The school year is well under way. It is coming close to the end of the first six weeks and that means that report cards will be coming home soon. This leads way to plenty of mixed feelings among students and parents alike. It can be a time of elation, frustration, pride, shame, and even indifference. For many students it weighs heavy on their self-worth and instead of creating a healthy competition within their self, it becomes a competition with their classmates or siblings-usually unconscious and unspoken. Judgments are formed, consequences or rewards are given, and a student's feelings may begin to give way to behaviors that parents and teachers find puzzling. Now this certainly does not apply to all students, but it does apply to many. The report card is a piece of paper with numbers and letters on it that attempts to define, categorize, and conform students with a calculation of how the student interprets and retains information.
A report card is only a report of someone's perception of a student's performance according to standards that someone else put in writing. In the big picture it doesn't account for the student's character, morals, strengths, dreams, beliefs, and ability to handle emotions. So what can a parent look at in a report card? The report card can be used as a tool to open up communication with the student and the school. It can indicate so much more than school performance if the parent, teacher, and school are aware. Possibly a student's grades are an indication of stress they may be feeling, whether it is pressure to achieve "good" grades to prove they are a "good kid" or stress of the shame of being a disappointment if the grades are "bad." There are students whose basic needs are not being met that are more concerned with the hunger they are feeling or are fearful of what things are going to be like in their house tonight, so school subjects and grades are not high in importance. Some students that I talk with are bullied, ignored, or feeling very alone and spend their school day either in fear or deeply saddened. These students may have report cards with grades indicating something much deeper than what is on paper.
It is important for a parent or caregiver to be involved with the school and the student's teacher. Is the student being taught in such a way that he/she is able to comprehend and grasp the subject? Children and young adults are innately curious, creative, joyful beings that crave knowledge, exploration, and challenge to grow and learn. Is their classroom a space where they can express themselves as the individual they are and experiencing learning in a way they can flourish? As a parent or caregiver, be involved with the school if the student has an Individualized Education Plan to ensure the plan is being followed and the necessary changes are being made as the student changes and progresses. Advocating for your child or young adult can help make school into the rewarding experience it should be. How students are supported in their learning experience can make an invaluable difference in their success.
Behavioral pediatrician, Claudia M. Gold, states that when she has a parent ask if there is "something wrong" with their child, she helps them reframe the question by asking, "What is his/her experience of the world, and how can we help him/her to make sense of and manage that unique experience?" She states that she has seen children and young adults that were "explosive" and "inflexible" and "They were easily overwhelmed by a variety of sensory experiences, but in the setting of an understanding and supportive environment, they have gone on to be talented actors, musicians, and artists."
So as the school year unfolds and the report cards are given, let's look at how we as adults and caregivers are supporting and nurturing the unique experiences of children and young adults in all avenues of their lives and not only in school. Keep the big picture in mind, because the report card can also be a reflection on us.
Frankie Johnson, LSW, is a therapist with Family Services of Warren County, a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups to individuals, couples, and families. Help Family Services reach 200 "likes" on Facebook by October 31. Just like its page at www.facebook.com/fswcinc and invite your friends and family to do the same.