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Secrets For School Success Shared

Every parent wants his child to be successful in school, but how can a parent help make it happen? In the Family Circle, The Early Show helps parents, not kids, prepare for going back to school.

Some educators, like the teachers at New York's P.S. 36, believe it's a job that requires teamwork.

When it comes to the ABCs of learning, teacher Stephanie Papp knows firsthand how difficult it is for kids to get motivated after a long summer break.

"One of the biggest challenges is refreshing the children to what you know they've already been exposed to that they might have forgotten over the summer," she says.

For 10 months of the school year, Papp, like so many teachers, must figure out the best way to successfully reach and teach anywhere from 20 to 35 students at a time.

She says, "You have to look for different things within each child. You center it to assess the child individually."

Another teacher notes, "One of the biggest complaints that I hear from parents is that they're not sure exactly of what their children should know as they're progressing through the school year. "

According to one New York principal, Nilda Rivera, an educator for 28 years, the best way for parents to know what their children are doing is to ask the teachers.

Rivera says, "The biggest misconception may be that the teachers don't want parents involved."

Ira Shulman, a literacy staff developer, notes, "It's not enough just to check to see if the child did their homework. They have to be actively involved in the child's homework. Reading, writing, arithmetic, science or social studies - whatever the child is doing that night - the parent should be involved."

Once parents are a part of the learning process, the principal and teachers agree, student report cards will begin to reflect that cooperation.

Papp notes, "Something that I believe that teachers would like the parents to know that maybe they're not quite aware of is how much we would like them involved in our classroom, how much we need them, how much we welcome their advice."

Susan Ungaro, the editor-in-chief of Family Circle magazine tells co-anchor Hannah Storm, "If a parent shows involvement and is always asking questions, that will make a much more enthusiastic child."

In its September issue, the magazine features an article "Classroom Secrets: What Teachers Wish Parents Knew." It includes interviews with teachers who give parents helpful tips on ways to prime their kids for school success.

One such tip is to contact the teacher before the school year starts. Ungaro says, "Usually a few days before school starts, teachers are already in the classroom getting things ready. Now, that's a great time to just stop by with your child, drop in. I think that they'll be a lot more positive reception than you think. The teachers would love to meet a few students before school starts."

Such meetings are a good way for teachers to get to know the student better and provide teachers with good one-on-one time with kids, Ungaro points out. Some schools are even implementing student-led conferences.

Ungaro explains, "What it really means is that you bring your children to the parent/teacher conference and let the children talk about what they think they're doing, how they're doing, what their strengths are and where they need help. Together, mom, dad, and the teacher can help figure out what they need to do to help the children do better in school. The children feel part of the process."

And if the chid sees that parents and teachers have a good line of communication, it would be easier down the line to tell their parents what is going on in the classroom.

"The most important thing is to not criticize the teacher in front of your child," Ungaro stresses. "If you even think your child has a legitimate complaint, it's much more effective and constructive to talk to the teacher out of earshot of the child."

If a child thinks his parents hold critical views of school, it gives him permission not to do his best, Ungaro says. If you aren't able to resolve the situation by meeting with the teacher, then talk to the principal.

As far as homework, it is important to just be an interpreter or consultant and allow the child to do it.

"Homework is for kids," Ungaro says. "However, parents should be the coach at home. And the best way to know how your child is doing is to sort of check on homework every night after work."

A working mom herself, Ungaro says she makes an effort to do that and to send notes to the teacher if she sees her child is struggling with a pariticular subject. "The teachers want to know. They don't want you doing the homework for the child. They need to know what they've taught has sunk in," she says.

Busy working parents can use e-mail or a phone call with the teachers.

"More and more schools now have voice mail systems and e-mail addresses for all their teachers," Ungaro says. "Face-to-face is the best way to meet and to talk. But I think e-mail now is a brilliant sort of way to keep in touch more frequently. Then when you have a real situation, you can use voice mail and e-mail to set up a face-to-face meeting."

If your school does not schedule regular conferences, you can request them.

The classroom is a good learning environment, but teachers also want students to experience learning outside of school. The more children know about the world around them, the better prepared they are for school, Ungaro recommends. Schedule day trips to places like science centers, museums and aquariums that offer interactive programs for children. To get the most of your outing, always end the visit by discussing with your child the many things you saw.

And as for parents who place a great deal of emphasis on their kids getting good grades, Ungaro points out that it may have the opposite effect. She advises parents to relax and lean on the teacher for assistance. For example, the teacher may pair a child with a classmate or introduce a game to reinforce a concept to make learning fun and help students relax.

Along those same lines, she recommends rewarding the effort not the grade. Parents can strive for excellence by congratulating their child for doing the best he or she can. If it's not an A, that's OK.

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