With the school year half over and college application planning beginning for many high school students, anxiety is on the rise for both students and their parents. During this time, many students have trouble staying on track. Whether dealing with a learning difference, social anxieties, a medical condition, or simply lacking interest in school, it can be a trying time and have a lasting negative impact.
Parents can help keep their children focused. Here, Beverly Stewart, founder and director of Back to Basics Private School and Back to Basics Learning Dynamics in Wilmington, Del., offers her advice.
What is the best way to help a struggling student?
BS: One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to education. The more individualized the plan, the better the results. With the right approach and early intervention, students can get back on track. Customized one-on-one programs, which emphasize individual learning styles, tend to work best for any type of student. These plans can be fine-tuned to align with each student’s needs. While a one-to-one teacher-to-student ratio has been proven most effective, not every situation requires it. When challenges are identified early and addressed fully, students often can get back on track academically.
How can parents determine if their child’s learning environment is a good match?
BS: Parents should determine the following three aspects about their child’s current academic setting. First, is it effective? Does it encourage a realistic path for your child’s future? Does it expose your child to multiple disciplines? Does the school offer programs paced for your child’s learning ability? Second, is the school relevant? Does it help identify your child’s interests and passions? Does your child say that they’re bored or, conversely, overwhelmed? And lastly, does the school have the appropriate resources to support your child? Does the school help students thrive by identifying learning style and hurdles?
Who benefits from a personalized program?
BS: Students who are not achieving success in other academic environments, or those whose learning style doesn’t fit within the typical classroom mold may be better off in a different environment. Students with social anxiety or who have been bullied might feel safer in a smaller environment. Even those who have outside activities—like pursuing a busy career in the arts or sports or have a medical condition—could benefit.
What can parents do to improve their child’s attitude about school?
BS: Self-esteem is the key factor in determining a person’s success. If lacking, it can lead to depression and anxiety, and eventually can create a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. As the child grows and faces increasingly complex challenges, that sense of self worth will go far in helping them rise to any occasion for a lifetime of success. True self-esteem can only be derived from hard work, overcoming obstacles and measurable achievements. If a lack of self-esteem is a significant issue, a caring, supportive one-on-one learning environment can make all of the difference.
What are some basic steps parents can take right to improve their child’s academic chances?
BS: Identifying challenges early is paramount. First, address your child’s needs by outlining a plan of action together. Next, enlist professionals at the school—teachers, guidance counselors, administrators—as well as in the community. Teachers and parents can also serve as learning advocates by offering the encouragement and tools a student may need to overcome specific hurdles. Research shows that children thrive best in smaller classes. If warranted, enroll your student in a one-on-one learning program.