Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bill Cosby for the 21st Century

I had an epiphany the other night while watching TV Land. We did our normal MASH episodes to wind down, (and they have started over recently from the beginning), and Annie, my oldest girlie, came into our room and climbed into our bedroom recliner, as the Cosby Show followed up. She mentioned that the show had started to "grow on her", and she and I watched first an episode where Rudi got in trouble for trying to wear the wrong clothes for the season, and then Vanessa wasn't prepared for her first junior high science fair, playing it safe. I clicked the DVR info, and it detailed that the show was from the 80s. Cliff and Claire Huxtable dealt with their 5 children, then, with steady discipline, love, high expectations and blended into the mix great music, culture and a common sense vision of education. What came to me like a flash was that I was homesick for the Huxtable household.
In the last week and a half, I have dealt with an absentee mother with special needs children, as the youngest of the two brothers has become the "smelly" kid, wth clothes not washed and basic hygiene not observed. His mother's presence in their household had become more rare, as she had developed a relationship out of town, according to him, and his grades had collapsed, with his bewilderment growing. Another day brought a student who had scratches on his face, a black eye and a knot on his forehead, with a parent and a sibling attacking him on to the way to school, in the car. Fragility and a lack of direction has bedeviled so many this year, with parents simply sighing and signing over their children to homeschooling or the nearby alternative program, rather than staying the course toward success, which would require work and committment and every day grind.
With 4 perfectly imperfect children of my own, Amy and I strive to be involved parents in our kids' lives, their school work, their development as people, with morals and structure. It doesn't make me an expert, but I have developed some precepts that I want to follow, need to follow, and I hope on a daily basis I might see from the parents of the children at MHS.
Don't let your kid become the smelly kid.
Being messy and disheveled is a natural part of high school for a lot of kids, but there is a line crossed, when clothes aren't clean, showers aren't taken, and basic care of normal facial issues is let go, for more than a day. The scorn that kids face in close quarters leads to loneliness, detachment, subconscious shame. Make them shower, check their clothers, buy them Stridex, Axe, Sure, toothbrushes, razors. Don't assume they know how or when to use any of the above.
Spy on them like you work for the CIA.
Respect for growth and independence is certainly a part of good parenting, but kids ARE up to things, on more than one occasion. Monitoring Facebook, checking texts, studying the history on websites, smelling clothes, checking cars, should be a fundamental threat or normal expectation. Knowing where they are, who their friends are, the time they come in, is concern not nosiness. I am constantly amazed at the disconnect between families. Or the lack of responsbility. The school connecton? It comes to school with them, without fail.
Let them fall short, disappoint, feel pain.
If a student doesn't turn in projects on time, doesn't study for tests, doesn't turn in homework, they deserve to fail. They DESERVE to fail, and it is their fault. This was avoidable, if they checked Blackboard, went on PowerSchool, sat in the front of the room, made flashcards, asked questions, studied with friends. They don't need you to attack teachers, buy them a new car, look the other way on curfews, hold their hand when the latest bad report card comes in, poo-pooing the bad away. They need resolve, resilience, responsbility. Hold them accountable, while making sure they have they folder they need, that they turn in notes and go to tutoring when they are absent, that they pay for summer school.
Go to meetings with pen and paper and questions.
There are many opportunities to get information about what is going on at school and to help plan for the future at MHS. Tonight, there is a meeting about newest trends in drug use. Coming up after Spring Break, we host a night called, "Ready, Set, Apply!" for juniors and their parents. We invite parents to come in for scheduling conferences. There is Project Graduation that is about activities for seniors throughout their final year. College fairs, FAFSA night, requested conferences with teachers and counselors and principals, ARDs, 504 meetings, all need and deserve your presence.
Love them all the way to the end of the show.
They spun Denise off to Hillman College, because Lisa Bonet became difficult, then they brought her back when "A Different World' lived without her, Theo was diagnosed with dysleksia but became a teacher, Rudi stopped being cute, so they brought in a precocious clone, as things evolved on The Cosby Show. A consistent standard was love, accountability, musical numbers on anniversaries, growth. Hanging in there through tough times, through sullen non-communication, through heartache will pay off, in the end, and they will pass it onto their children.
There is so much to learn from the Cosbys, and I hope that I always strive to be like Cliff. I do have a starter set of colorful sweaters. I need to brush up on my jazz.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Scheduling for Success? Plan On It.

I am a big believer in planning, in the moment, for things that are coming up in the near future. I like making agendas for vacations to, say, Austin, where the bats will be seen one night, Amy's Ice Cream will be another, and there will be a long walk through the Capitol grounds on the color coded agenda. It drives my Amy to distraction, as she prefers to fly by the seat of our proverbial pants, going to and fro, with the wind.  This is also true for me, to some extent, as I face with dread planning too far in advance,  whether it is getting ready for Christmas or sweating the details of a home repair, (of which there are many to choose from on a regular basis.)
In the Counseling Center, this translates into a high interest for me for the next day's events of presenting in classrooms, doing a workshop that night, or gearing up physically for one of the 97 days of testing that looms. Not so much do I enjoy the meetings about the meeting, the staffing before the meeting for the future meeting, nor do I enjoy trainings which often have to consist of  a Powerpoint, with a handout in my hand that look awfully like the Powerpoint, if the preparation is for a time beyond the length of the program guide of my DVR, which is about a week. I try to stay interested, and I do make notes, which often become "to-do" list about other things, but I do have a noticeable glaze, I have been told, after a period of time. I think the rule applies that I can stay focused for my age, approximately, which is the downhill side of 40, but not always. So, this takes me to the current task that I am finishing today: scheduling my "Rising Seniors" for their final year at MHS. The challenge has been to stay enthralled, interested, supportive of goals that are not just for next year but the years beyond.  I hope that I have succeeded, and I think I have, largely, but there is a grind to the last few days that has given me pause and given me impetus to reflect.
It starts in January, this scheduling process of ours, with planning and meetings about the process, the materials to be given, the process that the information should be made available. We have gone over academic planners for weeks, made the decision to put them online for the first time, and we discuss to the last minute what new classes are to be offered, if any. All counselors print out their students who are on pace to graduate within the next year, and then an appointment book is filled, with consideration given to when we call for students, focusing on "non-core" classes to take students out of, if possible, which can irk the electives teachers to no end. Every student's parents get invited to the scheduling conference, which is meant to be 20 minutes long, and letters are sent in the mail home. We give notice on Facebook, our website, Twitter, and we announce the looming moments.
Backtracking for a moment, we have teachers show a Powerpoint of the process with applications needed for classes to be collected by them, give all students a course selection sheet and a transcript. There is a CATE (Career and Technology Education) Expo, with the classes offered on two days, and then at the end of the week, we have a "Registration Relay" with students going through the day, getting recommendations from their core teachers, turning in applications for classes like Ag Power Systems or Partner PE, and then at the end of the day, we gather those from the teachers and sort them. This involved about 1, 600 forms this year.
Monday morning, we start the process with a bang, with parents in tow, often, as I think that the letter of invitation often gives them a chance to get information from the non-communicative strangers that live in their house that they wouldn't get otherwise. The bang comes when there are fireworks between student and parent over grades, lack of effort, or general sullen behavior, with my office a perfect forum to vent. I think it must be the soothing blue on my wall or maybe it is the Kirby Puckett framed picture or maybe my understanding countenance. Or maybe, it is that they are actually sitting next to each other for the first time in a long time, without hot wings in front of them.  Questions abound, and the student actually gets quieter and quieter, as the parent takes the reins. I try to redirect answers to the student, but this doesn't always get a response, other than a study of the fingernail that seems to have just gone astray.
There is sometimes simply confirmation of the right path, community service hours owed or not, a quick glance at the transcript, and a sharing of future destinations, if the student is alone.  I try not to rush, and this is a time when I find out about a job they have, their position in soccer, or how their grandmother is doing.  This is what I live for and actually took classes for, the art of communicating and trying to develop relationships. Then, the phone gives a signal ring that I have another appointment arrived, and I have to scurry.
The last part of the process is giving out information about testing, college visits, websites to go to, college fairs to come and a "Rising Senior" night to publicize. I have our home page pulled up, our Facebook page open, Big Future from College Board to show. I have a stack of forms, and I try to go over each one, while the student is easing out the door, sometimes. In one case, I had a student refuse to stay beyond the bell, as they didn't want to miss math. (!)
Quite often, there is mutual appreciation for time, and a chance to give praise and congratulations for success. I commiserate with a softball player whose tournament was rained out. I get thanked by a grandmother, who didn't seem appreciative in front of their grandson for my bewildered anger over an attitude toward Geometry, but waited for him to leave, so she would stay the "good cop".  I have phone calls to follow up or a visit from a kid ranked 507th who wants to take AP classes because he knows he will "try this time." It becomes a bit overwhelming, and I have called for kids the wrong time a couple of times. I have had to follow up with a rescheduled appointment on the fly more than once.
In their mind, they have a clear path planned out, they are optimistic about their schedule being perfect, and they are bubbling with energy and raring to go at that moment. I worry about the next appointment, the next test to give, and I know this for a fact: it will start all over again this time next year. The feeling of  semi-dread can do havoc on the mind and body.
But, today, I am thinking there are only 10 more school days until Spring Break. We are going to see Muse in concert, and the kids are going to a camp. I need to get to work planning big moments to come.