High school success may require a parental nudge now and then

Roswell High School graduates prepare for their next chapter after receiving their diplomas. What do students need to get to this happy moment? (Courtesy of Fulton County Schools)

Credit: Fulton County Schools

Credit: Fulton County Schools

Roswell High School graduates prepare for their next chapter after receiving their diplomas. What do students need to get to this happy moment? (Courtesy of Fulton County Schools)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asks metro Atlanta valedictorians each year to share their best advice for teens starting out in high school. Looking back on the many responses over the last five years, I saw a lot of tips that began with “Always.”

“Always be unapologetically you.”

“Always be willing to go the extra mile.”

“Always get enough sleep.”

“Always make time for friends and fun.”

There were also a lot of “Nevers.”

Never lose sight of your goals.”

“Never give up.”

“Never be afraid of a new challenge.”

“Never put assignments, readings and projects off to the very last minute.”

High school kids who follow these recommendations from older and successful peers will do well, but here’s some additional advice for parents sending children off to high school.

First off, high school grades do matter, especially if a student’s endgame is a University of Georgia or a Georgia Tech. Yes, teens can earn admission to a top campus on the basis of athletic prowess, but fewer than parents and students believe. Athletic scholarships are offered to less than 2% of high school student-athletes with plans to go to college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Excelling on the field overcomes mediocre classroom performance for only a sliver of high school sports stars.

Another reality: Teachers cannot be responsible for combating the escalating teen attachment to smartphones. Teachers throughout the world are now complaining about students being distracted by cellphones in class and parents adamant that the phones are necessary in the event of an emergency. (It’s hard to think of a classroom emergency that could only be resolved by a 15-year-old with a cellphone.) Parents cannot make cellphone dependency the school’s problem to correct.

Parents ought to show up at school events and volunteer. The resulting informal conversations with teachers and other parents while sitting at a PTA meeting or setting up for a homecoming dance offer insights into the optimal classes, the most rewarding extracurriculars and the college application process.

An adult ally in the building can enrich a child’s experience. If a ninth grader connects with a teacher, counselor or administrator, try to build on that relationship as high schools can be bureaucratic thickets. It’s beneficial to develop an advocate who can clear a path through the underbrush or just point teens in the right direction.

For instance, an adult in the building aware of which colleges are on a student’s wish list might advise whether those campuses prefer AP classes on a high school transcript or dual enrollment. They can alert students considering a career in nursing about a new Saturday morning internship starting with a local hospital. (Yes, guidance counselors can also do this, but they can’t look out for every student’s best interest with ratios of one counselor per 450 kids.)

Speaking of internships, pay attention to hallway bulletin boards, email announcements and news from the counseling office. That’s often where students and parents can learn about interesting clubs, work-study opportunities or tutoring sessions.

Take deadlines seriously even if your children don’t. Students now enjoy expanded leeway with many classroom deadlines so it’s understandable they may assume a Friday due date extends to early the following week. But many college applications, scholarship and honors program deadlines aren’t flexible, and kids can squander opportunities if they submit material two days late.

Find out where and how to get help in your school, including academic assistance, counseling and college and career guidance. And teach your children the importance of asking for help. A social studies teacher told me the valedictorians at his school weren’t always the students quickest to catch on; they were, however, the most willing to stop him after class to ask questions and seek clarification.

This is a lifelong skill, one that we spend too little time fostering in children. At the college level, 28% of students in the 2022 national College Pulse survey reported they never took advantage of the office hours held by their professors, and 40% said they only went once or twice a semester.

The goal of parents shouldn’t be to lead their child through high school by the hand, but to provide a nudge when needed.