There are a lot of preconceived notions when it comes to education. One of them is that only a teacher is responsible for providing students with academic guidance. Another is that a student has a caregiver who will reinforce what they have learned in the classroom at home. There are many students who are without academic or social mentors in their lives. I learned firsthand that there is a great hunger among children—those who yearn to form a consistent relationship with an adult who cares about the path their life takes. A few months ago, I was asked to speak to a group of students at Vista Meadows Academy, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. The topic of my speech was “write your own story.” A few weeks after my visit, I received multiple letters from students expressing their desire to hear about more positive ways to use critical thinking, excel academically and make logical decisions. When I read the handwritten letters, I became overwhelmed with sadness. I could feel how much they wanted role models outside of the classroom and it hurt my heart. We cannot rely only on educational institutions to turn our children into positive and successful adults. We must join together as a community who will invest in our children to ensure each child reaches their full potential, not just as scholars but as people, too. Because our children don’t have enough people to counsel them, they fall behind unnoticed, especially poor children. In my home state of Michigan, only 19 percent of low-income fourth graders are reading at grade level—and only 31 percent of all Michigan fourth graders. When you have a majority of fourth graders, regardless of income level, who aren’t reading at grade level, I call that a state of emergency. I’m writing about this turmoil in public education because I pray others will commit to bringing about change in our homes and communities. When I am asked to speak with a group of high school students on the importance of critical thinking and goal-setting, they are hungry for more direction in their academic and personal life. Caregivers of students—parents, guardians and other concerned adults—can be just as responsible for a child’s academic success, if not more so. With that in mind, I offer these recommendations for how caregivers can support students academically and socially.
There must be a reward system to reinforce academic and social skills taught while children are at home. This could mean replacing a weekend visit to a friend’s house with a family trip to the local library, or reading as a family at home for an hour.
On school nights, limit the amount of television a child is watching and substitute that time with reading to them or having them read aloud.
Instead of recognizing good behaviors with video games, money or watching television, reward them by allowing them to explore their creativity.
My path to college was far from guaranteed, but these recommendations helped me find success through college, and I fervently believe they can work for other children who face long odds and formidable obstacles. It is not only on schools to guide our children into a happy, productive adulthood—it’s on all of us.
Brandon Terrell recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He is interning at the Michigan office of Students for Education Reform and hopes to pursue a career in psychotherapy.