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Student Success Strategies
by Stephen Eurgubian
My father was a fifth-grade teacher. He would come home from school every night and share stories about the day-to-day struggles and triumphs of his students. This intrigued me.
My father moved to a new school the year I was in fifth grade. It was at this point in my life when I became interested in education. My fifth grade teacher was extremely rigid. She held us to a high standard, expecting us to work hard and be responsible for our own assignments and due dates. I struggled in her class but finished strong; she taught me what being a student was really like and the level of time and dedication required to succeed. Through this, I learned that education was going to be a long journey.
My career path started to take firm definition in fall 1992 when I was a senior at Fresno State finishing my bachelor’s degree in mathematics. I was always a good student but never a straight-A student. I struggled with certain classes along the way. As my undergraduate career winded down, I discovered that my study skills had finally become effective. I had figured out how to learn and retain the information I needed in a manner that worked for me. It was a time of realization for me in other ways. Most importantly, I now knew I wanted to become an educator, even though I wasn’t sure which road I would take. I also knew that I wanted to teach students how to learn, not just the content of what they were learning.
One thing I stress with every parent I talk to is that learning is not static. Your child will not learn at a linear pace; every child will have good years and bad. From kindergarten through 12th grade, there will be years your child’s math level might jump two grades or years where his or her reading level will be stagnant. This is not a bad thing. Very few things in life grow linearly and education is no different. This ebb and flow is part of the natural progression of learning and is influenced by a number of variables.
If your child is in elementary school, there might be one subject he or she struggles with. In junior high or high school, there might be that one teacher who seems to be unreasonable. Children of any age may sit near other students who are distracting to them. Children must learn to adapt to their circumstances. Through these experiences, they learn which subjects they will always need to study harder for, how to conduct themselves with teachers and other superiors, and that distractions are a part of life. When I opened up my learning center in 1996, my main objective was to teach children the educational skills they would use for a lifetime.
Parents often say to me that their children doing all their homework but struggling with their exams. Testing is something your child will have to take part in throughout his or her educational career. Whether your student is a fourth grader studying for the California missions test or a junior in high school studying for an Algebra II exam, the study techniques are more similar than you might think. I never liked the expression “doing your homework.” To me, doing your homework is an acceptable way of admitting that you’ve just gone through the motions. A better approach to take with your student is learning your homework. For example, if your fourth-grade student must read five pages and answer 10 questions on the California missions, a great technique is getting the assignment done and then making flash cards. Get creative and make little sayings about Father Serra to help your child develop an understanding of how the California missions were started. For that 11th-grade Algebra II student, simply doing 15 problems each night before the exam is merely “doing your homework.” A more efficient method would be to go through Monday and Tuesday’s homework and pick five random problems from each day, then mix them up and work the problems out of sequence. This technique will reveal students’ strong points and expose their weak areas.
One important study skill is learning how to expose students’ weaknesses so you can address them. In all math and science classes, doing the homework is phase one. Learning the homework is the most important phase.
I have been a creature of habit most of my life. When I don’t have a shopping list of tasks that need to be completed, I lose focus and I don’t accomplish what I need. Making a list is a great strategy to get through each week effectively whether you are 10 or 45. The K-12 years are the first leg of your child’s learning career. Setting weekly and monthly goals are a useful way to navigate your child’s academic future.
Here are some good yearly objectives to make for students by grade level. Keep in mind every student is different. What may work for one might not work for another.
• Kindergarten: At this stage, students begin learning simple skills and learn to adjust to the structure, schedule, and social aspects of school.
• Grades 1-3: At this stage, students learn the foundations of reading and writing and develop whole number arithmetic skills. They are able to do homework independently by the end of the third grade.
• Grades 4-6: At this stage, students are able to read chapter books and write short book reports or summaries on them. They are also learning advanced arithmetic skills such as beginning algebraic concepts, how to read and interpret mathematical charts, and how to perform fraction and decimal arithmetic.
• Grades 7-8: At this stage, students develop study skills, manage multiple classes and responsibilities and learn higher level math, science and writing skills.
• Grades 9-12: At this stage, students develop clear academic strengths and interests, consider college option and learn how to be more independent and efficient academically. (This may take some time!) They also make sure their reading and writing skills are proficient enough to get them into and through college.
This is just a brief summary of some skills and ideas that children should be learning during their journey.
As your child completes his or her second year of high school, you start to realize that adulthood is only a couple of years away. Questions arise, such as, “Should I send my son or daughter away for college or should they stay local? How are we going to pay for college?” This is an exciting yet stressful time.
Here are some ideas for planning the college application process.
• End of Sophomore Year: Start preparing for your college entrance exams. The two college entrance exams are the SAT and the ACT. Every college in the country accepts either or both exams.
• End of Junior Year: Make a list of schools that interest your son or daughter. Look at the requirements for each school and make a checklist of what will need to be done for each application. Look for available scholarships. Take the SAT and/or ACT a couple times toward the end of the year and during the summer before senior year.
• Beginning of Senior Year: Get application packets together and start preparing your college essays and personal statements for each school. Take the SAT or ACT a final time to improve your score, if needed.
• Second Semester Senior Year: Plan to visit all colleges and universities that are being considered so that your child can get a feel for each one. This will help him or her to make a decision when the time comes.
When your children graduate from high school, this symbolizes the unofficial beginning of their adulthood. Careful planning and preparation can help ensure that this transition is as seamless and stress-free as possible for you and them.
The educational journey is filled with success and failure. Relish the successes, try to learn from the failures and enjoy the ride.
Stephen Eurgubian is the director of the Eurgubian Academic Center, a learning center for students of all ages and in all academic subjects. The center opened in 1996.