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My daughter, a rising college senior, finds volunteer tutoring very satisfying. She will graduate in January and wants to apply for a two-year stint at Teach For America. I think she should start her real career upon graduation. How can I convince her?

What if her real career turns out to be teaching? Or a position inspired by her Teach For America (TFA) experience? Teaching is still an appealing career choice and a great foundation for other professions. Many of the 40,000 TFA alumni now work in related fields, many in leadership positions.

Take Eddy Hernandez Perez, for instance. His assignment was teaching fifth grade in San Antonio. Through his teaching success he got to advise then-Mayor Julian Castro on education policy and helped start Leadership SAISD, a nonprofit program that works on behalf of students in the San Antonio school district. He eventually got his master’s degree in education at Harvard and is set to graduate law school at the University of Texas next May. Hard to argue with that career path!

Laura Smith, a high school math teacher in Dayton, Ohio, is completing her two-year TFA commitment and weighing a third. “My degree is in accounting, and I love to teach math,” she says. “One day I’d like to combine those skills in a way that uses data to help narrow the opportunity gap, one of our nation’s toughest problems.”

They have some advice for your daughter: Apply to TFA because of your passion. Are you doing this for students and to learn the skill of teaching? If not, then rethink your priorities.

“Don’t use TFA as a break between college and grad school,” says Smith. “The work is hard. You’ll struggle to focus on your students if you’re only passionate about studying for the LSAT.”

Assess your adaptability. TFA doesn’t put you where you want to go. If accepted, TFA sends you where you’re needed.

Prep well to apply: While applications have dipped from the 2013 high of more than 57,000, getting in remains competitive. Prepare yourself by talking with alumni and principals in schools with TFA teachers.

“If you can’t stay excited throughout the application process, decide on a different route,” says Smith.

Expect tough challenges. If accepted, you’ll need to prove yourself to students and colleagues. You’ll get good support from TFA, but you need large stores of resilience and stamina.

And now here’s some advice for you, Mom. Some form of service to the country helps young people get to know themselves and what they’re made of. It helps define their professional personalities, and they learn what motivates them. They also develop insight and leadership skills. If your daughter decides to apply, be thrilled you’ve raised such a mature young woman.

Find TFA application deadlines at teachforamerica.org.

Our elementary school is quashing creativity. A group of us parents thinks the lack of arts education, field trips and the like squeezes the joy out of learning. We aren’t opposed to tests, and we don’t want to home-school our kids; we just want a better elementary experience. How hard is it to start a charter school?

It’s hard. That doesn’t mean your group shouldn’t pursue it. Just don’t plan for it to open this fall. Charters are places to try out new methods. Some will succeed; others won’t.

When Mary Mitchell, the late co-founder of New York City’s successful Girls Prep, was asked about starting a charter, she’d advise: “Prepare for more homework than you can imagine, and be ready to jump myriad hurdles. Study the data on what makes a charter school successful long-term. Build in accountability from the start. Fill your planning group with people who will go the distance. It’s a marathon.”

The planning group’s job is to articulate a clear vision and identify people and resources to bring your school into being. That vision should spell out the school’s core beliefs and its instructional and management processes. Show the mission, costs and timeline to key parent, educator and civic constituencies. This helps refine the application and anticipate potential funders’ questions. Know your state’s rules, process and timeline for charter applications.

Be able to clearly define the educational need you’re meeting. Florida parent Richard Busto helped lead a team that founded the successful charter Renaissance Learning Center for elementary-age students with autism spectrum disorders. They also founded the Renaissance Learning Academy, a nonprofit high school, as a transition from the Learning Center. The Learning Academy’s mission was clear from the start: Help prepare students ages 14 to 21 with autism spectrum disorders for life after school.

You may not have to start a charter to get more of what you’re looking for. Teachers also regret the loss of time for the arts, project-based learning and other activities that make school fun. “Most educators will welcome a parent initiative that can help add programs that motivate students and add richness to the offerings,” says Tim Sullivan, the president and founder of PTOToday.com. These may be after school, on weekends or during school vacations.

“Family engagement covers a lot of ground,” says Sullivan. “From helping create a new playground and ensuring a budget for field trips to working with educators to tweak a curriculum to offer more arts, STEM or other content a community wants.”

Ken Robinson, Ph.D., the co-author of “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education” (Viking, 2015) encourages parents to engage with educators.

Robinson is famous for his TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” He notes that recent efforts such as the U.S. Department of Education’s 2013 family engagement report, “A Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family–School Partnerships,” and the PTA’s “National Standards for Family-School Partnerships” spell out principles that foster win-win collaborations.

Clarify your group’s goals and approach the principal and other key educators in your elementary school (including the PTO or PTA leadership). What you’re seeking may be within easier reach than starting a charter school from scratch.

My eighth-grade son wants to go into a new program his high school will offer that has a technical-career focus. My husband loves the idea. My son is a B-minus student at best, but I’d still like to see him graduate from college. (His older brother dropped out.) Doesn’t vocational education narrow students’ options?

The disappearing middle class and many of the jobs that sustained it have educators and policymakers looking at this very question. Districts and states are ditching your granddad’s “voc-ed” to create a more successful approach that expands students’ options.

Michael J. Petrilli, president of the nonprofit education think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, points out that career-technical education (CTE) is not a path away from college, but another pathway into postsecondary education. With CTE, Petrilli writes on the institute’s blog, districts can create “coherent pathways, beginning in high school, into authentic technical education options at the post-secondary level. … These arrangements not only provide access to workplaces where students can apply their skills, they also offer seamless transitions into post-secondary education, apprenticeships and employer-provided learning opportunities.”

Petrilli cites the findings from a recently released new study from the institute, “Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes?” The study collected data on Arkansas high school students and found that “students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate, enroll in a two-year college, be employed and have higher wages.”

In other words, high-quality CTE provides a route to the middle class.

What defines high quality, and what should you look for in your son’s CTE program? The Association for Career and Technical Education recently published a draft framework identifying some of the characteristics of high-quality programs (for more information, go to acteonline.org):

– Courses should align with appropriate grade, district, state or national standards to ensure competency in reading, science and math. They should also align with industry-validated technical standards.

– Students should be able to progress seamlessly without remediation or duplication and have access throughout to career guidance.

– Students should have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning and get continuous feedback. There should be processes that assess program effectiveness over time.

– To be effective, the staff must be prepared; the facilities should reflect today’s workplace.

– Teachers should use motivating techniques such as project-based learning, relevant equipment and technology, and real-world scenarios.

– There should be a continuum that progresses from workplace tours to internships and onto apprenticeships.

– Programs must be offered to all students and support services provided when needed. There should be no barriers to work-based learning or post-secondary credits.

– Students should have opportunities to foster connections to professionals and activities that advance their goals.

The current way of thinking, “bachelor’s degree or bust,” often means “a young person drops out of college at age 20 with no post-secondary credential, no skills and no work experience, but a fair amount of debt,” writes Petrilli in an article on the nonprofit Brookings Institute website. “That’s a terrible way to begin adult life.”

At the last grading period, my son Jamal’s third-grade teacher was concerned about his reading. She suggested home activities and summer school. I think he’ll catch up on his own. Kids don’t all learn to read at the same time, so why is this a problem?

It may not be a problem, but the data doesn’t favor Jamal. Many studies show that being able to read well by the end of third grade means that children do much better in all subjects from fourth grade onward.

There’s a saying in education circles, says Kristin Calder, CEO of the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County (Florida): “‘In the first three grades, children learn to read. In fourth grade, they read to learn.’ Students need strong vocabulary and comprehension skills to read science, math and social studies texts. How can you attack a word problem if you can’t read the words? Or understand a science lesson on weather if you struggle (to read the word) lightning? Not being able to keep up with subject matter accelerates a cycle of failure that can lead to dropping out.”

Cracking the code by the time a student enters fourth grade is so important that many U.S. cities have joined with school districts in a formal Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, says Calder. “Third grade is a pivot point. In Palm Beach County, we make achieving this literacy milestone a major part of our work.”

Take your son’s teacher’s concerns to heart. Carve out time each day to focus on reading at home. Divide it into independent reading and reading to him.

– Read a few pages of a compelling book, such as a “Harry Potter” novel, to Jamal each night. Stop at a spellbinding spot guaranteed to make him eager to hear more.

– Get him a library card and work with the librarian to find titles that match his interests. What topics get Jamal excited? Football? Animals? Humor? Check out a stack each week.

– Try humor. Don’t worry if he’s still stuck on “Captain Underpants” books. At least he’s reading. Find lots of books he might like on guysread.com, a site founded by best-selling children’s book author Jon Scieszka that is dedicated to encouraging boys to read.

– Access digital resources. Most libraries offer Internet access to their collections to download on a tablet or phone. Check out podcasts, too. Favorites include TED Talks for kids and family, and PBS Kids. Find educational games and apps reviewed at Common Sense Media’s graphite.org.

– Add a dose of nonfiction. Atlases, children’s almanacs, field guides and other “fun facts” books are easy for readers to get into. Consider subscriptions to magazines such as Popular Science, National Geographic Kids or Sports Illustrated for Kids.

– Enroll Jamal in summer classes. “There’s so much evidence of learning loss during vacation, that many schools welcome kids — whether they are struggling or not — into summer classes,” says Calder. “The program should give him even more opportunities to practice his reading skills.”

– Keep up the family reading time at home. As summer approaches, it’s tempting to let it go. Don’t. Jamal needs this “power assist” to do well in fourth grade. Be sure to also monitor his use of video games and other non-reading-related digital media, so he doesn’t get distracted.

Since spring break, my fourth-grade son seems to have “checked out.” His teacher emailed that he participates less and pays less attention in class. He didn’t turn in a report that was completed. He seemed more organized at the beginning of the school year. Do you think he’s depressed?

No, unless there’s something huge in his life you’re not mentioning. I think he’s a fourth-grader with spring fever.

“With the warm spring weather arriving, daylight savings time in effect and only a few months of school remaining, it’s not uncommon for kids to lose motivation,” notes Virginia educator Ann Dolin in a recent blog post at ectutoring.com.

“Motivation will ebb and flow during the school year,” writes Dolin, who taught in the Fairfax, Virginia, schools for several years prior to founding Educational Connections Inc., a tutoring service. “This is a time when students are more focused in counting the days until summer than studying; parents are losing steam as well.”

Dolin offers these tips to help your students get to the end of the school year:

– Re-establish old routines. “If routines have gone by the wayside, it’s not too late to put them back in place,” suggests Dolin. “They foster a sense of order and can greatly reduce procrastination.”

Ask yourself: What worked well in the fall? Does your son still have a set schedule for homework, dinner and bedtime? Does he still place his backpack in one spot, so he can grab it for school the next morning?

– Reset a study time. Spring sports, school events and summer plans are distracting. “They’re also more likely to be distracted by social media,” says Dolin. “You really have to limit their choices. … Set up a routine for a block of time, say 8 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., where social media is turned off and everyone in the family is device-free.”

– Monitor assignments (but don’t do them). If homework isn’t turned in, Dolin says to determine if your son is writing them down. Find out how your son’s teacher gives homework. Does he or she post to Blackboard or your school’s homework portal? Can your son take a picture of his homework with his phone? Some students never use their assignment book, no matter how much they’re encouraged to.

Once you know what the assignments are, spend five minutes to list what needs to be done. Have him do them in order. “Maybe even watch him do the first problem or question, and then walk away,” says Dolin.

If he gets stuck, Dolin suggests asking him, “Do you have notes on this? Where do you think you can find the information? Have you done a problem similar to this?”

– Schedule long-range assignments: Spring fever can make a student forget assignments that aren’t completed daily. Dolin says to ask your son what reports or projects he has and when he is going to do them. Have him plot key dates on a calendar (setting alerts if he uses a smartphone). If the plan seems reasonable, she says you should ask him, “When should we check in with each other?”

Dolin says this technique puts the responsibility for longer-term planning on your son’s shoulders and teaches him how to hold himself accountable.

For more advice from Dolin, download her free ebook, “Help Your Disorganized Student,” at ectutoring.com.

My son, a junior, didn’t take the new SAT. Do colleges still value it, even though it has changed a lot? Should he take both the SAT and the ACT, or does one substitute for another with colleges? This process seems like such a grind!

The path to college can seem like a rocky road, says Sally Reed, editor of College Bound, a newsletter for high-school guidance counselors. “To make it easier, plot a reasonable timeline for the ‘must-do’ list — including college visits — so that important dates don’t creep up on you,” Reed advises. “Take a deep breath and ask your son to take the lead. You can advise, but he needs to own the process and preparations and make the decisions on where to apply.”

When it comes to the new SAT versus the ACT, “either test is fine,” says Jonathan Chiu, national SAT/ACT content director at the Princeton Review. “Colleges are accepting the new SAT as willingly as they are the ACT. There is no bias for or against one test or the other.”

Coming up, the SAT is offered on May 7 and June 4. Deciding to take the SAT on either — or both — of those dates depends on a few factors, says Chiu:

– Is he an AP student currently being crushed with AP prep? If so, he’d be better off preparing for the June SAT or ACT instead of the May SAT.

– Is he carrying a heavy academic load? He may want to focus on great grades through the academic year for the best transcript, skip the May test, and sign up for the June SAT.

– Do his prospective colleges require SAT Subject Tests? If so, Chiu advises taking Subject Tests in May and/or June. Between the two test dates, May could be more advantageous for students who have a number of AP tests to take mid-May. “The two-week time frame between AP tests in May and the first June Saturday SAT test administration can be a real disadvantage to those students. It’s extremely challenging to retain information (like U.S. history) in that lull, when students may be watching movies every day in class post-AP test instead of covering content.”

– If he’s applying for Early Decision or Early Action and has the resources to take the SAT multiple times, have him take the test in both May and June — and possibly even October of his senior year — to take advantage of colleges that will “superscore.” (Superscoring is when a school accepts your highest score for each SAT section, regardless of the date you took the test.)

– If he isn’t comfortable doing math without a calculator, he should take the ACT. And students who feel time-pressured on tests should know that the SAT gives students, on average, 39 percent more time to answer questions, notes Chiu.

Chiu says many students who aren’t sure whether they would do better on the SAT or ACT make their decisions after taking free practice tests of each, which are offered by the Princeton Review. The experience of taking each full-length test helps them determine which one suits them best. “Our score reports can help him identify where his strengths and weaknesses lie in each,” he says.

To find practice tests, go to: princetonreview.com/events.

My fifth-grade daughter’s class has been watching presidential debates as homework. She is upset that candidates say things that would get kids into trouble if they said them in school. She’s developing a cynical attitude that I want to counter. What’s the best way?

In classrooms and living rooms, discussing the road to the White House should be a fun, every-four-year opportunity to teach civics, history and “why we value living our democracy,” says Marissa Gehley, a youth counselor with deep experience in California school districts. “But lately, I’ve been getting calls from parents and teachers saying, ‘How do I deal with the bullying and name calling and the hate we’re seeing on TV?’”

Gehley tells parents that it’s really important to address students’ concerns head on without being political.

“Since when,” she asks, “did it become not OK to say that, ‘In our class or in our home, we don’t bully people, call them names or disparage them because of their race, ethnicity or disability’?”

Gehley adds that parents should teach the Golden Rule:

“Kids want assurances that we wish to treat others the way we wish to be treated. Being inclusive, respecting others’ points of view are very much a part of American exceptionalism.”

She acknowledges that kids have real questions, like “‘Will my family have to leave our home? Will this or that candidate send my dad to war again? Will my aunt be hurt if she attends a rally?’ Give kids a chance to ask their questions and discuss them honestly. Just having you listen can dispel a child’s fear.”

An Orlando, Florida, fifth-grade teacher wrote to me complaining that she “never expected to hear a question about a candidate’s genitals in our social studies class.”

But in this column, I try to calm worried parents by telling them to do two things: Clearly state that name calling and disrespect are not in your family’s values, and talk to your children about the entire election process, not just the one-off comments in the debates. Use resources such as Time For Kids, Newsela and Scholastic News and C-SPAN Classroom.

Another great resource I’ve found is iCivics, a website inspired by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. It offers games, lesson plans and other educational content to teach students about our democracy.

“There isn’t a kid in America who doesn’t find this election relevant, and so parents will find many teachable moments,” says Emma Humphries, chief engagement officer at iCivics. “For example, if your daughter says a particular candidate is going to win because a poll says so, this is a good opportunity to teach about polling. Is the poll scientific? Who conducted it and how many people were asked? The website realclearpolitics.com does a nice job presenting multiple polls and averaging the results.”

Humphries says that families will especially enjoy the the iCivics game “Win the White House”: “It shows the many steps candidates must take to win and helps explain tricky concepts like the Electoral College.”

While they may be tempted, parents shouldn’t run away from a discussion about the campaign, says Humphries. “When we confront fear and cynicism with knowledge and more engagement, kids can see that people have this really inherent good nature. They don’t want violence, but more civility and dignity.”

Our daughter, Emma, just turned 3. We’re thinking of putting her in full-time preschool as my wife returns to work. My mother, a retired nurse, would love to take care of her. But in our community, attending preschool is the norm. Does preschool always benefit a child?

This is a hot topic in parenting and policy circles. Two decades ago, most parents in your position would have chosen “loving grandmother” over preschool in a heartbeat. But today, parents worry that “a child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool,” writes early childhood educator Erika Christakis in The Atlantic.

There is a lot of research on preschool effectiveness. Not surprisingly, much of it depends on the quality.

While the data on some pre-K programs suggest that early benefits often fade by the end of the third grade, a recent RAND Corporation analysis of high-quality programs in several states shows several benefits, writes Lynn Karoly, the study’s lead author. Quality programming showed the “largest effects on school readiness and with sustained effects at older ages.”

According to the study, preschool can reduce referrals to special education and grade repetition and produce increased high school graduation rates. RAND researchers also found that while kids across all income levels benefit, the positive consequences “tend to be larger for more disadvantaged children.”

Before you go and enroll Emma, determine if she’s ready. Christakis, author of “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups” (Penguin, 2016), writes that “expectations that may arguably have been reasonable for 5- and 6-year-olds, such as being able to sit at a desk and complete a task using pencil and paper, are now directed at even younger children, who lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful.”

Make sure that Emma gets the experiences during the next two years that kids need but may not get in kindergarten. A new University of Virginia study, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” shows that kindergarten teachers in 2010 devoted much less time to art, music, dramatic play, dance and child-centered play than teachers did in 1998. Researchers reported a greater focus on math and reading, often with daily worksheets.

Christakis and other experts caution parents against preschool models that ignore a child’s developmental stages.

How should you decide? Make an appointment with the early childhood specialist in the district Emma will attend. Discuss the readiness skills they expect in kindergarten.

Visit preschools. Are they child-centered places where Emma will thrive? Or is the focus solely on an academic curriculum that affords little creative play and sparse “listening and talking” between teachers and children?

Assuming that that her grandmother won’t plop her in front of a television or a tablet all day — that she will provide Emma a language-rich experience, with plenty of hands-on activities that develop early math, listening, speaking, reading and science learning — consider an arrangement that gives Emma the best of both. Your daughter will benefit from a loving grandma who shows her why we measure ingredients when we bake a batch of cookies, and she will learn how to be a part of a group and make new friends in preschool.

My son, Brett, stays up late and misses the bus often, so I drive him to school. He’s cranky and it’s not pleasant. He gets marked tardy, which leads to detention. Our district announced a later start for high schools next year, so I’ve asked the school to void the detentions. The counselor won’t and says it’s still Brett’s job to get there on time. How is that fair?

Seriously, Mom, you’re taking helicopter parenting to a new altitude.

That being said, many high schools are responding to research about teens’ sleep patterns by starting school later. “With the better-known physical and biological manifestations of puberty often come not so subtle switches in moods and emotions. … Sleep cycles also change, making young people more nocturnal,” says Stephen Gray Wallace, the director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education.

In a blog post for Psychology Today, he adds: “We’ve known for a long time that the demands of teens’ school, sports and transportation schedules don’t exactly line up with what’s best for teens’ health and safety.”

Wallace points to a 2014 University of Minnesota study of 9,000 students, which found that when schools adopted later start times, teens experienced less tardiness, substance abuse and car crashes. Their school attendance, standardized-test scores and overall academic performance improved.

So, yes, going to class later can be better.

But that doesn’t mean Brett can’t try to get to class on time. The staff and most of his peers do. He can, too.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that teens get 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours of sleep every night of the week. So how can Brett achieve that with his school’s current schedule?

Try these tips from the NSF and other sleep experts:

– Establish a consistent sleep schedule and stick with it 7 days a week. Don’t allow late nights and “sleeping in” on weekends and vacations.

– Make sure Brett gets enough exercise, so he is physically tired when he hits the sack.

– Take technology out of his bedroom. Research shows that having a TV, computer, smartphone or another similar electronic device in the bedroom can disrupt sleep, especially for teen boys.

– Make Brett aware that lack of sleep not only can cause him to be forgetful and do poorly on assignments, but it also decreases creativity. It can even cause acne, weight gain or other health problems.

– Check his schedule. Is it too packed? While it’s good to be involved in a broad range of activities, being overly committed to clubs, sports, programs or a job shouldn’t come at the expense of sleep.

This last tip is very important, writes Wallace: “In reality, sleep issues are not all that are placing our kids at risk of anxiety and depression … With the best of intentions, adult America has created a society of stress for its young people. It is one in which we have normalized not only irresponsible school start schedules but also an irrational college application and admissions process.”

So if Brett’s schedule is chock-full, take it down a notch to alleviate his stress and help him get better sleep. For more information, go to sleepfoundation.org.

My granddaughter, Rena, a senior, wants to attend college. She is a champion tennis player, but has struggled academically because of ADHD. Her ACT score and GPA are low. She was rejected by her college choices. Her counselor offers no encouragement except, “Go to a local community college to get ready for college work.” But the schools don’t have tennis. She has a great personality and wants to teach. Any suggestions?

The counselor’s advice is discouraging, but there’s no reason that Rena shouldn’t be able to graduate college if she’s motivated and you put the right plan in place.

Many two- and four-year colleges have highly successful programs for students managing ADHD. You just need to find them. A good place to start is “The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students With Learning Differences, 12th Edition” (The Princeton Review, 2014). It offers profiles of 350 colleges with the best programs for students with ADHD and information on 1,000 others with support services.

The authors, college counselor Marybeth Kravets and psychotherapist Imy Wax, offer tips on how to put that plan in place — even this late in the game.

First, schedule a meeting with the counselor. Press for more specific support and make sure you get all the information in Rena’s complete education file (documentation for establishing ADHD, Individualized Educational Program, results of psycho-educational testing, and so on). Rena will need these when applying for support services at college.

Next, identify some “best match” colleges and visit them. Prepare for the interview: Rena should be able to demonstrate self-awareness by articulating her goals, strengths and weaknesses and describing what accommodations she thinks she needs. She should prepare a list of questions for the interviewer, too.

During campus visits, in addition to taking a guided tour, attending a class, eating a meal, talking with students, etc., make sure to schedule a comprehensive meeting with the college’s director of support services.

Have a list of questions ready for the director about everything Rena will need to succeed: Is there flexibility in admissions requirements? Are there remedial or developmental courses to help her make progress in weak areas? What accommodations and supports are available for class, as well as testing and tutoring? Is there an extra fee? Who would Rena be working with and what are their qualifications? What is the success rate and what are the career paths of the program’s graduates?

Go ahead and ask about tennis, but don’t let Rena use the school’s lack of a team as a deal-breaker. “The most important thing for Rena is to get on sound academic footing to realize her goals,” says Debbie Perrielli, a Florida youth tennis coach. “In most any college setting she can find players to keep her challenged, or opportunities to coach informally. Her skills won’t get rusty.”

Rena is fortunate to have you as her champion. Keep encouraging her. “No children choose to be born with learning disabilities or ADHD,” write Kravets and Wax. “However, if they hold fast to their dreams and aspirations and look beyond the imperfections and hidden handicaps, they can make things happen for themselves.”

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