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The City Journals

Brave New World: How to Help Your Child Succeed This Year

Sep 09, 2015 12:34PM ● By Bryan Scott

 By Stephanie Lauritzen

As parents and students settle into a new school year, Midvale Elementary School’s administration, Principal Chip Watts, and Assistant Principals Jeri Rigby and Matt Watts, share advice on helping families transition to new schedules, new classes and sometimes a new language. Union Middle School’s Assistant Principal Doug Hallenbeck discusses the challenges and excitement for sixth graders starting middle school, as well as helping eighth graders formulate plans for future college and career readiness. 

Principal Chip Watts emphasizes the importance of keeping and maintaining a school routine to help students succeed during the school year. “From personal experience, we’ve learned that a good back-to-school routine involves more than just talking about the school schedule. Tell your kids the schedule for the whole day; make sure to schedule time for homework and chores after school as well.” 

Vice Principal Jeri Rigby suggests helping new students succeed in school by practicing activities requiring “sustained energy.” For both new students and returning students, it can be hard to adjust to an academic schedule requiring extended focus on a single activity. Parents can help students adjust by practicing at home. Rigby notes, “This does not mean watching TV. Help your child focus on doing something for a long period of time, something that requires intellectual energy, like reading or coloring.” 

Rigby also recognizes that parental attitude plays a critical role in determining a child’s perspective on education. She encourages parents to help their students develop a positive attitude towards school. By modeling feelings of excitement and energy, parents “underscore the immense value of education. Students learn to value of education from their parents, so teaching children the importance of education helps students establish themselves as learners.” For parents sending a child to school for the first time, Rigby reminds parents to remain calm and “reassure their child that they are safe, and that there are other adults outside their primary caregivers who care about them.” 

Parents who choose to enroll their student in Spanish/English dual immersion classrooms face additional challenges and opportunities. Principal Watts recognizes that “it can be intimidating,” since students spend half the school day receiving instruction in a different language. “Encourage your kids to stick with it, and remind them that their teachers can help.” He also believes the benefits far outweigh the initial challenges. “Dual immersion is a fantastic opportunity for students to gain exposure to a second language. “Vice Principal Watts adds, “Remember, everyone is learning at the start.” 

Vice Principal Watts remembers working at Mount Jordan Middle School when the first cohort of immersion students started seventh grade. “It was amazing to see all students engaged in full Spanish conversations, both in and out of Spanish class.” Rigby notes that not only are immersion students fluent Spanish speakers by junior high, but that test scores indicate “high proficiency in English and across the board on state tests.” Principal Watts agrees, “Learning a new language is tough, but beginning the process at a younger age allows teachers and students to remain committed to long-term success.” 

For parents sending their students to middle school this fall, Union Middle School Assistant Principal Doug Hallenbeck encourages any student who finds themselves struggling with the transition to middle school to “visit with the school counselors or assistant principals. We are here to help students feel comfortable and empowered.” Hallenbeck also encourages students to seek out student body officers, who act as “ambassadors” of the school, and help administration carry out Union Middle School’s anti-bullying program.  While middle school is sometimes “a stressful time, it is also exciting to watch as sixth graders get into the groove, enjoy new freedom and responsibilities, and rise to expectations. Students are well-equipped to handle these challenges,” Hallenbeck said.

Hallenbeck also reminds eighth graders that this year is “when they sit down with their guidance counselor and parents to form a career and college readiness plan. You don’t have to make a final choice at age 13, but if a student can choose a general direction, they can really make high school work for them.” Some eighth graders don’t realize that while their grades might not “count” yet on high school transcripts, they absolutely “count” in determining what classes and programs are available to them beginning as early as ninth grade. “Middle school is about exploration, even if that means a student figures out what they don’t like and then change direction. This allows them to take full advantage of the concurrent enrollment, AP, and Canyons Technical Educational Center (CTEC) programs available in high school.”