rumored to be difficult, or the teacher that didn’t work so well for an older sibling could be the perfect fit for a younger sibling. Talk to your kids about how each person has her own personality, with weaknesses as well as strengths. Encourage your student to go to school with the mindset of finding something he likes about his new teacher. Occasionally, even with careful preparation and discussions at home, some students still seem to be unable to adapt to the new teacher and settle in to their new classroom. Parents should remain calm, then gather more information to help them better understand what’s going on. In addition to talking to your student, talk to other parents with children in the class to find out if they are having problems as well. Also, visit the classroom yourself and get to know the teacher personally. Look at your child’s work that is coming home. If your child is learning and the teacher seems to care about the students and has a handle on what is being taught, then keep tabs on the problem to see if it resolves itself in a short period of time. Remind your kids that teachers are only human and they will 3


at times make mistakes. Stress the importance of forbearance— putting up with other people’s unique traits. This is a valuable life lesson for your kids that will help them adapt with difficult people in their work environment as they get older. However, if when you visit a classroom or view your child’s homework, you find that there is a problem with the teacher that is interfering with your child’s ability to learn, make an appointment to talk to the teacher. If there isn’t progress in the right direction towards solving the problem after this meeting, then take the problem to the principal. Be prepared to advocate for your child if action is needed at a higher level to resolve the problem. „

Moving Up…Making Successful Transitions into Middle

School and High School

nine years old, but by the time those students reach the age of 14, only 55% of parents report high or moderate involvement. However, studies clearly show that teenagers, as well as younger students, do better in school when their parents are involved in their lives and education. What can parents do to support their older students?

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oving up from elementary to middle school or from middle to high school can be a challenge for many students and their parents. Some kids experience a drop in grades or a dip in their selfconfidence during these times of transition. The transition from elementary school to middle school can be especially difficult as students for the first time may attend a school outside of their neighborhood. It may also be a much larger school than they are used to. Not only is it likely their first experience with multiple teachers, but with ones who grade mostly on assignments and test results rather than on neatness and effort. For the first time, they may be expected to develop note-taking skills, comprehend more difficult textbooks, and learn how to study for mid-term and final exams. The transition from middle to high school is also a big step. In high school, students are expected to develop more thinking skills and be more responsible for their own education. They are making decisions on what to do with their lives, and are faced with the stress and the challenges of high stakes testing, meeting graduation requirements, and possibly keeping their grade point averages up to meet college entrance requirements. These difficult transitions also occur at the same time that parent involvement declines in the middle school and high school years. Research shows about 75% of American parents as being high or moderately involved in their child’s education when their students are 4

Provide encouragement. Students can get easily discouraged when school seems harder, when the other kids seem smarter, or when they feel overwhelmed with the number of students at the school. Parents can encourage their students to participate in extra-curricular activities, welcome them to invite new friends over, and simply enjoy times together as a family. Stay involved. Join the PTA or if your student’s school doesn’t have a PTA, then contact your region director to inquire about forming one. Help out where you can at the school. Although there may not be opportunities to help in the classroom at the middle school or high school level, parents can always volunteer for the school’s booster club, fundraising auction, or in the school’s library or office. These not only give you a chance to get to know what is going on in the school, but it also provides an opportunity to get to know other parents and teachers as well. Know the teachers. Email your students’ teachers to introduce yourself. Make a point of meeting them when you see them at school. Let them know you are available and willing to help if needed. Communicate often with your kids about school. Take advantage of the times of the day they are most open to talk—for example, while shopping, running errands, walking the dog, playing basketball, or at bedtime. Finally, help your students get organized and give them the tools they need to succeed—including a place to do their homework, the supplies they need, and enough time to do it. „ a Washington State PTA parent involvement magazine


Parent Involvement in Education:

Helping Kids Succeed P

arent involvement in education is important for several reasons. Being involved sends a message to children that parents value their education. Parents are the one continuing factor in a child’s education that follows a student’s progress from class to class and year to year. They are a valuable resource to a child’s teacher, providing insight into how a child learns and what her strengths and weaknesses are. Collaborating with a child’s teacher makes a huge difference in her educational experience. There are many ways for parents to be involved in their children’s education, both at home and at their children’s school. Parent Involvement at Home

Perhaps the most important means of being involved in a child’s education takes place in individual homes. Parents can be involved by reading all the material that comes home from the school, asking their children questions about their day, supervising homework and talking about graded assignments that come home. Help your children with concepts they may be having difficulty with at school. Take time to read with your younger children and listen to them read to you. Keep your conversations about your students’ abilities and their teachers positive and optimistic. Remind them when they are feeling low that its more important that they learn the material than what grades they receive. Some students may excel in some subjects and struggle in others. Point out that the struggle may end up helping them in the long run as they will learn how to be resilient and work hard. School is a means to achieving what they want to do with their lives, and someday what grades they received won’t matter. Let them see you try new things, read, and learn new things as well. Be enthusiastic about learning. Talk to your students about their goals and dreams. Explain to them what you hope their lives will bring them. Focus not on specific occupations or salaries, but on living fulfilled lives. Talk about what classes they will need to take and what direction they would need to go to fulfill their dreams. Be a resource that motivates and educates, not pressures or criticizes.

The Child Advocate, September 2008

Parent Involvement at School

Get involved at the school, not just at class parties and field trips, but if your work schedule allows, help out in the classroom, photocopy papers, or help out on a PTA committee. Get to know your children’s teachers. Don’t wait for a problem to arise or for a formal parent-teacher conference to introduce yourself to your children’s teachers. Find out what they will be learning this year, how you can help at home, and let the teacher know that you’d like a phone call or email if your students fall behind or have any social or behavioral problems in school. Finally, stand up for your child when necessary. Carefully identify the problem and how it is affecting your child. Think about possible solutions. Identify the person that has the authority to implement the solution. Follow the proper chain of command -- teacher, principal, administrator, superintendent, and school board. Make a private appointment with that individual and work calmly and cooperatively to find a solution. Write the plan on paper and set a timeline and a means to evaluate the solution. When you are unable to find a solution to your problem, find a team of allies that share your concerns. Take every opportunity to speak up about this issue. „

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Helping Your Students With Homework work as she masters new skills. If you are not seeing improvement, you may need to have a conversation with your child about what quality work looks like.

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omework is an essential element of learning. It provides students with time to practice newly acquired skills. Additionally, it provides students with a means to take responsibility for their learning and teaches time and project management. There are three basic premises parents can adopt in providing appropriate help with homework: 1. Never do your children’s homework for them. If your child doesn’t understand something, explain the directions or show the student how to work a similar problem without actually doing the actual homework problem for her. 2. Make homework a priority. Homework should be completed before recreation or leisure time is enjoyed. Help your student develop academic goals for himself—for example, finishing a big project ahead of time, getting a specific GPA, learning to do something new. Once your students have established their goals, encourage them to make smaller, more specific benchmarks to help keep them on track for success. 3. Expect quality work. If your students are racing through their work and doing a sloppy job, require that they redo the work until it reflects a higher quality of work. However, if a student is learning a new skill, he clearly won’t be able to do as high of quality work as a student who has been doing this skill for some time. You should see gradual progress on the quality of her

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Following are some additional tips to avoid homework hassles: • Establish a Homework Routine. Encourage your student to set a specific time of day to complete his or her homework. It is usually best to complete the hardest task first, when the student still has energy to focus. Schedule break times and snack times. Students do their best when they complete specific tasks, then take a break for a snack or to stretch their legs before starting the next task. • Create a Homework Environment. Establish a location at your home for your students to complete their homework each day. Make sure this location has good lighting, plenty of table space, good seating, and all the necessary supplies students will need to complete their work—such as pencils, paper, colored pencils, dictionary, calculator, ruler, and a computer if needed. Turn off the ringer on the telephones during homework hours and keep the noise in the house low. If a student does his best work with soft music in the background, that is okay, but the television should be off during homework time. Parents can use this time to engage in quiet activities such as reading, balancing their checkbooks or catching up on emails, while being available to help students if needed. Be a resource. When a student brings home low grades on a test or an assignment, try not to show your disappointment, but rather use it as a time to encourage your child to try a different approach next time. Does your student understand the material or should she ask the teacher for some extra help after school? Is there a different way he can manage his time to prepare for the test or do the project? Are there supplies you can provide that would help her finish her tasks more efficiently? Finally, does he have adequate time for studying built into his schedule or do you need to cut back on some extracurricular activities? Finally, provide enrichment. Play games that require your children to practice listening and following directions, working with money, or adding up dice or spaces on a game board. Bake some cookies and practice doubling the recipe or halving it. Have fun with some brain teasers to encourage logical thinking. Visit local museums together and plan educational activities on vacations as well. „

a Washington State PTA parent involvement magazine


Developing Efficient and Effective Study Habits

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hen it comes to studying, planning ahead and using a student’s natural strengths are key to success. Developing good study habits starts at school by sitting near the front of the class whenever possible and paying attention when due dates are assigned and lectures are given. It is the student’s responsibility to ask questions or get extra help when he doesn’t understand something, to stay organized, and to be prepared for class each day by completing homework assignments on time and doing what’s required to learn the material at home. The teacher may not assign students to take notes from chapters in a textbook, but for the student who is a self-starter and really wants to learn the material and get a good grade, this is a good idea. To help your students get off to a good start, purchase a calendar at the beginning of the school year to post in your student’s bedroom. Encourage students to write test dates and project deadlines on that calendar. Students should also identify all the small tasks needed to accomplish before those deadline dates to do their highest quality work and to identify and mark on their calendar the smaller deadline dates to accomplish each of those tasks. When students sit down to study each day, they should map out a plan for what needs to get done, in what order, starting with the most important tasks first. They can also schedule in breaks to get a snack or stretch their legs.

The Child Advocate, September 2008

Take time to help your student find out when his most productive time of the day is. Some students have difficulty focusing right after school or later in the evening, but might be most alert very early in the morning. However, students may never really “feel” like studying, sometimes it really comes to making themselves do it. Students should also utilize their natural learning strengths when they study. There are three main categories of learning styles: visual learners, auditory learners, and tactile/kinesthetic learners. • Auditory Learners learn through listening. You can help your auditory learner by encouraging your child to discuss his ideas verbally, to read text out loud, and to create poems or jingles when memorizing information. • Visual Learners learn by watching. You can help your visual learner by encouraging her to use pictures, charts, maps and graphs when studying. Encourage your child to take notes, make illustrations, map out brainstorming ideas, and visualize information when memorizing. • Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners learn through moving, doing, and touching. He will benefit by being allowed to stand and move around while studying, and by taking frequent breaks. Highlighting pens or clay are helpful tools for him to manipulate while studying. 7


Following are some additional tips from “How to Study” by Ron Fry (Career Press, Franklin Lake NJ, 1996) to help your student learn necessary study skills: • Taking lecture notes. This is perhaps the most challenging skill for students to learn as they transition from middle school to high school. If your students are having difficulty in this area, have them start by learning a few shorthand symbols. Encourage them to make up their own as well, as long as they know what each symbol means. Next, have students practice taking notes from the television news. Encourage them to listen carefully and only write down the most important facts—who, what, where, when, why and how. There is no need to write in complete sentences, unless they are quoting something that was said. If there is something that comes up that the students don’t understand, encourage them to write a question mark in the margin next to this information. This will help them remember to either look it up or ask about it afterwards. After the notes are taken, have them turn off the TV and take a new piece of paper, fold it lengthwise and write a summary based on their notes on the right side of the fold. On the left side of the fold, have them write questions about the information for use in test preparation. After becoming proficient with this exercise, the students should have an easier time taking lecture notes in class, using this same process. One additional tip students should remember is occasionally there are times during a lecture that the teacher might say that a piece of material will be on the next test, encourage your students to identify this information by putting a star in the margin next to the information to help them remember that this information is especially important. • Taking notes from textbooks. Reading and understanding information given in a textbook is very different from reading a book for enjoyment. It requires a separate set of skills to identify and remember the most important information as well. When reading a textbook, students should first read through the headlines, study the graphics and charts, and any summaries and definitions given. The next time through the

Vision: “To be advocates for ALL kids and ALL families.”

Washington State PTA 2003 65th Avenue West Tacoma, WA 98466-6215 Phone: (253) 565-2153 or 1-800-562-3804

Fax: (253) 565-7753 Website: www.wastatepta.org Email: wapta@wastatepta.org

WSPTA Vision, Mission and Goals

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Child Advocate a Washington State PTA parent involvement publication

chapter should include reading one section at a time, then writing notes summarizing each section, writing any new definitions given in the section, and making up questions about the section. To be prepared to participate in class discussions, students should take time to read and take notes on each chapter before class time. Preparing for tests. First, encourage your students to find out what will be covered on a test, what type of test it is (essay, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, etc). Using questions prepared from lecture notes and textbook notes (as described above), have your students take a “practice test,” using the same method that will be used on the test. Be sure to have your students start preparing for tests well-ahead of time. Cramming for a test the night before often leaves students not at their best on test-day and is an ineffective way to learn the material. „

Mission: “To promote the welfare of children and youth in Washington State leading to the success for every child.” We will do this by:

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Speaking on behalf of children and youth in the schools, in the community, and before governmental bodies and other organizations that make decisions affecting children; Supporting parents* in developing skills to raise, protect and advocate for their children; and Encouraging parent* and community involvement.

Goals: The Washington State PTA will:

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Be a leading resource and voice on policy issues affecting children in Washington State. Work to ensure that every child has a significant adult involved in his/ her life. Ensure that all PTA leaders and potential leaders are well-trained and mentored. Include all people without discrimination. Develop between educators and the community united efforts to secure for all children and youth the highest advantages in physical, mental, social and spiritual education.

*Parent may include adults who play an important role in a child’s family life since other adults (grandparents, aunts, uncles, or guardians) may carry the primary responsibility for a child’s health, welfare, education and safety.


The Child Advocate