Your child brings home a poor grade. You make the appropriate noises, but part of you is thinking, "Dude, it's the fourth grade. Do I really care?" He doesn't make the soccer team in sixth grade, and you figure he'll find a different activity -- plus, now you don't have to coordinate snacks every Tuesday! She doesn't get cast in the musical in junior high school. Well, not everyone can be a star, right?
It turns out that starting significantly earlier than you'd think -- like, fourth-grade early -- parents and educators can identify the risk factors that indicate kids who are more likely to drop out of high school. Except that we have to actually be looking -- and acting on what we see.
Turns out that most high school dropouts say that the last time they felt successful in school was in the fourth grade, according to Lynne Strathman, director of Lydia Urban Academy in Rockford, Ill., a small faith-based alternative program for dropouts.
So how can we help kids continue feeling successful -- and succeeding -- throughout their school careers?
Small class sizes matter. In fact, SheKnows spoke with the authors of a study in the Journal of Educational Psychology who told us that four or more years in small classes in elementary school significantly increases the likelihood of graduating from high school, especially for students from low-income homes. If your child's classes are too big, find out if there's any way that for at least part of the day, he could be in a smaller classroom setting.
And those bad grades in the early years? Don't dismiss them. Early failures can destroy a child's self-esteem -- to the point where she never fully recovers. Never associate a bad grade with being dumb. But, surprisingly, the reverse is also true: when we praise kids for being smart, they become terrified of making mistakes and looking dumb. The result is that they often stop challenging themselves. Instead, praise their efforts ("You must have worked really hard!") -- which ultimately pushes them to continue working.
Sometimes kids who are labeled troublemakers are actually bored, because they've mastered the material being presented. Have your child assessed, and figure out if she's in the appropriate grade. Is homeschooling an option? A gifted and talented program? Or independent study units to supplement regular coursework? Think outside the box and find a way to tap into your child's excitement for learning.
Not every child will experience success in academics. But if you can find them another way to succeed in school, they're more likely to stick around. Encourage extracurricular activities -- art,
music, drama, sports -- through the school. Not enough offerings? Perhaps you can get involved and be the parent advisor for a particular club.
Think about your child's friends. Now think about the fact that, statistically, one in four of those kids won't graduate from high school. If you don't want your kid to be that one, now's the time to act.
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