3 Things You Can Do to Prepare Your Rising 9th Grader for Success in High School

3 Things You Can Do to Prepare Your Rising 9th Grader for Success in High School

Every year, stories of high school seniors getting into great colleges saturate headlines from March through April. This year, it was Michael Brown, the Houston senior who got full rides from 20 universities. As parents, we hope our kids will be so lucky.

But here's the deal, hope without a plan of action leads to disappointment and frustration. With college on the line, stakes are too high to leave to luck. Here are 3 things we can do to set our rising 9th graders up to have their own headline-worthy college story four years from now.

4 Lessons Parents and Teens Should Learn From Lamar HS Student's 20 College Acceptances

This weekend, CNN shared the story of Houston high school senior Michael Brown not only being accepted into 20 top tier universities, but receiving a full scholarship at each one. With guidance and support from his mom, Ms. Rutledge-Brown, Michael has fantastic college options. Here are 4 lessons parents and high school students can learn from his amazing success.

When's the right time to begin looking for a school?

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is "When should we start looking for real?" Parents who ask this question already have a leg up over many others because they realize that there's the window shopping version of school selection, and then there's the I'm-going-in-to-buy version.  However, the reality is before you step foot in any store to window shop or otherwise, you have to have some idea of what you need and what you want. Yes, those things are separated by an oh, so important "and". You see in Houston, we are really fortunate to have some great school options, many of which are quite solid in the way of academics.  However, knowing what else you do or don't want will often be the deciding factor between two or three great schools.  

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That said, when starting the process for real, you have to keep in mind the gravity of the decision you are making.  I often say that choosing a school is like getting married since the person/school chosen is going to raise kids with you. Each time you drop your child off at school, you hand off the parenting baton to the adults on that campus. The other students are your son or daughter's extended family, and the teachers are their other parents. This is especially true when you are choosing a preschool or elementary because your children are sponges soaking up the behaviors and attitudes of everyone around them. 

When you think of it this way, the idea of using a school tour to find your child's home away from home is like saying we are going to choose our spouse by speed dating and speed dating alone. If you really want to get to know a school so that you can make the most informed decision, I'd say start at least a full year ahead of the upcoming transition. That means if you are looking for a high school, you want to start looking when your child is a 7th grader. If you are looking for a middle school, start looking in 4th grade. This will give you enough time to do a thorough job inspecting all of the elements of a school that matter to you without the right now, right now, right now time crunch that happens when you try to find and apply to multiple schools in the usual September to December time frame. 

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And if you are one of those people who isn't stressed out by on-the-go decision-making, there are two additional benefits of giving yourself the year to do the research: 1) application fees and 2) two weeks in March. Application fees and the test prep that many parents elect for their children can add up pretty quickly--especially for families choosing between independent schools. While I encourage families to fall in love with more than one school, casting a wide net just because doesn't make your March any simpler. "What does applying in December have to do with March," you ask. When admissions letters are mailed out the second week in March, you and your family have roughly two weeks to decide. If you rushed through the research phase, didn't include your spouse and/or kids in the process, or just casts your line everywhere so you'd have options, you'll find yourself in an all out panic come March. And if the letter from your dream school reads that your child has been put on the waitlist, your level of panic will be on another level. Why put yourself through that? If you can find little ways to simplify and streamline the process while getting the best results, why wouldn't you? 

Visiting schools this fall and want guidance on what to look for? Check out our Get the Most Out of School Tours, a 9-page guide that includes 3 Steps to Help You Choose Well, 4 Things That Matter When Looking For A School, and Navigating School Admissions -The Student Edition.

Give Yourself and Your Kids A Break: Go On Vacation!

A few weeks ago I went on the most amazing vacation. It was the end of admissions season, and I wanted time to recharge as well as spend uninterrupted time with my family.

Given that I research vacations like I do schools, I focused on kid-friendly places that had an element of luxury and service. If I have to plan anything (meals, activities, etc.) that’s work for me. I need those things taken care of so I can be present for my kids, my husband and for myself. We wanted a place where we could spend quality time together, do stuff if we wanted to, but for the most part  just be. We decided on Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

So with kids in tow, my husband and I hopped on a plane and flew down to Mexico.  

The moment we arrived at Grand Velas, the gate on the rest of the world closed. Our room was in Zen Garden, the quiet side of the resort, where thatched roofs covered the walkways and provided shade.  Within minutes, my kids wanted to explore, and it took what felt like 10 seconds for them to find the Kids’ Club. We walked in and two women immediately got on their level and walked them over to the wall of games. With our kids ignoring us, Dave and I looked at each other. Maybe we’ll actually be able to go to dinner by ourselves???

Prying the kids away with promises (and hopes) that we’d come back, we set off to explore the rest of the resort. We hopped on the 2 minute shuttle that would drive us to Ambassador, the beachfront section of the resort where we'd spend most of our time. Starting with lunch. Prime rib for Dave. Pizza and fruit for the kids. Freshly made ceviche and the most amazing chocolate lava cake for me. (I literally had this--and several other things--everyday.)

Me with my favorite guy!

Me with my favorite guy!

Shrimp and tuna ceviche--yum!

Shrimp and tuna ceviche--yum!

We went back to exploring and stumbled upon the swanky Teens’ Club right next to the second Kids’ Club. With everything from karaoke to a bar where they have non-alcholic mixology lessons, video game pods and my favorite hype guys, Rafael and Carlos—this place was a big kid’s paradise! (This would be perfect for joint family vacations! Teens hang out here, while the adults hangout poolside.)  

Yes, this place was all right.  

Over the next four days, it was much of the same. Us waking up from 9 sometimes 10 hours of sleep, heading to an amazing breakfast (mimosa please!) and then reading, sleeping or playing by the pool, scuba diving or kayaking, doing whatever our little hearts desired—even if that meant playing splash in the jet bath in our room. My son figured out that making hot tea soothes him. My daughter threw herself in to art, making paintings and personalizing her shirt. I read a whole book. My husband got some quality time for himself scuba diving in the water right off the resort. And our kids enjoying the Kids’ Club enough for Dave and I to have not one but two romantic dinner dates in Grand Class, the all adult section of the resort—topping off our husband/wife time with several brutal rounds ping-pong at the Teens’ Club.

Everything about our time here was just lovely. The place. The people. The food. Everything.

This moment away is exactly what we needed. 

Sometimes we get so caught up trying to do everything just right for our kids. We try to get them into the perfect school, into the right activities, making sure they do this and do that. We have to remind ourselves that it is equally, if not more important to stop and be with our kids. My work is about tuning in to our kids and making decision about schooling that help our kids shine. Stepping away from the madness gives you time and space to do that.  This isn’t a departure from my work. It’s a reminder that to tune in, sometimes, you have to tune other things out.

Want more on how family vacations benefit you and your child, check out this article written by a psychologist: Family Vacations Serve as ‘Happiness Anchors’ for Kids Until They Grow Up. And if you are you looking to be spoiled with amazing food, exceptional service, beautiful grounds and the opportunity for quality family time, you should definitely check out Grand Velas. 

Note: This piece was done in partnership with Grand Velas, who agreed at my request to be featured on this blog. Goods and services may have been received in exchanged for inclusion; however, all sentiments are mine. -Aisha 

Visiting Schools? Keep these TWO things in mind.

Today Houston ISD magnet schools begin offering tours for prospective families. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you visit:

1. Culture matters: Pay attention to how the people in the building treat each other: student to student; teacher to student; teacher to teacher.  You want to know how your child will experience the school, and there's no better indicator than culture. 

2. Outcomes matter: Yes, you might be looking for a kindergarten or 6th grade seat, but what you're investing in is the outcome. Pay particular attention to the oldest kids on campus. Do they reflect what you want for your son/daughter at the end? Is the work they are doing work at the level you'd expect/want for your child? Are the behaviors they are exhibiting reflective of what you'd want? Remember, this is a long term investment. 

And here's a bonus: Ask questions! Don't worry about being that parent. If they mention a particular curriculum and you don't know what it is or why they chose it, ASK! The only way to make a sound decision is to know all of the critical facts.  

For additional guidance around choosing the best school for your son or daughter, check out other entries on the Crumbine Ed Blog.

Here's the First Email You Should Send Your Child's Teacher

It’s finally here! The first day of school is finally here! After I dropped my kids off at school on their first day, I stopped by snazzy Houston eatery Snooze and had an amazing breakfast and an even more amazing mimosa. What?!? I was celebrating!

But now that the first day high is simmering, I’m working on doing one of the most important things I’ll do all year: sending that first email to my child’s teacher. There are tons of studies that show the strength of the parent/teacher relationship directly correlates to a student’s success. And since I believe that my child’s teacher is my partner, my co-parent, my teammate, it’s important that I send that message right away. Every email I’ll send this year will follow a 4-part formula:

Express their value + state the purpose of my email + makes the ask + sets the time parameters

Here’s the email I’ll be sending to my child’s teacher(s). (Hint, hint: Copy, tweak, paste and send to your child’s teacher too!)

{insert teacher’s name},

I am so excited that {insert child’s name} will be in your class this year! My goal for {insert child’s name} this year is to really enjoy learning, be successful at it and to be a great friend in the process. (These are mine. Choose your own based on your son/daughter’s grade, strengths and challenges) While these are things I'll stress at home, my {son/daughter} can’t be successful without you, and so I’m glad to have you on our team. 

I wanted to share a few things about {insert child’s name} that I think are worth knowing. I’m sure you’ll figure out more about him eventually, but these are the 2-3 things that I thought were worth sharing up front. (Only 2-3–keep it short since this is just a teaser)

Here’s a list you can choose from, but feel free to create your own. You know your child best! 

  • My son/daughter loves {insert subject, toys, hugs, whatever…}

  • When my son/daughter needs to be disciplined, he/she responds best to { }

  • My son/daughter had a really rough year last year because...

  • My son/daughter had a really great year last year because...

I’d love to schedule a time for us to talk for a few minutes (15-20 minutes) about the key learning objectives for the year and what I can do at home to support the work you are doing at school. Is there a time within the next two weeks that we could meet either in person or via phone?  

Thanks in advance for working with me to make sure {insert child’s name} has a great year.

I’m looking forward to it.

{insert your name}, {insert child’s name}’s mom

Want to learn more about having an effective relationship with your child's teacher? Sign up for our 3-day challenge, The Essential Partnership.

From Parent to Coach: How Your Role Changes When Your Child Goes to Middle School

We've all heard about how kids change in middle school and don't seem to want their parents around. That's not true. Kids always want you around, they just want you in a way that's different from how they needed you before.

This time last year, I was lucky enough to spend some time watching the Houston Texans practice. As I watched, there was something about the interaction between the coaches and players that made me think of parents with kids making the move to middle school.  When I sat down and gave it some thought, here's what sticks with me:

Every week coaches around the country spend time huddled in their offices with their team to replay the previous week's game. They pay attention to what was well executed and what happened that their players weren't quite ready for. Simultaneously, they study the next opponent so they can prepare their players by teaching them what to look for, giving them the skills to play the game and time to practice both in a low-risk environment.

Once the coaches have a plan for who is going to teach which skill, they sit the players down and scrub them in. Players listen, take notes and prepare for the week a ahead, knowing exactly what the end goal is. That week, coaches and players focus on 1-2 things that will help them become markedly more successful in the coming game. At the beginning of the week, players walk through the drills. Literally walk. Coaches move them from place to place sometimes physically showing them how it's done. Players follow their lead. As the week progresses, so do the players' independence and confidence. And the coaches back away, giving the players space to make the plays their own. During this time, players fail. Coaches and sometimes other players will jump in swiftly and say, "Hey, when you did this, you opened the door for {insert unintended negative consequence} to happen. What you want to do is Y. Let's try it again." And they practice it again and again until the player gets it.  Nobody freaks out. Why? Because during practice you're supposed to fail. Now don't get me wrong, when players fail to execute a skill after much practice, there's a consequence, a natural one. If they aren't ready, they don't play in the game, and I haven't met a kid yet who enjoys being on the bench during game time.

So what does this have to go with parenting a middle schooler? In elementary school, your kids need you to be enthusiastic about everything they do and bring home from school. The need you in the clingy, lovey kind of way, and want your attention, your guidance, your hand. In middle school that looks a bit different. Your kids want to be independent and what you and I know for sure (a la Oprah) is that eleven year olds don't wake up one morning in August with independence left under their pillow like a gift from the tooth fairy.  We've all heard about how kids change in middle school and don't seen to want their parents around. That's not true. Kids always want you around. They just want you in a way that's different from how they needed you before. What they need is for you to give them the skills they need for the big game--the moment when they are on the field and you're in the stands unable to rescue them. They need you to sit with them at the table on Friday nights and replay the week. To help them make a game plan (a downloadable version is below) for the coming week. They need you to walk them through what doing it right feels like and show them how to know when they are doing it wrong. All without freaking out--why? Because this middle school experience, is practice, and you're the coach.

Making the Leap to Middle/High School

In a couple of days, some families will truly turn the corner, saying goodbye forever to elementary school. You’re walking away with fond memories of all those handprint arts and crafts, class parties and homework/projects where you could actually be helpful.  You are abundantly thankful for the nurturing atmosphere, and you might be even happier that you managed to meet and make a few mommy friends along the way.  Ahhh….elementary school.  Bliss.

But then there’s what’s next…middle school.  The sheer thought of its size alone makes you a little squeamish. How will your kid who’s been in such a small, nurturing environment fair in a system so large? How will she adjust to all of that movement? From being the bigger kid on campus to being the smallest one? Have you seen the size of those 8th graders? Thinking, if her middle school experience is anything like mine, we’re in for a wild ride. And let’s not even talk about the difference in workload? Everything about moving to middle school just seems so…scary.  (If it didn’t before, it surely seems that way now, no?)

Take a breath. Take another one.  

What your kids experience in middle school will be different from what they experienced in elementary. That means how you support them in the process will also need to be different. In elementary school, your kids need you to delight in their academic learning, to celebrate the light coming on, to “oh, wow, that’s awesome” every moment so that they learn to value and appreciate the act of learning. In middle school, kids learn how to manage their time, how to navigate social circles, how to fail and how to rebound, how to be organized and make plans. They should learn what kind of people they don’t like to be around, and somewhere along the way, they should learn some academic content as well. It’s a lot to process for a kid who a couple of months earlier left a class of 22 with a sweet, loving teacher in a well-controlled environment.  Middle school is their first introduction into anything that resembles the real world, and your kids need you to be present. They need you to be their coach—realizing it’s their turn to go out and find their place in all of the madness, making sure they have the tools and skills to put their best foot forward while giving them quick, re-directive pointers when they fall. To that end, here are a couple of things you can do to be present without risking being a helicopter parent.

1. Talk to your child about how middle school will be different.  Don’t project your experience on to him, but talk about the things you already know about. Here are a few questions to guide the conversation.  I typically have these kinds of chats over ice cream or while hanging outside to make them seem more off-the-cuff.

  • How are you feeling about going to middle school next year?  
  • How do you think it will be different from X Elementary?
  • You nervous? or What are you most nervous about? (Listen carefully to the answer here, this will be your first opportunity to coach him/her through the first difficulty.)
  • Own your nervousness: You know, I’m a little nervous too. {insert why here}
  • Add something reassuring about how you two will figure it out together.  

This may seem like a no-brainer, but what’s really happening here is you’re sending the message that you are going to continue to talk to your child about school, even through middle school when it’s normal for parents to unknowingly give their kids too much room before they are ready.

2. Set a goal and a game plan. I know this sounds a little hover-ish, but hang with me. Your kid needs to know that he owns his own experiences.  Whether middle school works or not is within his control.  There’s no better way to teach that lesson than to teach that lesson. Here’s your first opportunity to be Mom/Dad the Coach.  Let’s say that your son said he was most nervous about doing well in math. That’s been a tough subject for him and he’s had to work really hard at it even in elementary school.  Here’s an example of how this coaching thing works.

"You know, I was thinking about you being nervous about math.  When I get nervous about something, whether I’m going to do well or not, making a plan helps me figure out exactly what I can do so I won’t be so nervous. Like last week when I was anxious about my project at work, this is what I did to get myself together." Show him a made up or real project plan using the fuzzy grid below but with your own content.  The model below is a sample of what a completed version might look like if your child said he was nervous about math.

You can download a student-friendly (read: way cooler looking) blank version below.

You can complete a similar chart for all kinds of things: organization, making new friends, trying new things, trying out for a sport team, completing a project—anything.  You can and should create new goals whenever there’s a need. The goal here is to get your son or daughter to start making the connection between input and output, correlating when she does well and what of her actions led to that and vice versa.  

No matter what the situation, if you stick to the “What happened? Why do you think that happened? What do you think you should do differently so that does or doesn’t happen again?” you can’t go wrong.  The trick is to lay that foundation as early as possible and to maintain that kind of problem-solving mindset throughout middle school. By 8th grade, it should be second nature. This is the type of engagement your kids need from you as they make the leap to middle school—this is the essence of coaching.  This is middle school.

And if you wish this was around for your teen who's now in high school, don't fret. It's never to late to teach kids how to be successful. Download the Success Game Plan and help your high schooler start the year in the right direction.

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