Archive for the ‘Parent Teacher Association (PTA/PIBG)’ Category

Homework Tips for Teens – Setting the scene.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

At this point, your teen has probably established his favorite place to do homework, so your main role at this point is to stop nagging. If you were to visit households of some “grade A” high school students, chances are you’d catch one doing homework with MTV blaring in the background; another talking on the phone while completing a history paper; another working in the kitchen with his feet on the table; and yet another sprawled across the family room floor keeping up her A average. If you looked really hard, you might find one actually working at a desk in a quiet bedroom, but boy, is she the exception.

Despite that, get a desk for your teen’s room—be it a hand-me-down from Grandma’s house or something from the unfinished furniture store. Why? Because whether or not he uses it for study, it represents a concrete family commitment to schoolwork—and provides an excellent place for storage, too.

If the desk doesn’t have a file drawer, visit a stationery or office supply store and buy a file box (they cost under $20) so your teen will have a place to store the current year’s papers. A simple, accessible filing system will let your teen find previous notes, tests, and reports quickly and easily.

Items you want to save for “posterity” are best stored in accordion file folders with elastic wraps. Place the best-written papers or projects in them, label them with your teen’s name and the year, and store them somewhere out of the way.

Tools of the (Homework) Trade.

Just as cooking is a drag when you find you don’t have the right ingredients, homework is tough without the necessary tools. At the beginning of the year, ask your teen what school supplies she needs. Don’t be surprised if she mentions paints, nails, or textiles; with the new emphasis on experiential learning, many middle and high school students have to create, cook, or fashion something for class.

Be flexible. If the plastic protractors he uses for math keep getting broken in his backpack, do the smart thing: buy two and tell him to keep one at home and leave one at school.

Stock your home library with a dictionary, thesaurus, and possibly an atlas. A good dictionary is worth the $30 price tag for hard cover; and thesauruses are available in paperback.

Consider whether you can afford a computer. If you can’t add one to your household, investigate other ways your teen can work on one. Some communities give access to school computers during specified evening hours; some schools are investing in laptops that can be checked out like a library book; and many public libraries feature computers that anyone can use.

Homework Made Easy:

By the time your teen enters middle or high school, your teen has almost certainly established some type of pattern for the way she does her homework, so you may feel your job is done.

Not so fast. Even a bright, well-organized student may have trouble pacing herself for long-range assignments and juggling the work of six or seven classes every night.

As a parent, you want your teen to get homework done without having to impose rules; you want your teen to assume responsibility so you don’t have to stand over him menacingly with a ruler (just kidding!).

To help, you might begin each year with a discussion of your teen’s upcoming schedule. If she plays soccer or has a role in the fall play, then talk about when it makes the most sense to do homework. When she gets home? After rehearsal? Or maybe after dinner is the best time for her to buckle down to work. To help establish this pattern, you might pick an amount of time—say, 30 to 45 minutes a day—and state that even if she has no homework she’s expected to read or do mentally challenging work during this “homework period.”

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Talking with Your Teen About Drugs and Alcohol

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Talking with your kids about drugs and alcohol can be difficult. It is a highly sensitive topic, but the possible consequences of drinking and taking drugs are far too dire to ignore. So even though you might stumble and falter, the stakes are too high for you to remain silent.

Communicating your beliefs and values about drugs and alcohol gives your children a set of guidelines and limits to help them make healthy decisions. One “big talk” (like the “birds and bees” lecture) is not the route to follow; you can find many opportunities to introduce your opinions, beliefs, and questions. TV shows, news reports, movies, and newspaper stories are good starting points for a conversation.

Discussions about these issues should begin in early childhood, long before the teenage years. Adolescence is actually the worst time to begin talking to kids about drugs and alcohol; teens are the most likely to reject their parent’s advice and to be influenced by their peers. In spite of this, it’s never too late to begin the dialogue.

Why do they do it?

Why did you drink, smoke, or take illegal drugs as a teenager? Was it peer pressure? Curiosity? Or did you just want to feel happier and better about yourself? Your teen’s reasons are probably the same.

The vast majority of teenagers don’t take drugs or drink because they are clinically depressed, suicidal, or lacking in self-esteem. They do it because it gives them pleasure, in the same way that drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, drinking liquor, and taking drugs (prescription or illegal) gives adults pleasure.

Just say no!

“Just say no” is absurd advice to give teenagers when it comes to drugs and alcohol. It grossly simplifies a very complex issue; it insults the kids it purports to help. It’s part of an adult mindset that says “good kids” don’t take drugs or drink alcohol; “good kids” know these substances are bad and simply repeat the mantra “just say no” to conquer temptation. Oh, if all of life’s tough problems could be solved simply by repeating a campaign slogan!

Taking drugs or drinking alcohol has nothing to do with your teens’ being “good” or “bad” kids. It’s got everything to do with the allure of experimenting with “forbidden substances” that promise pleasure, status, and acceptance.

You can prohibit your teenagers from drinking or taking drugs, but that does not necessarily mean you can prevent it. This does not mean that you should casually accept your child’s alcohol and drug experimentation. Your biggest concern should be the prevention of chronic use and addiction.

Do as I do

Do you “have to have” your morning coffee, your after-dinner cigarette, your evening cocktails, your stress-relieving Valium? How often do you turn to over-the-counter, prescription, or illegal drugs to relieve your symptoms or to make you happier? Do your kids see you drink and drive? Through your own example, what messages are you sending your kids about drugs and alcohol?

Your teens will notice any hypocrisy on your part. Talk is cheap. Serve as your own example of your beliefs and values concerning drugs and alcohol. Don’t just preach it — LIVE IT!

Give them facts

Teenagers don’t buy the argument that trying a “milder” drug means they’ll soon be shooting heroin. They aren’t scared by this “domino theory,” because they rarely see it happening in real life. In place of scary theories, you can give them facts. You and your teen should know the names of all popular drugs, what effects they have on young minds and bodies (short- and long-term), and the legal penalties for drug possession and use.

Tell them that drugs and alcohol make teens more prone to dangerous accidents. Tell them that they can never trust the quality of drugs or know exactly how they will respond to them. Tell them that drugs can poison and kill them. Tell them that their lives are too precious to take these chances. Tell them that you love them.

Drinking and driving

Drinking and driving is the biggest killer of adolescents. You must be steadfast and clear about your rules concerning drinking and driving. You have every right to insist that your teenager not drive after drinking or ride with a driver who has been drinking. These same rules should apply to any drugs.

This rule should be accompanied by a heartfelt promise: If your teen is ever faced with drinking/drugging and driving or riding with an intoxicated driver, he MUST call you up. You will pick him up (regardless of the time) or arrange to have him picked up. Upon his safe return home, you promise you will not question, punish, or lecture him. If your teen fears calling you, he may drive drunk and never make it home.

Doing your best

You can’t eliminate your teenager’s curiosity about drugs and alcohol; you can’t shield her from the social pressures to use them. Keeping silent and letting her come to her own conclusions about this is unconscionable. You can encourage her self-worth, give her the hard facts, establish firm limits, set a positive example, and always keep the lines of “communication without condemnation” open.


by Carleton Kendrick Ed.M., LCSW

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Homework Tips for Teens – Making the Time.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your child is the gift of time management. (Okay, okay, so you’re disorganized. Don’t worry; what you need to teach your teen is right here. And wouldn’t this be a perfect time to get better organized yourself?)

  • Some schools provide students with school planners. If yours doesn’t, then you should. Take her to a stationery store and let her choose a daily calendar that she’s comfortable carrying. One that devotes a page per day and leaves plenty of room for keeping track of assignments. (Some students prefer a small flip-top notepad for assignments.)
  • Teach her to note the following information for each assignment in each subject: date, subject, assignment, due date, and date handed in.
  • Purchase homework folders for each subject, and teach your child the merits of categorization. That way, when it’s time to pull out the social studies handout, your teen knows just where it will be.
  • If your child needs help with time management, hold his telephone calls until after his homework is done.

Doing Homework in Bites

Help your teen to break a long-term assignment into parts. Sit down with her and help her break down the steps that might be involved in writing her year-end term report on China, for example. Those steps might include the following:

  1. Choose a specific topic by doing some general reading.
  2. Get the topic approved by the teacher.
  3. Visit the library and check out books, periodicals, and computer reference materials on the topic.
  4. Read and take notes. (Most students could benefit from some guidance here. Slogging through an entire 600-page book on China’s Long March is overkill for an eight-page report. Show her how to use resources selectively.)
  5. Write a rough draft and edit it.
  6. Produce a finished copy.

Starting with the project’s due date, show your teen how to calculate how much time she can devote to each stage. Mark a due date by each step.

Foiling Procrastination

A lifelong bad habit like procrastination starts with simple things, like chores and homework. If you sometimes procrastinate (and don’t we all?), you know the feeling. You wait and wait, hoping the task will go away…then when it doesn’t, you’re stuck sweating it out at the last minute, doing a halfway job. You never feel good about it—not before, or during, or after the project.

Here are the five major reasons people procrastinate, and what you can do to help your teen get past each of them:

  • They don’t know how to do something. If your teen is stuck, encourage her to go in early to get some help. Middle school kids are usually quite open about problems, so if you start this “academic coaching” early, you’re more likely to have some influence later on. If you’re a math whiz, for example, you may find that you and she develop an extra bond because she can turn to you with her algebra questions.
  • They have poor work habits. Much of this advice will help here. A good time management trick that can take your teen a long way is teaching her to do the hardest assignment first. After she’s finished with that, it makes the rest of the night look easy.
  • They’re afraid of < ahref=”/teen/reading/48436.html”>not doing well, so they don’t try.
  • This has to do with your teen’s mind-set. Don’t pressure her when it comes to scholastics. What you want to instill is curiosity and a pleasure in learning that will help her tackle things she’s never tried before.

  • They’d rather be doing something else. This is where plain old self-discipline comes in. You can help by setting guidelines; for example, homework should come before television or telephone time.
  • They feel it has to be perfect.Perfectionism is equally insidious. Writing and re-writing an assignment before it is finished is not good use of homework time. Teach her quick-fix methods (like using correcting fluid, erasable pens, and computer word processing programs) and don’t push for “perfect.” If you already have a perfectionist, give her a limit on the number of times she should allow herself to re-do something (two times?).

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Tips for Effective Parent-Teacher Communication

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

It is said that teachers lay the basic foundation in building your child’s successful future. Probably that is why teaching is known as a noble profession. Apart from educating pupils, a teacher’s professional duties extend way beyond just formal teaching. They have the ability to influence a student’s perception. Parents no doubt are equal partners in shaping the future of their kids. Moreover, parental involvement can boost a child’s motivation for learning and develops a positive attitude about the school in general. When parents form an effective partnership with a teacher, they can definitely help their kid do well academically as well as professionally. So, how do you develop a great rapport with the teacher? From the teacher’s perspective, how do you react if a overwrought parent shows up? Given below are tips for both teachers and parents respectively to effectively communicate with each other.

Parent-Teacher Communication Tips

Tips for Teachers

  • When you call on your student’s parents, make sure you are cool and composed. Don’t make it sound serious or like something is really wrong, we need to talk. Remember they are parents they are sure to panic and might scold their kid, after they hang up the phone. Don’t discuss the issue over the phone, but give them some hints so that they are mentally prepared when they come to see you. In the meeting too, slowly unveil the issue, discuss it and come to a conclusion, which is approved by both of you.
  • After you call up the parents, there is every possibility that the parent might rush to the school to see you. Make it a point to not entertain them at that time, even if you are free. Stress on scheduling a meeting later on the same day, or the following day. This will give you a chance to prepare yourself for the meeting and the parent will cool down too. It is important that neither of you are excited or paranoid about the issue, a cool head can bring out the best results from a discussion.
  • It is not easy for any parent to digest the fact that their child is a “problem child” and as teachers it is important you don’t encourage such thoughts in parents. No doubt it is important for you to address the issue related to the child, however don’t just put forth the problems, at least come up with some concrete ways to tackle the problem. Let the parent know they can trust you! Explain the strategy, ask for their inputs, if any, and together reach to a conclusion. And make sure the parent too is equally involved in addressing the issue concerning their child.
  • Sometimes, when parents come to meet you even when they are not called for, it is because they want to make sure that their kid is performing well at school. Hear them out, probably they want someone to hear them out, or want to voice their concerns. Assure the parents about their kid’s performance and be positive. Teachers should never communicate negative news about the child as that is more likely to discourage parents. Tell the parents about their child’s learning activities, accomplishments if any and tactfully tell them how they can improve their child’s learning at home.

Tips for Parents

  • The most common mistake parents make is that they sit back and wait for the teachers to come to them with issues. If you know your kid is a little weak at grasping things, make it a point to communicate with his teacher regularly. Keep a weekly or monthly track of his/her improvements. The teacher in such a case will definitely understand your concern and help you in all ways she can, to resolve the issue.
  • When you are called by the teacher, don’t panic. The teacher in the first place called you because she is concerned and wants to see her students do well. Realize the purpose. Go with a cool head it will only help you to come to a better conclusion. Be open to strategies and ideas the teacher introduces you to. Together work on the same, it will only help you raise the kid better.
  • Your child’s teacher may be younger or older to you, whatever the case may be respect her. Because a teacher can handle something with your child in a better way than you can, since they are trained that way. She is definitely concerned about your child, the reason why she is helping you out with the same. Everyone likes to be praised. If the strategy drawn by the teacher is working, or you see your child favorably responding to the problem, let the teacher know it. Thank her for the same, or at least acknowledge her efforts.
  • There will be cases when neither of you would want to agree on some common point, in such cases don’t storm into the principal’s office individually, make sure both of you approach him/her together and sort out the matter. It’ll help both the parties to maintain cordial relations amongst themselves, which in turn will be beneficial for your child.

by Divya Bichu.

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Save Your Teen from Smoking

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Teen Smoking Rates Decline, but Quitting Is Still a Challenge

Sixteen-year-old Haley A.’s New Year’s resolution is to not criticize other people. As admirable as that goal may be, Haley’s mother wishes her daughter had made another resolve: to quit smoking. But the teen is indifferent to the idea. She enjoys smoking, and at five or six cigarettes a day, does not believe she is addicted to nicotine.

“I think if I had something to motivate me, I could stop really easily,” Haley says. “For me, it’s a boredom thing. Whenever I’m bored, it’s something to do.”

The honor roll student who says she’s the only smoker in her circle of friends is bucking a national trend. Monitoring the Future, a new survey released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, shows teen smoking in grades 8, 10, and 12 is declining “at a vigorous pace.” This is a direct contrast to the early 1990s, when researchers saw a dramatic increase in the number of teens lighting up. Among eighth-graders, smoking rates fell from 21 percent in 1996 to 12 percent in 2001; and among tenth-graders, from 30 percent to 21 percent. Among high-school seniors, smoking rates dropped from 37 percent in 1997 to 30 percent in 2001.

The study attributed the decreases to the demise of the Joe Camel ad campaign, the increase in anti-smoking ads, and the jump in cigarette prices in most states.

“Young people are price-sensitive in their use of cigarettes,” says the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston of the University of Michigan. “When the price goes up, it is less likely that (kids) will proceed to greater use.”

Parents, Not Just Media, Need to Send “No Smoking” Signals

What about the influence of parents? While the latest survey didn’t ask teens to describe parental influence, anti-smoking activists insist that what moms and dads say — or don’t say — can have an enormous effect on teens. In other words, parents shouldn’t just breathe a sigh of relief over the new decline in smoking rates and think TV ad campaigns have more influence than they do.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey, taken every other year for the federal government, has found significant racial and ethnic differences in the ways that parents deal with smoking. Researchers say that Hispanic parents, even if they smoke themselves, are less likely to allow teens to smoke in the house. The rules appear to have the effect of discouraging teen smoking altogether, not just smoking at home, because Hispanic teens smoke at lower rates than white teens do.

Haley A.’s mother also has established a no-smoking rule at home, but the teen says there has been little discussion of the issue.

“She knows that I know about the consequences,” says Haley. Although the teen doesn’t particularly want to quit, she says she might be motivated to kick the habit if the penalties were severe enough. “I think if I was grounded every time I got caught smoking or if my phone got taken away, then it would definitely make it harder to keep smoking.”

Do’s and Don’ts for Parents: Keeping Teens Smoke-Free

These suggestions for parents come from Lyndon Haviland, executive vice president of the American Legacy Foundation (a public health foundation created as part of the 1998 settlement agreement by the states with the tobacco companies):

1. Do take nicotine addiction seriously. “When I talk to parents, I sometimes hear, ‘It’s only tobacco’ or ‘They’re just experimenting,’” Haviland says. “It’s critical to understand that teenagers do become addicted, and it’s critical to intervene. For one thing, research shows that cigarettes can be a gateway to use of other drugs and alcohol.”

2. Don’t assume teens know the dangers. While the latest teen smoking stats are promising, there are still warning signs hidden behind the headlines. The Monitoring the Future study showed that 43 percent of eighth-graders still do not believe that there is a great risk associated with a-pack-a-day smoking.

3. Do talk about (immediate) health consequences and the cost. Teens tend to believe they’ll never get pregnant or die in a car crash, so it may be a waste of time to talk about “someday” dying of lung cancer as a result of smoking. Instead, Haviland and other experts advise parents to focus on short-term health and economic effects: “You get a lot of sore throats because you smoke.” “If you want to run cross-country next semester, you’ll have an easier time if you quit.” “Your teeth are starting to get stained.” Or focus on the money they’re spending: “Gee, you could probably afford your own car if you weren’t spending so much on cigarettes!”

4. Don’t underestimate your own influence. “We’ve talked to teens who say, ‘If my mom and dad really cared, they’d push me on it,’” Haviland reports.

5. Do talk to your child’s healthcare provider, athletic coaches, and guidance counselors. The more caring adults who know your child smokes, the better, Haviland says. “You’re surrounding your teen with support for cessation behavior. There is nothing wrong with saying to a soccer coach, ‘My daughter will be playing on your team in the fall and I want you to know that she began smoking over the summer.’”

6. Don’t turn cigarettes into a “forbidden fruit.” No-smoking rules are fine, but only if they are premised on the dangers associated with cigarettes, not just “Those are my rules and you must obey.” Make sure you tell your teen how much you admire and respect his or her decision not to smoke, or to quit.

7. Do look for help. The American Lung Association has a comprehensive program for teens called “NOT.,” — “Not On Tobacco.” Check their website for details at Or visit This site has a calculator to help teens (and adults!) calculate the savings they reap when they kick the habit.

by Alvin Poussaint, M.D. and Susan Linn, Ed.D.

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Tips on Getting Involved in School

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Once a week, Raquel Orozco visits her son’s elementary classroom in Rockville, Maryland, and reads a story to a small group of students. Although she is self-conscious about her limited English skills, she spends other days chaperoning school field trips to the Washington National Zoo, volunteering at PTA gatherings, serving on the district’s parent advisory committee, or driving her youngest to soccer practice. “We came here from Mexico City to find a better life for our children,” she explains, “and we’re doing well.”

For Orozco and her family, her hard work is paying off. All five of her children are getting good grades and doing well in school. Her oldest son, Daniel, will graduate from high school next year and go to the local community college—a first for her family.

The research is in, and the results are conclusive: students whose parents are actively involved in their education do better at school, regardless of their family income and background. Specifically, students with involved parents have greater academic success, better attitudes about school, and fewer behavioral problems. This makes sense, since parents are the central figures in the lives of their children.

It’s also true that all parents want the best for their children. So why aren’t there more parents like Raquel Orozco? Why are some parents from diverse ethnic backgrounds reluctant to come to school? It turns out there are some very good reasons, including cultural differences, lack of understanding about their role, time constraints, and language difficulties.

Cultural differences

Barrier. Parents may come from a culture that teaches them not to question authority. In these cultures, education is perceived as the responsibility of the schools, and family participation is viewed as interference with what trained professionals are supposed to do. For these parents, it is important to understand that teachers in the United States really do want parents to be involved in their children’s education. In fact, good teachers understand that only by working with parents can they do a first-class job; after all, parents know their children best.

Solutions. Approach your child’s teacher the right way, and you’ll forge a great partnership. But how should you do that? First, avoid meeting with teachers during the first few days of school. Overwhelmed with back-to-school paperwork, new rules, and new faces, teachers need time to get settled and to get to know their new charges. If your child is starting kindergarten, you may be invited to come with her or him on the first day to take part in orientation activities. However, this is not the time for a long, personal introduction; save that for a bit later.

Many teachers welcome the idea of meeting with parents briefly within a couple of weeks of the start of the school year. Try stopping by 10 minutes after school to introduce yourself and chat briefly. Virtually all schools have some sort of open house early in the year, and this is another ideal time and place to meet your child’s new teacher. At this point, the teacher typically will provide a plan for communicating with parents; for example, a monthly calendar or weekly letter. Read or listen to the plan carefully, and if something is not clear, ask questions. Find out how you can get in touch with the teacher at school and exactly when is the best time to call or e-mail.

As the year progresses, plan on maintaining your communication with the teacher. Conferences usually are scheduled around grading periods, but don’t wait for conference time to let the teacher know when important events are happening for your child or to check in about a troublesome issue. Keeping in touch with the teacher builds a relationship that can be important when concerns arise.

Lack of understanding about their role

Barrier. Parents not educated in this country may value education highly, yet have little knowledge of what their children do at school and lack information on how to support them. The more parents know about their child’s school, the better an education that child is likely to receive. But how should you go about gaining information?

Solutions. One of the best ways to find out what is going on at school is to volunteer time and help in the classroom. Offering this kind of support gives a positive, encouraging message, and as a side benefit, you will get the answers to any questions you may have about your child’s classroom. By spending time in their child’s classroom, parents get to appreciate what teachers do, and children see an ongoing partnership between school and home.

Another way to find out what’s going on with your child’s education is to check out the school’s Web site. These sites convey a range of information: school address and phone numbers, links to school staff profiles, calendar of events, updates about school closings, curriculum information, and homework assignments in individual classrooms. Indeed, the primary purpose of a school Web site is to communicate with families. So take advantage of it!

You also can gain information about how the school system works by attending meetings of the school board. There are over 14,000 public school districts in this country, and a school board whose members can be elected or appointed by other government officials governs each of these districts. Board meetings generally take place once a month, and most are open to the public. By attending these meetings, you can find out what’s going on in your district. And if you want to participate further, you can speak out on issues that concern you, or run for election to the board.

Time constraints

Barrier. Parents may work long or irregular hours. They may feel that they just don’t have the time to visit school or to make a regular commitment of time to their children’s education.

Solutions. One approach to this problem is to ask your employer for time off. Many businesses encourage civic responsibility and will give their employees time to volunteer at a child’s school. If you cannot take time off of work, there are still plenty of ways that you can be involved outside of the classroom. Teachers may need to have handouts assembled or records organized, and these can be prepared at home.

At home, you can support your child’s education by showing genuine interest in their work and progress. Structure a home life that is both educationally stimulating and supportive of your child’s schoolwork, and thus demonstrate how important education is to you. Remember that homework gives your child an opportunity to develop responsibility and self-discipline. Remembering assignments, organizing materials, gathering information, and budgeting time are important skills to learn for life. With this in mind, plan a routine that works for you and your child and keep it consistent.

Of course, joining a parent organization provides an excellent way to get involved, as well as an invaluable source of information and support. There’s nothing like getting advice on navigating your child’s school from parents who have already learned the ropes. Your local PTA provides a key opportunity for you to influence your children’s school and education directly.

Language difficulties

Barrier. Recent immigrants can be insecure about their English-language skills and reluctant to try out these skills among authority figures. They may be embarrassed to have their child translate for them and avoid situations in which this must happen.

Solutions. Not only does the federal law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) require schools to give parents the tools they need to support their child’s learning in the home and to communicate regularly with families about their child’s academic progress, but it also mandates that schools communicate with parents in the languages they speak “to the extent practicable.” Indeed, schools and school districts around the country are taking steps to involve all parents.

For example, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland publishes a comprehensive guide to navigating the school system and makes it available to all families in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in Alaska, where 60 languages are spoken, provides non-English-speaking families with a mentor who speaks their language and orients them to the school building and staff.

But what if this is not happening in your district? Cindy Choy, an immigrant parent from China, provides a powerful example of the way forward: “I immigrated to San Francisco more than four years ago. When I first immigrated, I didn’t understand English and did not understand my rights. I did not know how to help my daughter in her education. Fortunately, I met a teacher who spoke Chinese, and she was very important to me and my daughter’s education.” Choy goes on to describe how she volunteered to help on a field trip and in her daughter’s classroom, and began to understand the U.S. education system. She also started learning English simultaneously with her child. Since then, Choy has become a member of various parent groups, the English Learners Advisory Council, and the School Site Council.

Making progress

Schools are taking the responsibility to serve their multicultural, multilingual communities seriously, and helping families get involved—some for the first time—in their children’s education.

At Bonita Springs Elementary School in Bonita Springs, Florida, where the student body is 51 percent Hispanic, parent workshop/dinners on school-related topics have provided excellent starting points for communication.

For Cora B. Darling Elementary School in Postville, Iowa, the celebration of cultural traditions has become a key feature in the school year. American, Mexican, Filipino, and Russian students and parents work together and teach one another about their holidays.

Oakland Terrace Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, where 30 percent of the students speak a language other than English after school, has developed an extremely successful annual Sports Field Day, largely organized by parents. The students each choose a country to represent and compete for that country.

Parents like Raquel Orozco and Cindy Choy are responding to this encouragement and are leading the way for all families. The gradual shift in U.S. education policy and practice demonstrates that parents finally are being valued not simply as important players in the formal education of their children, but also as full partners.

by Judy Molland, the author of Straight Talk about Schools Today (Free Spirit, 2007). She can be reached at

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Overcoming Obstacles to Parent Involvement

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Obstacles to Parent Involvement: Roadblocks and Detours
To make parents feel more comfortable visiting the school, post Welcome signs in all languages spoken at the school at each entrance and on each classroom door. Create a special place in the school that is set aside especially for parents, such as a parent center.

Not Knowing How to Contribute

Roadblock: Some parents believe they have talents but don’t know whether they are needed or how to contribute them to the school or PTA.


  • Don’t wait for parents to offer to help; seek them out.  Suggest a few different but specific options of ways they could volunteer.
  • Have teachers and administrators create a list of specific volunteer actions that are needed from parents.  Refer to this list and share it with your PTA.
  • Ask non-PTA parents as well as members what they’d like to do in the school.
  • Faculty and parents could share their list with each other and begin to discuss and form realistic expectations to more effectively use parents’ many talents.

Not Understanding the School System

Roadblock: Many parents are unfamiliar with the system and therefore do not know what their rights are or how they can become involved.


  • Create a simple, short parent handbook covering school rules, procedures, policies, and where to find answers to questions.  Use pictures or visuals as much as possible.
  • Include names and numbers of contact people who can answer questions in specific areas. Include pictures and names of school administrators, staff, teachers, PTA officers, and other contact people.

Parents in Need

Roadblock: Parents without adequate resources often feel overwhelmed.
Families suffering from economic stress must address their own needs for food, clothing, and shelter before they can see clear to become more involved in their children’s education.


  • Ask the parent or guardian about their situation and listen to them.
  • Assign a “buddy” who understands the situation or language to help connect the family to the school.
  • Provide information to help parents access and secure the health and social services they need for themselves and their families.
  • Schools can work out agreements with social service and health agencies to provide services at the school through school-based clinics or near the school in community-based clinics.
  • Schools can develop and distribute to parents a directory containing information on available services and resources in the community and how to access them.
  • After families’ personal needs are met, schools can then help parents become involved in the education of their children.

Child Care

Roadblock: Child care may not be offered at meetings or school functions.
At the same time, parents may be discouraged from bringing their children to events.


  • Find an available room and available caregivers for child care at the meeting site.
  • Ask PTA members, community members, school service clubs, or other parents to volunteer to provide child care on a rotating basis.
  • Hire high school or college students in child development classes or child-care professionals in the community to provide child care and, if appropriate, charge parents a nominal fee.
  • Adhere to state-mandated child/adult ratios to provide safe, quality care.

Language Barriers

Roadblock: Parents who don’t speak English may not understand newsletters, fliers, or speakers at meetings


  • Provide printed materials that are sent home and passed out at meetings in all languages spoken by the families in the school.
  • The school and surrounding community may need to identify and help secure interpreters and translators for workshops and meetings.
  • Another option is to have group activities and social times held in the same room and then have parents of the same language group break off into smaller groups in different rooms for more in-depth discussion. Have all parents come together at the end of the meeting and have the bilingual reporter for each group share what was discussed.

Special Needs

Roadblock: Parents with disabilities may find it difficult or feel uncomfortable attending and contributing at meetings.


  • Simply ask the person about their situation and listen to their responses.
  • Consider whether your school is accessible for everyone and hold meetings or events in a space that is accommodating to parents with disabilities.
  • Provide someone to sign for deaf or hearing impaired parents, if requested.


Roadblock: Lack of transportation or access to parking at the school keeps parents from visiting or attending school activities.


  • Work with the school to make a block of spaces in the parking lot “for visitors only.”
  • Bus parents to special evening events following regular bus routes or have group stops for pickups and drop-offs.
  • Form carpools to provide transportation to parents without cars. Hold events in community locations that are easy to get to and are near public transportation.
  • If parents can not attend, provide a home visit or a phone call to inform parents and keep them involved.

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Dangers of Ecstasy Abuse

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Ecstasy, officially known by its chemical abbreviation MDMA, is a synthetic drug that produces both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. Also known as “E,” “X,” “XTC,” “go,” and the “hug drug,” ecstasy usually comes in the form of a small tablet that can be taken orally. Ecstasy can bring its users feelings of extreme euphoria and physical pleasure.

The drug can temporarily relieve users’ inhibitions and anxieties, giving them an enhanced sense of empathy and emotional closeness with others. Ecstasy can also cause increased sexual feelings, which, combined with users’ lowered inhibitions, may cause teens to make sexual decisions they might not ordinarily make. Ecstasy’s high can last as long as four to six hours, during which time the need to eat, drink, and sleep is suppressed. It is these effects that have made the drug so desirable for teenagers at dance clubs and all-night parties.

Immediate Dangers:
Ecstasy’s short-term side effects are alarming. Ecstasy interferes with the brain’s essential chemical functions. It can scramble the body’s temperature signals to the brain, which can cause hypothermia, dehydration, or heat stroke—especially dangerous for users who exert themselves with dancing. Ecstasy can also produce other harmful and frightening side effects, such as

  • High blood pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • Faintness
  • Muscle cramping
  • Confusion
  • Panic attacks

In severe cases, people have died from seizures and strokes, as well as cardiovascular and kidney failure, from ecstasy use. As a result of the drug’s increased use, the amount of ecstasy-related emergency-room cases quadrupled between 1998 and 2000 alone. The amount of deaths involving ecstasy has also increased. “One of the biggest problems we’re having with ecstasy is people thinking if you die from it, you’re not using it right,” said Brian Blake, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Long-term Consequences:
Many of ecstasy’s dangers may occur in ways that scientists are just beginning to understand, however. Even first-time users have shown after-effects such as depression, anxiety, aggressiveness, paranoia, and sleep disorders, and may become psychologically and physically addicted to the drug. Conclusive evidence shows that ecstasy damages the nerve cells that produce serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, emotions, sleep, memory, and cognitive skills. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a study on monkeys showed that exposure to MDMA (ecstasy) twice a day for four straight days caused brain damage that was evident six to seven years later. The study suggests that people who take ecstasy may also be risking permanent brain damage. Ecstasy may be particularly harmful to adolescents, though, whose brains are still developing.

A Deadly Gamble:
Many users of ecstasy tend to mix it with other drugs, most commonly alcohol, which can exacerbate the drug’s harmful effects. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, 86 percent of all ecstasy-related emergency-room cases in 2001 involved ecstasy’s being mixed with other substances. Nearly half of these cases were when it was mixed with alcohol.

Ecstasy use skyrocketed in the late 1990s, from an estimated 300,000 new users in 1995 to almost 2 million new users in 2000, according to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Among high school students surveyed in a 2001 NIDA study, 12 percent of 12th graders, 8 percent of 10th graders, and 4 percent of 8th graders stated that they had used ecstasy in the past year. Blake said the current ecstasy rate appears to have reached a plateau, but that its widespread popularity has caused teenagers to now use ecstasy right in their own homes.

Kids are being told by their peers that ecstasy will give them the greatest high of their lives, that it’s safe, that it’s cool, and that the only ones who get hurt by it are those that misuse it. But, quite simply, ecstasy, like other drugs, is not a gamble anyone, especially growing kids, should take.

by Mark Bennett.

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Preventing Alcohol Abuse Among Teens

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Statistics indicate that drinking among our nation’s youth (ages 12–17) has remained relatively stagnant over the past few years. Are you relieved? Don’t answer too quickly.

Consider the following statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey in 1999:

  • More than half of U.S. people age 12 and older report they drink alcohol.
  • Roughly 20 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds drank alcohol at least once last month.
  • 7.8 percent of this age group engaged in binge drinking (consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a row).
  • 3.6 percent reported heavy alcohol use in the month before the survey.
  • Children as young as 8 and 9 years old cite alcohol as a problem in their lives, whether caused by the drinking done by other people in their lives or themselves.

You may not be relieved anymore. Underage drinking is a problem in the United States. It’s a problem for families, schools, and communities.

Helping children and youth just say no
Parents tend to believe that their teens drink because of peer pressure. But more than 50 percent of students said “getting drunk” and simply having a good time is the major motivating factor in drinking, along with stress and boredom. Parents can help prevent underage alcohol use by sending a strong message at home. Here are some suggestions:

  • Discuss expectations with your children. Then work with them to meet those expectations.
  • Keep communication open about alcohol use. If you overreact to bad news associated with alcohol use by teens in your community, you are likely not to get a full story when you bring up the issue the next time.
  • Help your children develop a strong sense of self-esteem, along with the social skills necessary to withstand peer pressure to drink. Let them know they are loved and valued.
  • Plan and spend time with your children on a daily basis. They need to see how the rules you have set work with the experiences they have outside of the home, at school, or with friends.
  • Let them know you are aware of alcohol use in the school community, you know they may be encouraged by their peers to drink alcohol, and you know they’ll have opportunities to drink.
  • Make an alcohol-free pact with your children through high school and college. Constantly remind them about the dangers of alcohol, including the possible lethal effect of binge drinking, and suggest other ways of dealing with stress and emotional problems.
  • Set consequences for your children’s actions. Do not allow them to think they are “getting away” with behavior that’s unacceptable to the family.
  • Adults who expect their teens not to drink alcohol have to be willing to listen to them talk about the pressures to drink. The more your teen is willing to talk with you about alcohol, the better the chances that he or she will not drink.

Above all, parents should set a good example, so that means analyzing your drinking habits and adjusting those habits to be consistent with the message you’re sending your teen. Be moderate or abstain in your use of alcohol.

by Alice R. McCarthy, Ph.D.,  the author of the newly released third edition of Healthy Teens: Facing the Challenges of Young Lives. (Bridge Communications, Inc., 2000. Phone (800) 808-9314 to order a copy; the cost is $14.95.) McCarthy also writes and edits three Healthy Newsletters for parents of students in preK-8th-grades, which reach more than 1 million readers each year. She may be contacted at the toll-free number above.

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Six Simple Steps That Can Protect Your Children From Harm

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Few sights are as disturbing as that of a young child being brought into court in handcuffs. It is a tragic event that most judges, lawyers, and court personnel would agree is not something one becomes accustomed to. The unsettling nature of this event is perhaps only equaled by the look of horror and disbelief on the face of a parent who witnesses it happening to his or her own child. Once the confusion, fear, and denial wear off, parents inevitably turn to those around them and ask, “How could this happen? Why didn’t I know?”

Children today are facing worse dangers than they ever have in the past. Gangs, drugs, reckless sexual practices, and violence have taken footholds in our communities. It is no longer enough to provide children with love, food, clothing, shelter, and a good education. Ensuring their safety and success requires a proactive approach to parenting. Parents must be willing to educate themselves about the threats against their children, and learn to supervise and guide their sons and daughters.

Six simple steps can make the difference:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the threats against your children. Know your enemy. Make no mistake, this is a war against the forces that seek to harm our families and hurt our children. Do you know what it suggests if your teenager sucks on baby pacifiers or lollipops, what drug is commonly transported in a water bottle, or which sportswear and designer clothing are used by gangs to identify their members? If not, start learning.
  2. Accept that all children need supervision and guidance. Children lack the knowledge, maturity of judgment, and experience of adults. Just because a child maintains a high grade-point average in school does not mean he or she is capable of making major life decisions, or resisting the negative influence of peers. Don’t mistakenly confuse physical with emotional development either. Your 12-year-old son or daughter may look 18, but he or she is still a child inside.
  3. Monitor the activities of your children. Parents have a responsibility to know where their children are at all times, who they are with, and what activities they are participating in. Fulfilling this responsibility includes setting guidelines, limits on children’s behavior, and expectations. Know all of your child’s friends and work together with their parents. Verify what your children are up to.
  4. Investigate anything that may be suspicious. It is important that you adopt a balanced approach. Don’t accuse your children of wrongdoing or mistrust everything they tell you. The level of your intervention should correlate with the severity of the situation. Some matters require only a basic inquiry, like calling the parent of your child’s friend to substantiate his or her reason for being late. Other issues, such as suspected gang membership, substance abuse, or reckless sexual practices, represent such an imminent threat to your child’s health and well-being that you may have to engage in more invasive measures. However, don’t let children know you are investigating what they are up to or you risk destroying the emotional bond between you. Resist the temptation to confront them with what you find and instead approach them with love and support.
  5. Look, listen, and learn from your children. You know your children better than anyone else. You should be able to recognize what makes them happy or sad, when things are going well, or when something is wrong. Listen, understand, and support them. Above all, treat your children with respect. Always be available for them. They will come to you with their problems.
  6. Yearn to help your children when problems arise. Don’t be selfish. This isn’t about you; it’s about helping them. Disregard what your friends, colleagues, or neighbors might think. Feelings of embarrassment or humiliation waste precious time that you could be using to seek out appropriate treatment and services for your children. Ignoring the problem will only place your children at greater risk.

by Carl A. Bartol, MPA, JD,  an assistant county attorney in Westchester County, New York, where he prosecutes cases involving juvenile delinquents and persons in need of supervision (status offenders). He also is the president and qualifying officer of Proudest, Inc., a New York state licensed private investigative company that specializes in family matters. In his spare time, Bartol heads the Prevent Delinquency Project, a nonprofit endeavor he founded to teach parents how to supervise and guide their children. He can be reached by e-mail at

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