Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kindergarten - The Life-Defining Year

Forget about the quality of the AP calculus teacher. Apparently it's the kindergarten teacher who has the greatest impact on a student's success. So, Miss Juanita Kunkel, thank you.

A study that has not yet undergone peer review finds that some kindergarten teachers helped students learn far more than others and that the effect of the good teaching lasted up till junior high or so, then disappeared. But the study, which looked at how 12,000 kids who'd been part of a major experiment in education in the 1980s were faring today, found that those with really good kindergarten teachers were more likely to go to college, make more money, look ahead by saving for retirement -- and less likely to be single parents -- than those who did not have exceptionally fine teachers. Pretty amazing.

So, in going through a pile of old papers, I recently found my kindergarten report card. Miss Kunkel really brought me along -- from "making satisfactory progress" to "doing very well" in a range of activities, from taking part in games to showing interest in picture books. She couldn't nudge me forward, though, in art activities or working and playing well with others.

All in all, I haven't done too badly in life. Here's to the kindergarten teachers!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer's Good for Scouting Out Options

Private College Week is a great concept. A number of private schools in a state (Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Virgina and Wisconsin are ones I spotted in a search) group together to offer special tours and presentations all in the same summer week.

This means a family can visit a number of schools during a vacation. The Virgina event, running this week, also offers an incentive; if three or more schools are visited by a student during the week, application fees will be waived on three private colleges among the 25 involved in the program. It's a nice little perk for participating. And it makes the process a lot easier for families if there are a number of target schools in the same state.

Summer's a good time to take campus tours -- they will bring websites and directory descriptions to life and can help in the process of determining the final list. And where to have an interview later.

Our teen has no idea about where she'll want to apply. But that doesn't keep this mom from urging her to start some preliminary thinking. That's why there is a college directory in the car. On that long, long drive to Maine later this summer, just imagine how many colleges we'll pass.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Freshman Year Roommate -- Live-In Blind Date

I'm jumping ahead here. Our teen is about to enter sophomore year of high school. Discussions of college roommates are a long way off. But two events prompt the digression -- a birthday and an article.

I was one scared kid facing freshman year at Duke. I figured I could do the work, but boy, was I nervous about everything else. And that included life with a roommate. Here's what my randomly assigned roomie and I had in common: identical height and birthdays two days apart. That's it. I was public school, she was private -- let me notch that up -- boarding school. She always seemed self-assured and immensely more sophisticated than I. She could go to mixers and look utterly serene and bemused, drink in one hand, cigarette in other. (It was a different time.)

She was clever, smart and just what I needed to get through freshman year. The next year she was my suite-mate in a single room beside mine; Rachel -- who remains a great friend -- and I roomed together for the next two years in the dorm and one year off campus. Still, Ann and I stayed pals during the rest of college and have remained in touch, seeing each infrequently but exchanging cards on our birthdays.

A few days ago we both had big birthdays, and she sent me a cake with a funny, silly poem. Vintage Ann. Then, I spotted an article about freshman roommates and their effect, positive and negative, on the college experience.

I was sure fortunate that I was matched to Ann. She helped me survive a difficult transition, in style.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Learning about the World at the Library

As a child, I met one of my significant mentors in the library. Miss Helen Charles was head librarian of the branch near our home. For whatever reason, the quiet, shy girl and the tall, white-haired, no-nonsense woman clicked. Until her death, when she was in her late 80s, we were friends.

But she was also an important life guide. She introduced me to books and subjects I might not have found on my own. And, through historical novels, she let the young teen see a glimpse of sex that -- trust me -- I would not have known through other sources.

I spent long summer hours in the cool, dark library, and Miss Charles was by my side, opening the world to me. When I graduated from college, I sent her an invitation to the ceremony with an acknowledgment that she played an enormous role in getting me to that point.

With e-books sales now overtaking the old-fashioned ones at Amazon, will we lose the magic of libraries and the counsel of women like Miss Charles? With e-books and budget cuts,I suspect we've begun to live the loss already.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Are Test Scores Destiny?

Decades ago, when I was applying to colleges, I had lopsided scores: near perfect verbal and let's not talk about math.

I got into a good school, but not the ones I wanted at the time. I am pretty sure my math score held me back. In retrospect, it seems to me my college took a chance. And I managed just fine in my classes. Do schools still take chances, or do students' scores really provide immediate boundaries in terms of which colleges might accept them?

Here's a list of colleges that do not use the SAT or ACT as primary elements in the admissions process.

While you may not have heard of many of the colleges, you'll also see some pleasant surprises.

Monday, July 19, 2010

OMG, There's a 7:30 a.m. Class

Our teen just found out this weekend that she will have one of her most demanding classes, AP U.S. History, at 7:30 a.m. Say your prayers for us!

It's not the teen's fault that she doesn't want to get up in the mornings -- it's biology. Up till about 10 years of age, children wake up refreshed and ready for their day. But then pre-teens begin inching forward in their circadian rhythms, and they are no longer sleepy around 9 or 10 p.m. Studies have shown that teens need as much or more sleep than they did as children. And a study in the current issues of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (abstract here)suggests that the simple change of starting first period at 8:30 allows teens to get more sleep (because many even went to bed a bit earlier); suffer less from sleepiness during the school day; and cut down significantly on both depression and day-to-day irritation.

Of course, it isn't easy to change schedules and times and still fit everything in. But maybe it is a major hassle worth considering.

Meanwhile, please, every morning starting in September, send good thoughts our way.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Letting Them Soar

Any nervousness I felt was my own fault. I'd given my husband a Christmas gift of two certificates to go soaring; he and our teen would have an adventure. I went along for the drive.

Here's how it works. The "guest" gets into a sailplane, often called a glider, along with an FAA-certified pilot. The sailplane is connected by a line to a small tow plane. The plane takes off, the sailplane follows. Soon, the pilot releases from the tow plane and free flight begins, at about 3,000 feet, with the sailplane riding on the air currents. At the end of the ride, the pilot glides the sailplane back home. Dad and teen each went up solo, with the pilot.

They found it exhilarating and exciting -- especially when the teen was able to take the controls and make some turns in the sailplane. Oh, and the views were breathtaking.

I stayed on the ground and personalized the experience -- as I tend to do. And here's my impression of the event: for the first 15 years or so, it is our job to prepare our children for the time when the tow line is dropped.

At some point we have done all we can. And then we can only wish them happy soaring.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What's Wrong with Rutgers?

Back when I was growing up in Baltimore, my dad would sing, "Nobody ever died for dear old Rutgers, nobody ever died for Rutgers U." We had no connections to the school or New Jersey. Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know it was written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn for the 1947 musical, High Button Shoes. So that's where he got it.

It appears, though, that not only will no one die for the school, no one wants to attend, either. New Jersey students would rather go elsewhere and, in fact, more of its high school grads leave home for college than any other state. Is it the state, or the school, or too many attractive options elsewhere? Nor does the school attract new blood -- not many out-of-staters want to attend, either.

Whatever the reason, it is frightening for the state's future. It's beyond frightening for me, as a parent: I desperately want Rutgers to be an attractive, viable option. Sure hope our teen doesn't read this post.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Looking for Jobs in All the Right Places -- and Finding None

Maybe it's the heat. Over 100 in our part of New Jersey. Maybe it's the relentlessly bad economic news, which seems to hurt more after many of us felt optimism earlier in the year. Or maybe it's thinking about our teen and worrying about her future in a world that just may offer fewer opportunities, on every front.

Whatever the reason, I am turning more blue as the grass is turning more brown in the Garden State.

Both The Star-Ledger and The New York Times ran stories today about struggling college graduates -- with talent, willing to work, wanting to make the most of their education -- who can't find anything.

How do we prepare our teens to understand that life may well be different for them? How do we inject reality without injecting dream-numbing fear?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

College Students Studying Less

It has occurred to me that some students may feel that their first life battle is getting into college. Once there, do they know what to do with the gift they've been given -- or do they just bide their four years in anticipation of a diploma and the next step?

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I was looking ahead during my college years to what I might do afterward, rather than being totally committed to learning. I attended classes, wrote some pretty good papers (found a few recently) and learned a lot that I fear has long ago left my mind.

I also spent a lot of time studying -- or it seems to me I did. Apparently, though, the number of hours put into study is shrinking, according to some studies mentioned here.

Are students more efficient at studying because it takes less time to find information? Are they working jobs to pay for college, thereby cutting into study? With grade inflation, do students assume they will get a decent grade no matter how little they study?

Or is it that students just don't have the attention span anymore, given all the distractions and interruptions that our wired world brings? And does it matter?

I would say it is too soon to tell.