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Wednesday, December 19 , 2018, 2:34 am | Fair 45º

 
 
 
 

Bill Cirone: Summer Assignments for Parents of Schoolchildren

I marvel at the fact that we are about to close the book on another highly successful academic year here in Santa Barbara County. From remarkable student accomplishments to teacher awards and recognitions to the tackling of important issues affecting our children and communities, the 2014-15 school year has been filled with achievement and promise. But as our 67,000 students across the 20 school districts of Santa Barbara County prepare for their summer vacations, I wanted to talk to parents about some ideas that I hope will help build upon the momentum our students have generated over the last 10 months.

While nearly every teacher will talk about the many rewards that come with being in the classroom and interacting with young people on a daily basis, that fact remains that educators also face many challenges fulfilling the obligations of in loco parentis — Latin for “in the place of a parent” — every school day.

Frequently, a portion of those challenges can be traced back to a child’s home environment. Studies have shown factors such as a lack of structure and little to no accountability at home can lead to significant struggles in the classroom. Those factors can adversely affect the child’s ability to keep up with coursework and retain important information, but, in more extreme cases, can also become impediments to learning for that child’s peers as well.

Parents would love it if their children, without prompting, become diligent, hardworking, responsible students. But anyone who has ever been a parent or spent any significant time around children can attest to the fact that such kids are the exception, not the rule.

The reality is that good parenting is hard, and demands that parents take an active interest in their child’s life. That they understand that parenting is not a popularity contest. That they set clear boundaries and standards for their child. “The standards you walk past,” a friend of mine is fond of saying, “are the standards you accept.”

Boundaries, standards and accountability measures will of course vary from family to family. But there are some features that can remain fairly uniform despite familial and cultural differences. I call them the “Three Cs”: communication, clarity and consistency. Persistent application of the Three Cs can be a challenge, but like most efforts that involve hard work and dedication, they can become an important part of a family’s routine and can have a profound, positive effect on a child — both in the classroom and at home.

» Communication. Parents often complain about the difficulties they encounter when trying to engage their children in conversation. They are too plugged in, distracted or uninterested. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat. “My son is here, but he’s not present,” one parent recently complained to me. The things that occupy our children are often so foreign to us as adults that we don’t even know where to begin, such that we might not even bother. But don’t give up on your efforts to communicate, parents. It is not always easy to tell what is sinking in. And you just might be pleasantly surprised.

» Clarity. It is the bane of every parent’s existence to hear his or her child complain, “But that’s not what you said!” There is no foolproof antidote that will prevent a child from arguing that his or her parents’ rules are vague, from taking a rule out of context, or from willfully misinterpreting those rules. But that does not absolve parents from trying to be as clear and precise as possible when laying down the law.

» Finally, consistency. There are fewer ways to exasperate a child than for a parent, teacher, or employer to have an inconsistent application of the rules. Something that was OK on Monday is suddenly forbidden on Tuesday. When adults “move the goalposts” in such a fashion, their expectations of children can be reduced to a guessing game. It need not be. They may not always meet those expectations, to be sure, even if you remain consistent. But at least they will know there will be consequences.

Most of us are probably familiar with the adage that “Education begins at home.” School teachers and principals would doubtless be among the first to attest to the truth of this claim. Over the next two months, many parents will be seeing much more of their children during the day than perhaps they have over the last 10 months.

As you enjoy their company, parents, I want to encourage you to communicate with your children with clarity and consistency. In so doing, you will earn the admiration and appreciation of your children’s teachers next fall, when those teachers will build on the great work you will have accomplished.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

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