My turn: Parenting a student to graduation

Posted: Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Nearly four out of 10 Alaska students - several thousand a year - don't graduate from high school, and that's an unacceptable loss of talent and energy. All of us bear a responsibility for turning around this avoidable tragedy.

Students who don't graduate are less likely to know the pleasure of using their talents to the fullest, less likely hold jobs that pay well, more likely to need government services, and more likely to have children who don't complete high school.

The state government, schools, professional associations and businesses all have a role in creating an environment in which students expect to graduate and get the support they need. Alaskans have the right to hold their state government and school districts accountable. We need to reinvigorate Alaska's vision for education so that our schools are rigorous and nurturing.

The efforts of professional educators bear the most fruit when parents value and support education. Parental involvement is critical if students are to attain essential skills and if Alaskans are to have a vision for successful schools.

There is a lot that families can do right now. Parents are children's first teachers.

Encourage your children to value education from an early age. Show them how education helps them develop their talents and interests. Let them know that education will open doors for them. It's hard for children and even teens to think far ahead. Caring adults in their lives have to supply that perspective. Students should graduate with a vision for success.

Follow your children's progress in school. Know your children's principal, teachers and counselor, and stay in touch with them. Ask teachers to tell you when your children are falling behind. Let teachers know that you have high expectations for your children, that you value teachers' efforts, and that you are part of the team that is educating your children. Approach your children's teachers with a positive attitude.

Praise your children's successes and encourage them to improve when they need to. Show your children that you care by helping them with their homework. Create a quiet time at home for schoolwork. Celebrate and display their successes.

Make sure your children have had a healthy breakfast and will have a lunch. The state's social services and the school district can help if you need assistance with food costs. Make sure your children get enough sleep.

Read to your children at home when they are young. Ask them to read to you. Converse with your children and listen to their thoughts. The more that children are exposed to language when they are very young, the more they are prepared for school.

If your children have trouble learning to read, ask your school if they need special services. Reading interventions are most effective before a child reaches second grade.

When your children are in middle school and high school, pay attention to signs of alcohol use, drug use or depression. Don't ignore truancy. Schools can direct parents to many confidential sources for support. Teens may complain about family rules, but they find security in fair, consistent family rules.

Encourage your children to be involved in sports or arts at school. Help them find courses and after-school activities that they enjoy and succeed at. Don't leave your student's high school schedule to chance. Take an active interest. Their high school courses will shape their future opportunities. Students who participate in activities such as arts, sports and clubs have a much higher level of success than those who do not.

Don't be afraid to engage your child in discussions about their future. Initiate these discussions early, before high school. Go with your student to talk to a school counselor about your student's talents and dreams. Get your student thinking about occupations and the training they'll need after high school. Students with personal goals are more likely to complete high school.

Together, all of us can help Alaska's students graduate from high school and fulfill their promise. I can't think of a more important goal to rally around.

• Larry LeDoux is Alaska's education commissioner and Juneau resident.

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