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Struggling in School

November is report card month: What should you do if your kid is struggling academically?


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Seems like yesterday you were sending the kids off to their first day of school, and just like that, it’s already November and report cards are coming. Concerned about the kind of grades your kids might bring home? We spoke to education experts for advice on how to figure out what’s really going on and how to get your child back on track. 

Is This a New Thing?

Get to the root of what’s happening. Ask yourself: Is this a new development? A child who usually gets straight As and is suddenly getting Bs is a different situation than one who has been struggling chronically, says Dr. Charles Montesano, EdD, assistant professor of education at Caldwell University and former Bergen County Schools superintendent and principal. For the kid whose grades suddenly dropped, “the work may have intensified, say in fourth grade with independent reading, and the child is struggling with that.” Alternatively, parents whose kids get consistently poor grades “need to check out additional services to narrow down the learning issues (learning disabilities, learning styles versus learning preferences, teaching style, etc.),” says National Tutor Association Associate Vice President and teacher Ishmael Brown. “[Diagnosing] these issues is important when it comes to a lingering problem, especially if a student has been promoted to the next grade and the issue has not been solved, much less addressed.”

Talk to Your Kid

Sit down with your child and find out what’s really going on in school—Let him know he’s not in trouble and ask him about what he finds difficult. Then, really listen. Try to understand if he’s having a problem with a specific subject, teacher or classmate. Use the information you gather to help shape your kid’s plan to get back on track.

Establish Communication with the School, Pronto  

This is huge, and the responsibility lies with both the parents and the schools. “By the time November report cards are out, there have been back-to-school nights and conferences. Teachers are highly encouraged to contact parents if there is a struggling student,” says Dr. Joan Moriarty, education professor and interim associate dean of the education division at Caldwell University and a former principal in the Montclair school system.“If the first time you’re aware there is a problem with your child in school is November, there is a communication issue,” says Montesano. “We expect the teacher, right away, to alert parents at the first sign that there is an issue with performance compared to previous years. Sometime between the start of the school year and early October, there should be some kind of communication.” If you’re staring at a not so great report card and you haven’t heard a peep until now, pick up the phone and make an appointment to speak to your kid’s teacher, says Montesano.

Assemble a Team if Needed

Work with your child’s teacher and school counselor to figure out the best course of action. If your child needs support outside of the classroom, find out what resources are available in your district.“If there are continual struggles, not your first or second time, but a pattern emerging, there is an intervention team in every public school in New Jersey that is comprised of the nurse, the school counselor, the school psychologist,” says Moriarty. “There are interventions that could be done that could help a child—they hone in not only on the problems, but on how to fix the problems and help the child adjust.” The intervention is known as a 504 Plan, and is federally mandated to help students gain access to the right education and diagnose learning disabilities and impairments, like hearing or vision.

Be Involved and Reward Doing Well

“Every school posts homework online now. What you have to read, what assignments are due, and it’s valuable,” says Moriarty. Make sure you’re aware of assignments as they’re posted. Check in and monitor progress.If there are problems with completing assignments, reward a week of finished homework with something small (like an extra hour on the iPad), and create a plan for bigger accomplishments, like a pizza dinner or new video game. Taking away activities that build self-esteem, like an afterschool activity or restricting all social contact, are not effective, according to Carl E. Pickhardt, PhD, author of “Surviving (Your Child’s) Adolescence” in Psychology Today.

Can a Tutor Help?

If you’ve eliminated all other root causes (it’s not a learning issue or a social issue like bullying), hiring a tutor to work with him one-on-one on a specific subject may be the solution. When looking to hire a tutor, start with your school counselor for recommendations, and don’t be afraid to ask for tutor certification, copies of state teaching certificates and proof of other specialized training. Also, check references—Talk to other parents whose kids have benefitted from the tutor’s help.

Tanya Edwards is a writer and editor who has been covering health, food and parenting for national and local publications for more than 10 years.

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