Sept. 4, 2014

There is a website on which reporters post “want ads” for information on subjects they are researching. Today I saw one of those information requests for college preparation advice for high school freshmen. The ad specifically requested “advice on how to build good habits.” I translate that to advice on how to be successful in college and life beyond high school.

How convenient then that the updated, second edition of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? has recently been released. It is, of course, full of just that kind of information. It is directed toward parents, however, because they are the ones that through guidance and the handing over of responsibilities give their teenagers those skills necessary for a successful college experience.

Although these skills have been discussed often in this forum, it is never too repetitive to make or update a list.

1. Your freshman should keep her own calendar. Include not only academic deadlines and dates, but have her note sport and extracurricular meeting dates, doctor appointments, and anything else she has going. You also should keep track of those dates because in the beginning she probably will miss a few. You can remind her, but eventually let her take over—and let her suffer the consequences of missing a deadline or an appointment.

2. In high school, many teenagers get involved in numerous activities: multiple sports, music, clubs, community service, a job. This is a good time to guide your teenager through priority management. Teenagers can become overwhelmed juggling too many activities on top of school work. Make it clear that academics come first. If school work starts to slide, then your teenager may need guidance in deciding which activities to let go. This can be hard for parents because the teenager may decide to give up something that mom or dad really want him to pursue—such as piano lessons or a particular sport that is near and dear to mom or dad’s heart. Remember that this is the teenager’s life and he needs to make the decisions.

3. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to put your teenager on a budget and teach her financial responsibility. Make a list of the items you will pay for and those for which the teenager is responsible. Do this whether the teenager’s money is an allowance, from work she does for you, or from an outside part-time job—and stick to the plan. This is a good time to show your teenager your household expenses and how you budget.

4. Provide opportunities for your teenager to improve his communication skills. During family gatherings or when friends are around, ask an adult to start conversations with your teen, asking about the teen’s activities, interests, or views. Teens need to learn to communicate face-to-face instead of relying on texting or social media outlets. Also encourage your teen to ask questions as that is a good way to start networking and building contacts.

That’s a good list to start. It will grow as your teenager ages and as you give out graduated responsibility. Keep reminding yourself that the goal is to help your teenager be ready, willing, and able for success in college and life beyond high school.

Jan. 22, 2014

It is always encouraging to read about “experts” that confirm many of the points that are addressed in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Such was the case when I read a recent article by Forbes Contributor, Kathy Caprino, in which she interviewed “leadership expert” and author, Tim Elmore, about seven parenting practices that are harmful to our children’s chance to grow into mature, resilient, confident young adults. Elmore is the author of 25 books, included one titled: “Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults.”

I would combine two or three in his list to: We often don’t allow our kids to make mistakes or fail, nor do we acknowledge that sometimes they are simply mediocre at some sport or task. I’ve written in the past about the dangers of rescuing kids from every mistake or failure. It is inevitable that they will make mistakes and/or fail in many encounters in life. Our job as parents is to help them realize a mistake or failure is not the end of the world, help them learn and grow from the experience, and help them pick up and move on. This skill of moving through mistakes is crucial to success in college—otherwise a student becomes paralyzed with fear when confronted with his or her first difficult class.

Likewise, it is important that kids learn that they can’t be the best at everything. When my kids were playing recreational soccer, I was always annoyed with parents that wanted to buy trophies for every kid at the end of the season—aren’t treats at the end of the game enough? Trophies every time for everyone sets kids up to believe that they always will be rewarded regardless of their skill, and sets them up for devastation when they finally figure out that they really aren’t the best soccer player or guitarist or whatever. Elmore says it also can lead to young people who exaggerate or cannot face “difficult reality.”

Elmore also points out that parents sometimes mistake intelligence and giftedness for maturity. Just because a teenager makes straight As or is a gifted musician does not mean she is ready for independence. Being able to manage time and priorities, peaceably manage conflicts, knowing when and how to get help, or communicating clearly and effectively are not skills automatically attached to intelligence. They have to be taught and learned, and they are essential to college and career success.

Elmore’s other points include being a good example and sharing our past errors with our kids. He recommends “coaching instead of coddling—and caring enough to train them, not merely treating them to a good life.”

In other words, guide your child/teenager to be ready, willing, and able to succeed in college and beyond.

To read Caprino’s article, go to:

Nov. 8, 2013

In yet another article, an educator stresses that academic skills, by themselves, do not guarantee college and career readiness—the same message put forth in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?

David Cook, Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education, questioned in an Education Week blog whether we are graduating students that truly are college and career ready. His conclusion, after talking to business representatives, is that education is not providing a crucial part of what is needed. Cook wrote: “Being able to read, write, and demonstrate math knowledge are not the only readiness indicators. In fact, they are the bare minimum.” A statement that reads as if it came straight out of Toward College Success.

Cook goes on to say that employers told him that they “don’t terminate employees because they aren’t able to grasp the content knowledge needed to do the job. Instead, they terminate employees because employees don’t know what to do when they face a challenge or problem, they can’t think creatively about new approaches to issues on the job, they can’t adapt to new work, and most importantly they don’t understand the importance of showing up to work and being persistent when faced with challenges.”

Wow. These are the points that I make in presentations and that I make in this venue, only I relate it more to college success. What these businesspersons told Cook is even more disturbing than the number of kids who get to college without these skills—these same young adults are graduating college still lacking time and priority management, conflict management, and, it seems, basic maturity.  I think it would be interesting to review the history of some of these unsatisfactory young employees to learn what courses they took and the grades they received. It sounds as if something is amiss.

But to reiterate my point: It does take more than academic skill to be successful in college and in life. And while Cook challenges high schools to tackle the issue, I challenge parents to step up. Schools can certainly reinforce “soft skills,” but I believe most need to be taught at home long before the end of high school. Parents are the ones who have the opportunity to give graduated responsibility, who can offer choices that demand careful consideration because of the consequence or outcome attached. Mistakes, even failures, are great learning opportunities; parents can guide their child through learning from a mistake, being persistent, and moving on.

To read Cook’s article:

July 24, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate introduced the “Family Engagement in Education Act of 2013.” It, of course, must go through review and revision, with no guarantee of passage, but I thought it worth mentioning because one of the basic tenets of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? is that parents’ engagement in their children’s education is one of the important components to success in college and beyond.

The proposed bill states that Congress finds the following to be true:

1) Family engagement in a child’s education raises student achievement, improves behavior and attendance, decreases drop-out rates, and improves the emotional and physical well-being of children.

2) Families are critical determinants of children’s school readiness as well as of students’ decision to pursue higher education.

3) Effective family engagement is a great equalizer for students, contributing to their increased academic achievement, regardless of parents’ education level, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.

4) Research on school improvement has identified meaningful partnerships with families and communities as one of five critical ingredients necessary to turnaround chronically low-performing schools.

5) Positive benefits for children, youth, families, and schools are maximized through effective family engagement that a) is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways and families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development, b) is continuous across a child’s life from birth to young adulthood, and c) reinforces learning that takes place in all settings.

All of these findings ring true, and as school starts again in just a few weeks, parents should consider their involvement. As I point out in Toward College Success, parental involvement can begin with Back-to-School-Night, usually held during the first three weeks of school. It might have been novel when the child was in elementary school, but during middle and high school years, Back-to-School-Night gives parents important information that their teenagers will probably gloss over or not mention at all.

Pay attention at Back-to-School-Night. Learn your student’s teachers’ names and keep a copy of your student’s schedule. Most teachers hand out the course syllabus and general dates of importance: tests, projects, etc. You learn what is expected of your student and how he will be graded. Such knowledge alerts you to the right time to ask, “So, what are you doing in history right now?”

You also leave Back-to-School-Night with information about online tools to track your student’s grades and attendance, the best way to contact teachers, and what resources are available to help a struggling student. Be careful, however, not to hover over your teenager—the more she learns to manage her own time, schedule, and priorities, the more likely she will be successful when she leaves home for college or whatever she does after high school. A few strategically timed questions—When did you say that algebra test was?—is usually enough to get her to realize she’d better hit the books.  

Parental involvement is crucial in student success. Be visible in your involvement, ready to guide and offer suggestions, but never take over. Whether he verbalizes it or not, your student will realize you consider his education important enough to be involved and interested. In turn, his education becomes increasingly important to him—and success is at hand.

To read the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2013, go to

July 10, 2013

Today’s post is from Sunir Pradesh, who decided that law school wasn’t for him. Instead, he opted to be a stay-at-home dad that freelances in his spare time.

 The teenage years can be a difficult time, full of change for both teens and their parents. Parents often worry about their teenager’s safety and the choices he or she takes. To help during this time, parents can consider the many smartphone apps designed to enhance communication and parenting. These apps encourage teens to follow through with parental rules and expectations without parental bickering and nagging.  Listed below are some useful apps to help parents stay connected to their teenagers.

 FaceTime: Look Each Other in the Eye

 The FaceTime app for the iPhone makes it possible to video chat with anyone who has an iPhone, iPod touch, or a Mac with built-in camera. FaceTime gives teens the option to call a parent any time to catch up in a more personal way than a simple phone call. Sometimes we forget how meaningful it can be to actually see another’s person’s face and expressions, so a simple FaceTime call can solve the problem and offer more to both the parent and student than a 10 minute text chat or phone call. Alternatives for users that don’t have an iPhone include Skype or Gmail’s video chat. FaceTime is only 99 cents, and is available for the iPhone.

 MobiFlock: Keep Them Safe

 This particular app might appeal more to parents with teens that are still at home and that need closer monitoring. MobiFlock offers parents a diverse selection of tools to limit their child’s access to the Internet or mobile apps on their smartphones. It offers Web filtering, which allows parents to block adult content, sexting, and other inappropriate mobile activity. MobiFlock also gives parents the ability to locate mobile devices from a Web dashboard, should a device be lost or a child become incommunicado. In addition, parents can block mobile apps and set a timetable for when they are re-enabled, meaning that you can lock Twitter during homework time, or restrict access to specific functions instead of simply taking the phone away for bad behavior. MobiFlock offers a free seven day trial; a yearly subscription costs $29.95. Mobiflock is available for Android, Apple, Blackberry, and Nokia devices.

 Samaki: Raise a Better Driver

 Samaki Rewards is an iPhone app that can encourage your teen to drive safely by rewarding good behavior with points that can be redeemed for gift cards or discount offers. What better way to incentivize good driving skills in your teen? Samaki calculates a user’s top speed, sudden turns, and how often one texts or talks while driving. Bad driving or texting while driving deducts points, while good driving earns points. This is more than just improving insurance rates, users can exchange points for Visa gift cards or win rewards to invest back into their car such as discounts on high-end Nitto tires, or gas and regular maintenance. Best of all, Samaki only rewards your teen points if they aren’t touching the phone, encouraging them to put it down and drive safely. Samaki is free to download through the iTunes store, and is available exclusively for the iPhone.

 iCurfew: Mutual Check-In

 ICurfew makes it easy for parents and kids to check in with one another anywhere, using cell networks or Wi-Fi connections. Created by Radical Parenting, this app encourages open communication instead of fastidious tracking. It allows kids to check in with parents via email or Google maps at the press of a button. It can be used to ensure kids are where they said they’d be, allows teens to notify parents of a change in plans, or allows teens to send a “pick me up” text. College students may find these apps useful amongst friends for safe planning and communication. ICurfew is available for 99 cents through the iTunes store.

April 30, 2013

There are a couple of local current events that are worth mentioning here. I’ll start with the “good news” story first. The son of close family friends was featured in our local paper, The Coloradoan this morning. Seth is finishing his freshman year at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. At age 19, Seth and his Colorado State University-attending friend Sean, have launched an outdoor garment company called Forecast Outerwear. They are using Kickstarter, the popular website that allows creative people to raise funds for projects, programs, or whatever. Seth and Sean have set their Kickstarter goal at $15,000 and I have little doubt that they will reach it. Seth is a focused entrepreneur, capable and competent—skills that will make him successful in college as well as in business.

 The Coloradoan asked Seth how he got his initial funding for the project. He replied that a lot came from savings and investments he made from a knitting business that he had years ago. I remember watching Seth knit away during backcountry skiing trips our families took together, thinking even then that as a boy Seth showed determination and stay-to power. Seth also was asked about his goals. He replied: “To be quite honest, I’m going to college as a backup option of getting a ‘standard’ job, but I would love to continue on with Forecast. It teaches me new, amazing things every day relevant to what I study that simply isn’t presented in a standard classroom setting.” Way to go Seth! You are definitely on the path to success.

 The other local story is not a positive one. This past weekend, when our finicky Colorado weather finally turned nice for a few days, several college parties in close proximity were declared open on social media sites. Hundreds of students turned up for the parties, and as could be expected by clear-thinking individuals, things got out of hand, complaints were made, and the police showed up in force. The scene turned into a “riot” with students breaking beer bottles and smashing windshields, and aggressively confronting the police when told to break it up and go home. The police regrouped, donned riot gear, and sprayed the crowds with tear gas and pepper spray. Now the incident is under investigation by both the local police and Colorado State. Undoubtedly, there will be students who will face criminal charges as well as possible suspensions or even expulsion by CSU.

 I bring this up because I was interviewed last night by Neil Haley of the Total Education Network syndicated radio program to discuss what I call the “expectation talk” with graduating high school seniors who are college-bound. Parents need to discuss and make clear their expectations regarding their student’s college experience. Those expectations should cover financial issues and academics, but I also stress that parents need to consider social/behavioral expectations.

 When our teenagers go off to college, they look forward to making decisions about social activities without parent restrictions—they can go to a party on a school night, they are in charge of deciding when to do homework, they can decide how late to stay up, and on it goes. Although parents cannot—and should not—control those decisions, they should discuss what will happen if their teenager finds himself in trouble with law enforcement. Because of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), there is a good chance parents won’t hear about any trouble unless the student feels it is time to involve mom and dad. You may not hear about a sordid incident until your student makes a phone call from the county jail or shows up at home, suitcase in hand, trying to explain how he got kicked out of school.

 So the question is: What are you going to do at that point? Think about it in advance and discuss it with your student. If he or she knows what the home-front consequence will be, it may make a big difference in the decisions they make at the time. It makes for a much easier solution if expectations are clear before the student calls mid-term with a problem. If she understands all expectations before you leave her at the dorm parking lot, she has a better chance of succeeding in her college experience.

April 9, 2013

My initial reaction to reading about software that grades student essays was, “bad idea—really bad idea.” As someone who has reviewed many middle and high school essays, and a lesser number of college essays, I am certain that no computer can give the kind of feedback I give. I also know that few teachers have the time to give the kind of feedback I give, but regardless, specific feedback to student writers is essential to helping them become effective communicators. And as the University of Oregon’s Dr. David Conley, a leading researcher of college readiness, states: Writing is the academic skill that is most critical to college success.

 The new software I read about grades an essay automatically and gives the student numerous opportunities to rewrite until he or she lands a grade that is acceptable. In a NY Times article, Anant Agarwal, an electrical engineer who is president of EdX, the company that created the program, “predicted that the instant-grading software would be a useful pedagogical tool, enabling students to take tests and write essays over and over and improve the quality of their answers. He said the technology would offer distinct advantages over the traditional classroom system, where students often wait days or weeks for grades.”

 I can see that it has an appeal for teachers and professors with large classes. But I also completely understand the view of critics: that “computers cannot ‘read.’ They cannot measure the essentials of effective written communication: accuracy, reasoning, adequacy of evidence, good sense, ethical stance, convincing argument, meaningful organization, clarity, and veracity, among others.”

 What I thought was particularly interesting in the Times article were the reader comments. There wasn’t a single one in favor of such a grading system. Comment writers pointed out that students will quickly learn how to “please” the computer grading program, turning out papers and essays that give them a good grade, but don’t stretch, challenge, or help them grow as writers. Others commented that writing is subjective and creative—two things that seem difficult for a computer to judge. One mother wrote that her 7th grade daughter, who loves to write, was frustrated by the computer’s scoring on her “poetic” writing style. The daughter changed her writing style to get a good grade from the computer, but later reworked the piece just for herself. The mother wrote: “What a computer cannot provide is an emotional response to students’ writing, however good it may be at analyzing the structural elements of writing. I can see using computer programs to help students build their skills and give them instant feedback. And maybe computers can be useful for teaching how to write informational reports. But at least some students need the learning opportunity of affecting other humans emotionally.”

 I agree with the mother of the 7th grader that the software could be one tool in helping teachers grade papers for specific elements. Yet how would the computer handle colloquialisms or quotes with intentional poor grammar or intentional nonconforming sentence structure or a number of other creative alternatives (such as all the ors I purposely put in that sentence)? I do think this tool will catch on; I only hope its shortcomings will be recognized. There are already too many students that graduate high school, and even college, without solid writing skills. Learning to write well is too important a tool for college and career success to be left solely to computer grading.

 To read the NY Times article:

April 2, 2013

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed by Diana Simeon, editorial manager of Your Teen magazine. The article she was wrote appears in the magazine’s Spring 2013 issue—the title: “A Different Path: Alternatives to the Traditional College Experience.” Simeon’s article discusses community colleges, gap year options, post-graduate year (as in post high school graduate), working, and more. I appreciate her quoting me several times in her article and she did a good job presenting the case for taking an alternative route to college.

 I also was impressed with the magazine as whole. To accompany Simeon’s article, there is one teen’s account of his gap year experience and there is an article with a U.S. Army recruiter. Then there is an enlightening article on transgender teens told from the points-of-view of a parent of a transgender teen, two transgender teens, and a journalist. You can read a mom’s account of her college-attending daughter owning up to having a fake ID, a discussion on the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana, and ideas on getting your teenager to the dinner table with some teen-friendly and nutritious recipes.

 Even the advertisements in this magazine caught my eye—ads for summer academics, college information, teen health care, and workshops for activities such as the “7 habits of highly effective teens.”

 I think one of the magazine’s strengths is that it presents ideas and comments from parents, experts, and teenagers. The website,, is also a great resource for parents. Just a glance across its home-page tab line shows it covers most everything: drugs and alcohol, health issues, school issues, relationships, and more. If you don’t find a topic covered that you need help with, you can send in a question and an “expert” will write back with ideas.

 In the beginning of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I state: “It is difficult enough maneuvering through your child’s teenager years without wondering if he or she will be ready, willing, and able to succeed in college, but wonder you should.” That wondering will take you on a journey of questioning, researching, and evaluating your teenager’s readiness for whatever lies after high school. Add Your Teen to the bucket of resources you consult for help. 

March 26, 2013

Last week I wrote about various alternative high school programs that allowed students opportunities to gain college credit, work experience, or internships all while working toward high school graduation. It seems that educators post daily articles and blogs about the need to move toward a “redesign” of high schools to increase students’ college and career readiness. And data seems to be backing them up. For example, an October 2012 report from Jobs for the Future did a study in Texas that found high school students who had taken at least one college course while enrolled in high school “were nearly 50 percent more likely to earn a college degree from a Texas college within six years than students who had not participated in dual enrollment.”

 Another study, “Opportunity by Design: New High School Model for Student Success” by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, contends that in order to be prepared to meet the Common Core Standards, many high schools will need to “redesign.” The Carnegie study points to schools that have increased student engagement and graduation rates through smaller schools, real-world experiences with community businesses, more personal attention to individual student academic progress, and a comprehensive academic curriculum as well as dual programs.

 I found, however, part of the statement written by Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation, to be particularly telling: “….while it is important to graduate from high school, high school is not an end into itself, but rather preparation for college as well as life-long learning. It is one part of the path that leads students toward their ultimate potential in any field of endeavor as well as in finding personal satisfaction in their lives.”

 It is, in fact, during those high school years that a student should be learning the skills she needs to be successful in college and career. Redesigning high schools to more fully engage students and offering dual programs are part of moving them toward success, but there is another important component here. I believe parents need to see their role in this whole discussion; parents need to be as involved as the school in moving their teenager toward success. At home, parents need to be teaching time, conflict, and financial management. They need to give their teenagers graduated responsibilities. They need to model an interest in learning, keep communication open, and learn to listen to their teenager. Without these non-academic but important life skills, redesigned high schools will still struggle to prepare students for college and career success. It take parents, schools, and communities working together to move teenagers toward college and career success.

 To read the Jobs for the Future report:

To read the Carnegie report:

March 19, 2013

A few times before, I have written about alternative high school programs that I have heard or read about that offer students opportunities not usually associated with a “standard” high school curriculum. I recently took a look at what my local school district offered, and thought it was worth naming various alternative high school programs that parents can look for when they are trying to help their students find the path for success.

 When a student becomes disillusioned with school, sees no relevance in it, and/or starts failing, it is time to look for alternatives. In an effort to find ways to get and keep students engaged in school, many school districts offer programs that lead to college credit, certification, work experience, and internships. The place to begin the search is in the high school counselor’s office.

 Dual programs offer high school students the opportunity to take college courses, gain college credit or certification, and get insight into what college is like all while the student is working toward her high school graduation. Under dual programs, the student usually does not have to pay any fees or tuition to participate—another huge plus when you consider the cost of any post-secondary education.

 School districts that offer dual programs collaborate with local or nearby colleges to offer certain courses at either the college or high school campus. Depending on the program, students can earn college credit or they can work toward certification in an array of fields. Examples include auto mechanics, nursing, technology, law enforcement, culinary arts, and more. Some of dual programs even allow a student to earn a two-year associates degree by the time he finishes high school. School districts that offer dual programs also engage community businesses and industry to provide both paid and unpaid internships to participating students. It is easy to see why such a program would appeal to many students. At the end of their high school days, they have a high school diploma, college credits or certification, and job experience.

 Another type program that may be available in your school district is a jobs program that collaborates with local businesses to hire high school students during the school year. The work schedule always fits around the student’s school schedule, and included in that schedule is a class to support the students in their work. During that class, business leaders may come in to speak or students may go on field trips to visit local businesses. During such presentations, students not only learn about how businesses work, but they hear about available internships for those who go on to college or they may gain access to employment following high school graduation. 

 There are, of course, other curricula that emphasize certain interests such as hands-on learning, the arts, and science and technology, and those programs should be considered also. The point is to help your student become engaged and find the path to success. The successful high school student is more likely to become a successful college student and a successful employee.