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Advice for Parents of Struggling Students

by Stephanie Farrell

We are rounding the bend for the last lap of a strange school year, one that has been a mix for students and teachers alike. It’s certainly a mix in the types of schooling—completely virtual, hybrid, and some fully in person. Though many students have managed well; for others, school online has been challenging. Here is some advice for parents of struggling students.

“My heart really goes out to parents whose kids need the routine of a classroom and the structure of each day,” says Candice Bongiorno, mom to two Vineland students.

Though her girls have done well, she knows it is not the case for everyone. “The class is shortened,” she notes.” Sometimes the Wi-Fi is down. There can be things beyond your control, like parents who have to work. A younger child needs more attention. Sometimes classes are going on at the same time.”

Her best advice is to reach out to the teacher first. Parents can review their children’s grades, check assignments, and see if kids are logging in: “A lot of teachers send “Remind” messages or post in Google Classroom,” she says. “If they’re struggling, give kids words to ask for help. You can also advocate for your child. We as

parents have to do a better job of partnering with the teachers and to build on those strengths your children have.”

Bongiorno says the school guidance counselor can help parents tap into The Family Success Center, virtual support groups, and tutors: “Schools also have social workers. School websites have information about online tutoring and even support groups for parents. People might feel like they’re failing, but you’re not if you are reaching out to others who can help.”

Her kids’ school year has been better than expected with her girls being organized, often getting work done ahead of time. “I was surprised in a good way,” says Bongiorno, who is working from home. Mia, 13, has been a virtual seventh grader at Pilla Middle School. Alex, 18, is graduating this year from Vineland High School and has been on the hybrid schedule.

“Their teachers have been awesome,” Bongiorno notes. “I hear my kids participating. I hear the teachers engaging. Alex has never been as close with her teachers.”

Bongiorno feels her girls have a good work ethic and know to ask for help when they need it: “The pandemic has been hard on everybody. We’re all struggling, but I don’t want to overlook the good that came out of it.”

Tara Giblin, a second grade teacher at Durand Elementary School, is teaching virtually full-time this year. She shares her key advice about schooling from home: “I made sure they had structure. They were not in bed. There had to be a set place for school, for their materials. We did this right from the beginning because we knew it was for the year.” The benefit for her students is to have the continuity of the same teacher and the same schedule. “This is a choice the parents made,” she notes.

Giblin’s students are doing well, but she offers tips for struggling students: “The teacher is the first stop. I’m there a full day. If there are any questions or concerns, I know for myself, I am available.”

To build skills, Giblin stresses reading: “For parents, make it very intentional in their learning. Pick a book and read with them. Ask them those deeper questions. Put yourself in the story. What would you do?”

Giblin recommends Epic, a free online program. “They can choose books that are a good fit for them,” she advises. “They can answer questions and get points. It makes it fun for them.”

Storyline Online, which has celebrities read, and Just Books Read Aloud are additional sites. For math, Giblin likes “It’s not just multiplication. You can play games. It covers money, time, addition, subtraction. It has flashcards that I use daily with my kids.”

She uses journaling for writing skills: “Get them a composition book from a dollar store. Write daily. This is what happened in my life. It’s a way to process through this.” She also says Stockton Virtual Homework Tutors offers free tutoring.

Teachers are working harder than ever, Giblin says. We want to “make it as seamless as possible. We are always involving the families.” The benefits have been getting to know each other better. “The sweetest thing is when a little girl brought her grandmom to show and tell.”

Cumberland Christian School was able to have full-time, in-person school, which most students chose. They also offered hybrid and fully virtual options. Sue Howard, who teaches 11th grade English and Advanced Placement (AP) English, has experienced all three this year.

“Virtual schooling works best if they’re motivated,” says Howard. “School is still your priority. Even if parents are not home during the day, they need to be aware of what the kids are doing and not doing.”

Howard says some students just do better in the structure of a classroom. If that’s not an option, Howard says parents need to be more involved.

“It’s on the teacher too,” she says. If I have a student not turning in work, I send a message to the student and a message to the parent if assignments are missing or if the student’s grade is dropping.” Good student skills are as important as ever: “Make the most of the education you have. Take notes. Do your assignments. Show up to the Google Meets and the Zoom classes. Maximize it.”

For additional help, Howard suggests Khan Academy. “It’s a free [online] K-12 academy. You can take classes on it, individual lessons, and practice work. It has multiple subject lessons. It also offers AP Prep and SAT prep.”

It can be used to learn new skills and to review: “AP students can find info on AP Classroom. They make six- to seven-minute daily videos. I checked AP English and they’re also all on YouTube.”

It may look like a mixed-up school year, but the good news is that heading down this final stretch, there are many resources to help struggling students finish strong.