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.

July 2, 21014

In a recent Education Today article by Donald E. Heller, the author wrote: “The decision to allow our daughter to become a high school dropout when she approached us with the idea was one that our family debated intensely during the last six months. In the end, we agreed with our daughter that this was the best path for her.”

Finding the best path toward success for your teenager is the primary mantra of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Yet, choosing to drop out of high school as the best path is tough even for me to follow. Heller, dean of the college of education at Michigan State University, said he and his wife, a public school teacher, did have a difficult time coming to agreement with their daughter. He described his daughter as quite articulate at explaining her reasons for wanting to find a different path to the future.

The Heller’s two daughters had attended a private school in London in their younger years, then an alternative public school in another state before moving to Michigan. The older daughter graduated from the alternative high school, but the younger was enrolled in a local public high school, which had a good reputation. The daughter scored well on state tests and on the SAT, but her school grades were not reflecting the depth of knowledge Heller knew she had. He and his wife noticed the daughter was “not engaged in learning in ways that she had been in other schools she had attended.”

The well-regarded Michigan high school was, like so many of our public schools, “highly traditional in its structure and curriculum,” focused on improving the “performance of students on the state tests rather than to encourage them to grow intellectually and to develop a breadth of learning.” Heller’s daughter realized, and he and his wife came to see, that the daughter was not being challenged or allowed to explore her curiosity, develop her interests, or learn for the sake of learning—something she had thrived upon at her previous schools. An intelligent student, she was not challenged and was slipping through the cracks.

After reviewing the options, the family decided to let the daughter apply to an early college program, 600 miles from home. Heller acknowledges that public schools are under extreme pressure to prove their students’ ability to meet state and federal standards. That focus, however, results in a one-size-fits-all approach to education that simply doesn’t work for many students. Although she will not experience the traditions of a high school graduation, Heller’s daughter will have a college education. Many other students who don’t respond to standard curriculums are not so lucky.

I encouraged one of my sons to finish high school early because he already had all the requirements he needed, and I knew he was bored and headed for trouble. It was a good plan for him. I have a friend who let her daughter drop out, get a GED, and proceed straight to community college—the young women also recognized the “standard” wasn’t working for her.

The Toward College Success mantra, “help your teenager find the path to success,” still stands. It can be scary figuring out the way, but until there are enough alternatives to the standard curriculum, parents need to remain alert and open to helping their teenager find that path.

To read Heller’s article: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/27/36heller.h33.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

June 5, 2014

It appears that a couple or so years ago, a new concept in teaching high school students about finances took hold. Now in several high schools across the country, students, their parents, and their teachers can walk down the school’s hall to a student-staffed bank branch to make a deposit, a withdraw, or even to get a small low-interest loan. What an idea—teach students about finances by opening a real bank in their school. Understanding finances and how to manage them is a must for success in college or anything beyond high school.

There is a whole chapter in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? that touts the importance of teaching teenagers how to manage money. Unfortunately, it is a skill that students often lack when they graduate from high school. When those students find themselves on their own, whether at college, traveling, working, or whatever, they discover quickly how little they know about finances and how easily money problems can derail their situation.

The concept of a student-run bank branch sounds like an innovative, engaging way to instruct teenagers in finances. Students apply to staff the school banks, are trained by the bank, and earn a salary. They, in turn, help to teach their fellow students about savings, budgeting, interest, and other aspects of financial management.

For example, Capitol One Bank, which has school branches in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, says each of its student bankers works a summer in a Capitol One Bank as tellers and customer service representatives, spend two weeks in formal teller training, take a financial education class, and participates in a week-long college development program to plan their college application process. One of the goals of Capitol One Bank’s school banking program is to steer students toward a successful college experience.

Union Bank, which operates school banks primarily in low-income neighborhoods in California, offers a similar program, including college scholarship monies. One complaint about the programs is that students have no choice of banks if they want to use the school site. Individual banks work with school districts to gain access, and use bank funds to build the banking space and pay for student training and salaries. That seems a minor complaint when it offers so much opportunity to the student bankers as well as their peers.

It would seem that the school bank program is an appealing way to engage students in learning about real-life finances. If they can graduate with reasonable financial literacy, then those teenagers have a better chance of being successful in college and beyond.

To read articles about school banking programs: http://www.npr.org/2014/06/04/318489887/as-banks-open-in-schools-a-chance-for-students-to-learn-to-save, and http://wavenewspapers.com/business/article_c1ea2f78-d7c6-11e3-af6a-0017a43b2370.html.

Sept. 25, 2013

My son’s accident has given me another great topic to discuss: the importance of getting to know your professors while in college.

My son is home in Colorado recuperating from a broken leg he sustained while riding his bike home from class at the University of Hawaii where he was doing a “semester abroad.” His injury prevented him from continuing with classes either in Hawaii or at Colorado State University, where he has been a student most of his college career. Stuck at home until he can get around on his own, he fretted a bit over what to do to keep busy. He decided to contact his geology professors, let them know what happened to him, and ask if there was anything he could do to keep up his skills.

He was rewarded with several offers from his various professors—offers to help with different research projects and offers to be a teaching assistant in a class he has already taken as well as helping to grade papers. Some of the offers include payment; some are volunteer positions. And some told him he could continue next semester when he is back in class and earn some college credit.

None of this would have happened if he had not made himself known to his professors during previous semesters. In Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I quote a college student who said assertiveness is important to a successful college experience. He said he advises other students to seek out their professors either after a class or during office hours to try and form a relationship with them. “It helps,” he said, “for the professor to actually know your name among a class of three hundred. You become more than just the kid in the blue hat. It also helps to have someone to ask for letters of recommendation later on.”

Toward College Success also makes this point from the professor’s view. In another story, one student out of a class of 95 introduced himself to his professor just to say he was enjoying the class and wanted to learn more about the subject. Even after the class was over, the student continued to drop by to talk to the professor, discuss an issue, and ask advice. As that student’s senior year was winding down, the same professor asked the student if he would be interested in a master’s program internship. The student jumped at the opportunity and went even further, eventually earning a Ph.D. The professor commented: “They (professors) can help you with your career, but you (the student) have to make the move to say hello.”

Being assertive and self-advocating are not skills that all teenagers just happen to have. Such abilities, like so many other important life skills, need to be taught, developed, and nurtured while that teenager is still living at home. If you have a teenager who is uncomfortable around adults she doesn’t know, create opportunities for her to talk with adults whom you know will be patient, kind, and engage her in real conversation. When your teenager has a problem with a teacher, insist he make an appointment to discuss his concerns. If he refuses, set an appointment yourself, but let your student do the talking. As your child ages, let them make their own doctor and dentist appointments and let them handle their schedules, conflicts, and priorities.

These are just a few ideas to give your teenager the opportunity to learn assertiveness and self-advocacy. Remember that once she is at college, she will have to ask questions and open doors for herself. In the end, it can help make her college experience lucrative, paying off in significant help toward her career.

Sept. 17, 2013

Researchers from the University of Michigan have found that techniques promoted by the non-profit College for Every Student (CFES) truly lives up to its goal “to raise the academic aspirations and performance of underserved youth so that they can prepare for, gain access to, and succeed in college.”

Caralee Adams explains in her Sept. 13 Education Week article that the study that sampled 1,100 6th to 9th grade students in 21 schools across 10 states found 75 percent of the study participants “plan to attend four-year colleges, compared with five percent of students in a control group.”

With such a positive influence, I decided to look further into CFES. CFES uses three “high-impact practices” that help get underserved teenagers on the track to college and that helps them be successful once they are there. Practice number one is mentoring personal and academic growth by means of an older peer, teacher, community leader, college student, or engaged adult.  

Practice number two is leadership through service, which builds not only leadership skills but also develops responsibility skills and resiliency. Practice number three is pathways to college that provides opportunities for visit college visits, for interaction with students and faculty, and introduces CFES students to the admissions process and financial aid options.

CFES’ statistics are impressive: “Ninety-five percent of CFES Scholars nationwide are from low-income households, 99 percent graduate from high school, and 96 percent go on to college.” In addition, nine out of ten CFES students are their family’s first generation to go to college.

CFES sounds like it is meeting an important need: to help low-income, underserved teenagers make it to college and succeed once they are there. My guess is that their techniques would benefit many students that do not fall into the underserved category. Too many teenagers disengage from school for a variety of reasons and the involvement of a mentor could make a huge difference in a student’s perseverance and resiliency. And the fact that CFES works with young students—middle school or even younger—is definitely a contributing factor to the student success rate. As Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? states over  and over: Teenagers need the opportunity to develop life skills long before they graduate from high school. Skills such as time and priority management, conflict management, financial management, self-advocacy, and communication skills are all necessary for a successful college experience.

To read more about CFES: http://www.collegefes.org/

To read Adam’s article: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/college_bound/2013/09/promise_seen_in_college_awareness_program_targeted_at_middle_schoolers.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

An update on my son’s situation: My son, who was hit by a car while riding his bike home from class at the University of Hawaii, suffered a serious compound fracture of his leg. After almost two weeks in the hospital, he realized that it was impractical to attempt this semester of classes (including several geology field trips). His dad helped him pack up, but before they left Honolulu, they took to the beach. I’ll post his picture on the Toward College Success Facebook page (www.facebook.com/towardcollegesuccess). He is now back here in Colorado trying to figure out how to stay busy. One thing he plans to do is contact his geology professors and see if there is anything he could do from a computer—and further develop his networking as a bonus. His graduation will be delayed, but I promised him that it really won’t matter in the long run.

Aug. 13, 2013

“School is boring.” How many times have you heard that from your teenager? Yet, if we are honest, we’d say, “Yeah, it is some of the time.” While it is important to engage students and employ strategies that make learning relevant, it also is important that teenagers learn that they won’t be entertained all through life. Much of the time, we simply have to buckle down and persevere whether it is in high school, college, at work, or even with chores at home.

A recent commentary by Mark Bauerlein on edweek.org discussed this very real issue. Bauerlein referred to The High School Survey of Student Engagement from 2010 that showed just as many teenagers complained of being bored with school (66 percent) as they did in the 2006 survey. The primary reason for boredom: “uninteresting and irrelevant material.”

Bauerlein goes on to say that the recommendations to remedy this boredom sound quite sensible. “The curriculum and teaching styles must change, researchers say. We need energetic instructors to present pertinent material in lively ways. Teachers should draw more assignments from real-world situations and create projects that are collaborative by nature, or culturally relevant (for example, by providing an Afro-centric curriculum to African-American students). If students recognize direct connections between schoolwork and their personal lives, including their future employment, academic engagement will rise, and they’ll stay in school and proceed to college and the workplace ready to thrive.”


But Bauerlein goes on to ask an important question. Even if curriculum and teaching do manage to transform mandatory material into engaging, exciting, and relevant lessons, what happens when those energized students head off to college? Bauerlein says they will end up right where they were prior to the changes—with boring lectures, note taking, and studying. That is because a lot of college—particularly the required introductory classes—often are lectures, note taking, and studying. On top of that, introductory classes often are huge—as many as 500 students sitting in a cavernous lecture hall squinting at the professor (or teaching assistant) somewhere way down in front. Not very engaging.


What happens is that many students drop out of college because they are bored. “A 2009 study by Public Agenda found that 45 percent of recent college dropouts listed boredom as a ‘major’ or ‘minor’ reason they left, while 43 percent cited, “I had to take too many classes that I didn’t think were useful’.” I deduce that students need more than just new, engaging curriculum. They also need to understand the realities of life. School, work, and certainly household chores are not engaging and seemingly relevant all of the time. We have to take the boring and mundane with the exciting; take the lessons and tasks that just have to be learned and done with the ones that are engaging and relevant.


As I point out in Toward College Success, parents need to give teenagers graduated responsibility for their lives—and that includes the boring parts. Attitude, persistence, the ability to find relevance, determination and much more are attributes that lead to success in college and beyond. Maybe it’s time to embrace a little boredom.


To read Bauerlein’s article:





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 23, 2013

Recently, the Council for Economic Education (CEE) released a new document, “The National Standards for Financial Literacy.” The Council lists six standards that are the “scaffolding for a body of knowledge and skills that should be contained in a personal financial curriculum.” A curriculum that should be taught in grades K-12 to give students the financial understanding and knowledge they will need to be successful when they leave home for college or whatever they do after high school.

 The document points out that individuals and businesses face both opportunity and great risk in the ever-changing complexities of personal and global financial markets. It goes on to state that “the pace of change is quickening at a time when individuals of all ages are being called upon to assume more responsibility for their financial lives. College tuition is now so costly….that postsecondary education has become a serious economic issue, and those high school graduates who do apply to college must explore complex funding packages when whether, and where, they will go.”

 The report goes on to discuss much more, including naming the six standards: earning and income, buying goods and services, using credit, saving, financial investing, and protecting and insuring. To bring students up to proficiency in the standards, CEE provides “professional development to teachers, teaching resources across the curriculum and nationally-normed assessment tools.” And I discovered another finance literacy teaching resource that appears comprehensive and beneficial. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia recently released a series of videos for students K-12. The high school portion includes the history of financial institutions, and lessons in personal finance, monetary policy, and the Federal Reserve.

 These and other efforts to teach financial literacy are crucial for students as they move into the world on their own—whether at college or into the workplace. They are especially critical considering that many parents are baffled by financial strategies and options. As I point out in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, teenagers need to understand the basics of money management before they leave home. The inability to manage finances can easily derail teenagers as they face the new living and learning environment of college. If they have the opportunity to take financial literacy classes while in high school, those teenagers will be starting college with a bonus.

 Does your teenager’s high school offer financial literacy courses? Is she enrolled in those classes? If not, are their options for such opportunities in your community? And if not in the community, then consider online courses.

 To read the the National Standards for Financial Literary: http://www.councilforeconed.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/national-standards-for-financial-literacy.pdf

To preview the videos from the Federal Reserve: http://www.phil.frb.org/education/

April 16, 2013

In just a few weeks, high school seniors will graduate and start anticipating what new adventures life holds. For many, that will include college in the fall. Unfortunately, for one out of four of those college freshmen, the semester will end prematurely because he or she was not ready, willing, or able to succeed in the new college living and learning environment.

 The reasons why so many college freshmen end up dropping out are as diverse as the students themselves. Some, of course, flunk out, but others reasons are more complex. For teenagers who go out-of-state or many miles from home, that very step may prove overwhelming. While it is natural for first-semester college freshmen to get homesick or lonely for the familiar, some of those students simply don’t have the skills or the experience to adapt, push through, or just stick it out. Some of these students come back home to attend a local two- or four-year college while they “figure things out.” Transferring can result in lost credits, which translates as “cash down the drain,” and there is no guarantee that the student will succeed in the new school. How can parents help prepare students so that homesickness doesn’t result in dropping out?

 Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? will tell you that waiting until the summer before you wave goodbye from a dorm parking lot is waiting too long to give your child experience in learning to leave home successfully. The high school years—particularly the summers—are a good time to find opportunities to practice fledging your teenager. In Toward College Success, I offer several suggestions.

 One idea is to encourage your teenager to seek out and participate in school-sponsored travel. Expense, of course, is an issue, but most school trips come with a fund-raising package—and students should earn at least part of the money so as to “own” the trip. Traveling domestically or abroad with a school group is a great way for your teenager to safely experience an adventure without family. Religious community mission trips are another. In both cases, your teen is with a group that has researched the safety issues, is well supervised, and has clear rules that must be followed.

 Another option is sending your teenager to a sports, academic, or other type camp. While teenagers often want a friend to attend with him, it is a better opportunity for your teenager if he attends without knowing anyone at the camp—such a scenario proves to be similar to going away to college. Your teenager will need to make friends, participate in the program, handle conflicts, self-advocate—basically adapt.

 Or create a situation yourself. Maybe there is a business-owning friend or family member that lives in another state that could hire your teenager for a few weeks in the summer. In such a situation, your teen again has opportunity to act appropriately, handle conflicts, and adapt to unfamiliar surroundings.

 Opportunities that allow your teenager to travel or work away from your immediate family will teach her responsibility, build her confidence, and hone her self-management skills—all things that will help her be a successful college student. What’s on your teenager’s summer schedule?

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, http://yourteenmag.com/, 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.