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Exploring Ways to Develop Successful Students

By Kate Rogers, Special to the Independent

Educational consultant Cindy Muchnick described practical can-do philosophies for parents to put into practice as they support their kids through high school during last week’s PTA-sponsored parent seminar, Coffee Break.

She was preceded by high school Principal Joanne Culverhouse, who introduced Naviance, an online college search service provided by the high school.

Meanwhile, Muchnick, an author, former college admissions counselor and mother of four, launched into her own divergent philosophy: stay focused on the business of high school. She warned that the college search can become a “huge distraction” from the hard work needed in high school to attain the prize of college and personal freedom.

She describes high school as a student’s “job,” along with the responsibility to serve the interests of six to eight teacher bosses. GPA should not be a gauge success as much as the more subjective goal of how one is doing at the job, she said. Pressing for the highest GPA adds unnecessary and unproductive stress to kids’ lives, she said.

As a college admissions counselor, Muchnick said student evaluations go beyond transcripts and GPA, and offered specific recommendations to parents:

Get kids to agree to sit in the first three rows of class for life.

Urge students to take advantage of extra credit, which she described as “free money.”  Don’t leave it on the table.

Create a study space at home free from distractions.

Challenge kids to develop relationships with their teachers outside of class.

To befriend upper classmen; learn the ropes through their experience.

Be a joiner or a leader.  Parents can help brain-storm club ideas.  One Laguna student had an obsession with Etch-A-Sketch, turned it into a club, then into a philanthropic mission and finally a killer college essay.

For serious athletes, suggest backing off one practice a week to provide a “gift of sanity”. Use an academic explanation with upset coaches. Have kids handle it.

Encourage kids to get a job, to avoid an entitled, indulged attitude. The job should be for money, require an application and be typical student work. It shouldn’t be working for family or friends. Work is also valued by colleges.

Suggest kids volunteer at something they enjoy, like teaching kids in the neighborhood.  Often, volunteer work leads to an actual paying job.

Spend summers wisely. This is evaluated by colleges. See Camps.com.

Find and pursue passions; be honest whether passion is kids or parents.

Muchnick urged parents to be realistic, supportive and non-judgmental. Her stance as an advocate and supporter felt like a reasonable, useful and attainable goal among the parents in the room.

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