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We're... Half-way Through the School Year!
By Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington

For most families, December brings a respite from homework and testing pressures and a chance for festive, leisurely activities. But just because school seems "out of sight" doesn't mean it should take a holiday break from your mind. In fact, if your child has stumbled academically during the first or second quarter, December - the midpoint of the school year - may actually be the "make or break" opportunity to get back on track.

Take stock of progress so far.

So how do you know if your child is truly prepared for the semester ahead? Obviously, report cards are one of the best indicators. Good grades that are consistent with your child's abilities and past performance tend to be a good predictor of future performance if students continue putting forth enough effort. Poor grades - and grades that dropped noticeably from the first quarter to the second - are a certain sign that your son or daughter is heading toward trouble, particularly since future assignments will build on the knowledge and skills your child is supposed to have gained thus far.

Test scores are another good indicator. Today, most schools and school systems begin the year with diagnostic tests to gauge students' reading levels and mathematics, reasoning and critical thinking skills. While it's natural for parents to simply look at the scores for the assurance that students are "measuring up," it can usually be helpful to look more closely at the areas in which your child excelled or faltered. If your child has scored at the top percentile in reading or mathematics, this should encourage you - and your child's teachers - to consider Advanced Placement or Merit courses that will make the most of these skills. Poor scores obviously call for extra attention to ensure that your child catches up before the work gets much more difficult

Assess the impact of attitude and study habits.

You should also pay attention to the other factors that impact learning and achievement. One of the most important is your child's attitude. Sometimes, bright students get bad grades for behavior-related activities. Does your child hand in his or her homework? Is it correct and on time? Is your child bored with schoolwork, and not paying enough attention? These are not excuses; they are symptoms of different problems. You must identify these issues before you can remedy the problems.

Another important factor is your child's study habits - and the studying environment in your home. Many parents kick off the school year by talking with teachers about how much homework they expect to assign and then set up firm schedules for "homework time" after school and in the evenings. But by mid-year, many of these schedules become a bit more flexible. If your child tends to be self-motivated and is showing strong progress, flexibility can be a good thing. If he or she is faltering, it's time to put that schedule back in place, and stick to it.

Broaden the lines of communication.

The mid-point of the school year is also a good time for a verbal check-up with your child, and his or her teachers. If your son or daughter received poor grades, have a frank discussion about why. Does he or she take the situation seriously? How does he or she plan to improve? It's important that your child knows you take the situation seriously. Let your child know you're supportive - and that you believe in his or her abilities.

These same questions should be posed to teachers and counselors. What specific skills is your child struggling to master? Are there any attitudinal factors that are impacting his or her achievement? What resources does the school offer for students who need help catching up - or getting ahead?

Help your children set goals.

A mid-year check-up is also an opportunity to get your child more engaged in the learning process. Keeping in mind that children, like all of us, feel successful when they accomplish goals, work with your child to determine learning and achievement objectives that are attainable with a reasonable amount of time and effort. Whether your child strives to master the multiplication tables, get "A"s and "B"s in core academic subjects, or read several works of classic literature, it's important to determine, together, how to reach these goals.

Remember the power of praise.

Finally, make sure your son or daughter knows that you're a watchdog for both problems and progress. Which means that the mid-year check-up should also be an opportunity to acknowledge the special skills and qualities that are unique to your child. Reading, writing, reasoning and computational abilities are qualities that will speed progress in the race to achieve. Being a good listener, feeling concern for others and finding special hobbies and interests are qualities that will enhance your child's self-esteem and happiness. Recognizing and nurturing all of these qualities will give your child solid footing for years to come.

About the Authors: Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has provided supplemental education services to local communities for 26 years. Ray Huntington is a doctoral statistician who has served as a business analyst with a Fortune 500 company and an instructor of college-level mathematics and statistics. His wife, Eileen, is a former junior and senior high school teacher with a master's degree from Rutgers University. Visit to learn more.


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