I’m so excited for this guest post from my friend, Dr. Alicia Nicki Washington just in time for Education Nation! It’s full of great information, so jump right in!
First, I’d like to thank my friend, Brandi Jeter, for allowing me to guest post. I’m honored to share my insight. While my full-time position is in academia, I’ve had the privilege this year of also teaching middle-school computer science to approximately 120 6th-8th grade students at the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science. This has definitely been an eye-opening experience. As a college professor, I usually see the end result of the efforts (good and bad) of not just the students, but more importantly, the parents over the past 12 years. Now, as a middle-school instructor, I am witnessing the development of students at a much earlier age, an age where, if properly exposed, fostered, and encouraged, students can excel academically in the future.
So how do we ensure that, once a student reaches me, he/she is academically prepared for the undergraduate experience? When do we begin preparing students? I’ve authored a few books for students and parents on preparing for the college admissions process and successfully completing their degree. The motivation for both was identical: many students are NOT prepared for college upon matriculation. The U.S. is 11th in producing college graduates. Could this be part of the reason? I travel across the country speaking to students and parents on how to prepare for and succeed in college. There is always a parent surprised to find there is something they or their child isn’t prepared for. While you may not think this applies to you and your child, the truth is that there is a high likelihood that they may be lacking in some area. The key is being honest, identifying challenges, and then working to address them.
Below are 10 things any parent of a K-12 student can do NOW to help your child be as prepared as possible for college:
- Make college an expectation, not an option. By the time I reached my senior year of high school, it wasn’t a question of if I was going to college, but where? From an early age, my parents made it clear that college wasn’t an option. I honestly don’t remember ever considering anything else (other than the time I wanted to be a singer). Whatever it is, let your children know that they are going to school!
- Expose them to a variety of schools, subjects, careers, etc. Growing up in the Raleigh-Durham area, I was surrounded by different colleges. I was on the campus of Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina Central University, among others, for campus for special events, summer camps, and more. Take your child to an event at a local university. Visit the library or student union, or take a self-guided tour. On the next family vacation or trip, try to visit a university campus in the city. The Internet is a powerful resource for learning. Utilize it to learn about different subjects, careers, and schools. Every university has a website. Take a virtual tour, research majors, and map these to subjects and careers that interest your student. Also, be sure to engage your child now in science and math. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have an abundance of career opportunities, and not enough qualified U.S. citizens to fill them. Exposing and engaging your students early will help them land one of these exciting (and well-paying) career opportunities!
- Stay abreast of your child’s academic progress. Most schools have web-based tools for parents to monitor student academic progress throughout the class, including every graded homework, project, quiz, and test. While I’m glad this wasn’t around when I was in school, I definitely understand the need for it. Imagine my amazement when I encounter parents of students who don’t use this to monitor their child’s progress. Somehow it’s always a surprise when the end-of-year grades arrive as well. Knowing that the parent is monitoring their work always seems to keep students motivated to do well academically.
- Hold your child accountable. Every semester, I have at least one student who failed my class because he/she didn’t attend class, never submitted an assignment, and failed every test. Astonishingly, this same student somehow manages to explain this to his/her parents in a way that makes me liable. Thankfully, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents me from entertaining phone calls or emails from parents unless written permission is granted by the student (which usually comes under duress). Begin holding your student accountable NOW for his/her academic performance. Once they are away from home, you won’t have to worry about encountering the same unfortunate circumstance.
- Don’t make excuses for your child. I’ve heard students of all ages say “I’m not good at math.” “I don’t do well on standardized tests.” Many times, parents say the same thing. I hate hearing this. You or your child may not perform well currently. However, it’s not because he/she can’t. It’s because you’ve made an excuse for mediocrity. The mind is a muscle. Just like any other muscle, it requires training to perform better. Even Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school basketball team. Just like the best athlete, he trained his body until his skills developed. The same must apply to coursework. Practice makes perfect!
- Make sure you AND your student read daily. A new part of my blog includes “Middle School Jewels,” things that I find interesting, funny, or even disturbing about the things I hear my middle-school students discuss. It’s no surprise a lot of their conversation is influenced by music and television. I’ve never heard one student discuss reading the newspaper. Reading is one of the best ways to build vocabulary. The only way to do so is to read any and everything. If you don’t already, subscribe to a local or national newspaper. You and your child should read (age-appropriate) material daily. This helps to not only build their vocabulary, but also make the knowledgeable of current and important issues and events.
- Go over your child’s homework daily. One thing I HATED about my mom as a teenager was that I had to go over my homework EVERY NIGHT with her. If I didn’t have homework, I had to explain what I did in class, including notes I took and material read. I didn’t understand what she was doing, but later realized she was forcing me to understand what I learned. If I could explain it to her (which I later learned she rarely had a clue about), then she at least knew I was studying, checking my work before I reviewed it with her, and prepared for the next class.
- Spend your summers wisely. This is a problem I still find many high-school and college students falling victim to. While the summer is a break for many students, it should not be a break from learning, building your skills, and exploring new options. There are a variety of summer camps and workshops for students of all ages (through universities, non-profits, etc.) that are designed to expose students to different subjects and careers. Research these and enroll your child early, so that they are better able to identify subjects, majors, and careers that interest them. For high-school students, these also look good on their resumes and college applications.
- Start college-prep activities early. If your child is a high-school senior and you are just beginning the admissions process, then you are WAY behind. The truth is that you should begin some part of the college-prep process as early as middle school. Students make career/major decisions in the 8th grade. Starting early will help your child explore more opportunities and ensure they complete all necessary courses (i.e. science, math, foreign language, etc.) to successfully enter an undergraduate program with no hiccups.
- Teach your child about appreciating differences and conflict resolution. I added this in light of two recent events. First, the death of a Bowie State University student at the hands of her roommate, over a fight regarding loud music. Second, the recent suicide of a New York teenager who was cyber-bullied for being different. We all learned the golden rule in kindergarten. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Everyone is special. I blame television and music for this new generation of students who think it is ok to put once-considered private information on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for the world to see, or for thinking the way to resolve conflict is through violence or threats. What most children don’t understand is that, even if it’s protected, private, or password-enabled, once you put something on the Internet, it’s there forever, and it IS in fact accessible. Discuss conflict resolution, cyber-bullying, etc. with your kids, so that we can avoid these all-too-common and tragic events these parents endured.
Whether you attended college or not, you can begin to prepare your child using these steps. As a college professor (and child of parents who followed these steps), I can honestly tell you it will make a world of difference in not only your child’s academic development, but social, mental, and emotional as well. Thanks again Brandi for the opportunity to step on my soapbox for a while, and thanks to each of you taking time to read and share this information. Charge on!
Dr. Alicia Nicki Washington is an Associate Professor in the Systems and Computer Science Department at Howard University and the author of “Prepped for Success: What Every Parent Should Know About the College Application Process.”. She was the 2000 valedictorian of Johnson C. Smith University, receiving a B.S. in computer science. She received a M.S. and Ph.D. from NC State University in 2002 and 2005, respectively, becoming the first African-American female Ph.D. in computer science from the university, and the first Johnson C. Smith computer science graduate to obtain a Ph.D.
Her new book, “Stay Prepped: How to Succeed in College (and Enjoy the Experience)” will be released this fall. More information on Dr. Washington and her work is available at www.preppedforsuccess.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.