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What Is Real Success?

Another new school year has begun. Thousands of students have returned to the classroom. The excitement of opening day is behind us. Students and teachers are settling in for hopefully another challenging and productive school ...

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Another new school year has begun. Thousands of students have returned to the classroom. The excitement of opening day is behind us. Students and teachers are settling in for hopefully another challenging and productive school year. As the new school year begins, what can we do to insure our children's successfulness, both in and outside of the classroom?

What determines a successful school year? If our son or daughter makes the honor roll, is that a successful year? If our son makes varsity football and starts this season, is that a successful school year? If our son or daughter does not get a detention or suspension, does that determine a successful school year?

Real success in school should be multidimensional and holistic. A successful school year should not merely be determined by good grades and positive deportment. A successful school year should hopefully be measured by how a student grows holistically as a human being - spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and academically. As parents, we want our children to succeed and become all that they can be.

As parents, it is our responsibility to create a life-giving environment in our homes and within our schools. Both environments should empower our children to use all of their gifts and talents, so that they can grow on all levels. The parent-school connection must be consistent and supportive. As parents, we cannot undermine what our children's teachers are trying to achieve. We must keep the lines of communication open at all times.

As the children begin a new school year, we need to revisit our priorities. Our children's academic success both in and outside of the classroom must be our top priority. We must not allow our children to pit us against their teachers. We must do everything we can to support our teachers efforts on behalf of our children, even if at times it's inconvenient.

School should be seen as a gift and not as an entitlement to be abused. With the new school year unfolding, our kids should get the clear message that they are not going to Club Med! Their education must be serious business and they must make a serious commitment to the whole experience. They should expect homework, and as parents, we should see to it that they are attentive to all their assignments. We should not make excuses for their noncompliance. Schoolwork should be their first order of business, even when it comes to athletics. Hopefully, they will learn how to balance school, sports and other extracurricular activities.

Our schools need to be clear with students and parents about their academic mission. Administrators and teachers should not compromise academic integrity to support athletic programs and other extracurricular activities. To the contrary, each school entity should work with each other to mutually empower our students to be successful in each area of interest without compromising academic success.

Every school has very clear guidelines regarding school policy. These guidelines speak to student conduct, student eligibility for sports and consequences for academic deficiencies and school cutting. As parents, we should have very clear guidelines for the new school year. We should address curfew and school attendance. We should speak about grades, homework and the consequences for noncompliance. We should also speak about appropriate school dress and appropriate school behavior. These conversations should be shaped around age. Clearly, what a senior in high school is permitted to do should not be the same for a middle school student.

During the week, students should expect to be home for the family meal and should expect to do homework before going out for the evening. Students should expect a curfew that will help them get up early in the morning for school each day.

The greatest challenge for high school age students is finding the balance between school, school related activities and social life. Students should expect to work hard in school, to be involved in school activities and to also have a social life. The key is finding the right balance between each.

As the new school year begins, we, as parents, need to be vigilant about our children's academic behavior and also their social behavior. Under no circumstance should you tolerate teenage drinking and/or the use of any illegal substances. Our schools should be equally vigilant in enforcing their own policies in this regard.

Whether we want to believe it or not, teenage drinking and/or drug use is escalating at an alarming rate in our local community. It is not a rite of American passage for teenage adolescence. Keeping silent because our children tell us everyone is doing it is not acceptable. This out of control behavior is destroying countless innocent individuals and families. Our athletic teams must not have a double standard. If a teenage athlete is caught drinking or drugging, he or she must be held accountable and dealt with accordingly. If holding our teenage athletes accountable paralyzes our sports program - so be it!

If we work together in protecting the quality of life for all of our students, we will lessen the possibility of innocent students being victimized. Standing firm when it comes to the issue of social behavior is difficult. However, no one ever said parenting teenagers would be easy. Being consistent is key to being effective.

TJ is a wonderful young man. He is the oldest of four brothers and sisters. When he was in high school, he was an exceptional athlete but a marginal student. However, his charm and wit allowed him to navigate his high school landscape without ever being held accountable. He was an all-County football player who was always failing at least two subjects each marking period. School policy said all athletes had to be passing all subjects during each season of play and had to have positive deportment comments. TJ's conduct was exceptional and he was an exceptional athlete. His high school elected to overlook his poor academic performance. As consistent as he was as an all-star athlete, that's how consistent he was for four years with his failing grades.

He graduated by the skin of his teeth. His athletic ability was his ticket to a reasonable college. He went away to a small liberal arts school to play football. The school was excited to have him because of his athletic ability, and he was grateful to be there.

Unfortunately, like many of his peers, his drinking was out of control. He was able to hide it very well until he got a DWI right before his freshman year began. His parents took care of all his legal problems before the semester began. What they did not know was that before the semester began, it was school policy to do a background check on all scholarship athletes. The school uncovered TJ's DWI. For this school, any legal conviction was grounds to withdraw any scholarship. TJ was welcome to attend their school and play football, but without scholarship.

TJ played football and did well athletically, but was a disaster in the classroom. He had to leave after his first semester because of failing grades. He knew he was a weak student, but did not realize how weak he really was. His advisor was concerned that TJ could barely write a declarative sentence. He had minimal study skills and was deficient in reading, writing and mathematics. It was recommended that he go to a local community college and take some basic remedial courses to strengthen his basic skills.

Needless to say, TJ was devastated. Upon closer evaluation, it was evident that TJ was set up for failure. Had he been held accountable in high school and given the extra help he needed, he might have been better prepared academically to succeed in his first semester as a college student. Had he been confronted about his drinking before the DWI, he might have kept his football scholarship.

Right now, he's struggling. He feels like such a failure. His story did not have to play out this way, if people in his life responded differently. He is a determined young man who I am confident will get his life back on track.

As the new school year begins, let's protect all the TJ's out there from walking down the wrong road.