Prevention Preferred

09/03/2009  |  JEAN P. HAGUE, M.A., CEP

In the medical profession, one advocates preventive care in order to alleviate or reduce major health issues. Just as in medicine, educators recommend attention to learning or emotional issues before they escalate and are in need of major repair.

Early Childhood Challenge

As children enter preschool and kindergarten, some can already read, while others cannot even hold a pencil. Emotionally, some have a difficult time with separation from parents and sit in the corner rather than play on the swings or talk with other children.

Psychologists claim that by the time that a child is in fourth grade they have stabilized, and that there is normally a high correlation between performance at this grade level, and where they are projected to be in 10th grade.

Bright young children can listen in the classroom and do well until approximately sixth or seventh grade, when the work is more demanding and they begin to study foreign language and be introduced to algebraic concepts. Others have struggled since second or third grade because of auditory processing deficits, dyslexia or other learning issues. These children now face overwhelming odds of being successful.

Middle School Challenge

If school challenges are present, and intervention has not already taken place, this is the time for parents to take action and seek appropriate schools, tutors or programs to smooth the wrinkles in their child’s learning profile which are causing problems. Let me propose an action plan for parents:

  1. Request a school conference with all teachers to understand their comments other than grades.
  2. Schedule a psychoeducational evaluation with a licensed psychologist. Request a follow-up conference for results to be explained in addition to receiving a written report.
  3. Share these results with classroom teachers to derive maximum benefits from testing.
  4. Consider supplemental summer or afterschool programs to minimize deficits. In some cases, the student may need a residential boarding school which caters to the child’s learning needs. This may only be for two years and then the youngster could return to their home school.
  5.  If there are emotional issues because of family issues, adoption, or heredity, seek counseling support for your son or daughter immediately. Counselors associated with the family church may be the answer, or you may seek referrals from others. Middle school is the most appropriate time for intervention.

High School Challenge

Competitiveness and high standards face students entering grade nine. Already some have completed two years of foreign language and algebra I, and they are on the faster track for college admission. These students will have the option of taking several advanced placement courses in high school. Others may have to take pre-algebra again in grade nine, or not be allowed to begin their language studies. They can still prepare for college but not for selective institutions. Once again, early intervention may have prevented students from falling behind their peers.

Educators also are extremely important in noticing deficiencies that youngsters may have as early as kindergarten or first grade. Some teachers may choose to ignore the red flags and others may jump to conclusions, which may or may not be accurate. These conclusions may indicate to parents that the youngster has a reading problem, has ADD or needs to take Ritalin.

My belief is that caution needs to be taken by those in the classroom in order to prevent assumptions being made by the student and family. More than one student has said to me, “My first grade teacher told me I would never learn to read, therefore, I never tried.” The students I am referring to were in high school, and had believed that they could never learn to read since their early years in school. Classroom teachers also see the emotional baggage that some students may be carrying and can be very helpful to the families by raising questions and expressing concerns. Once again, my refrain here is prevention preferred rather than treatment.

College Arena

Once students enter college or pursue other post-secondary options they are very much on their own and must seek assistance for themselves. Many resources are available, but college students are usually hesitant to request assistance, resulting in many students failing as they take their first steps after high school. Issues of young adulthood could have been addressed earlier in their lives and could have prevented conflicts with college curriculum, training programs, employers or even a spouse.

In addition to academic challenges, today’s youth are faced with societal issues regarding drugs, technology, divorce and so forth. These may also be the reasons for students having difficulty at home and at school. Prevention includes being prepared to take charge of your life and becoming independent. In the past several years, programs have developed throughout the country for those age 18-25, who cannot cope with their independence. Many have never had a job or had to be accountable to anyone. This does say something about fostering dependence and not promoting independence. One of my favorite quotes is the following: “The goal of parents is to give wings to allow children to fly.”

My message is clear to parents and educators. Try to arrive at answers early in order to prevent later failures or perhaps disasters. Having counseled hundreds of children provides the basis for my conviction.

Jean Hague offers counsel to families seeking educational recommendations for their children. Her focus is on middle school through college, and she bases this as a former teacher, counselor, and college and school administrator. Jean holds an M.A. degree and Specialist Degree in Guidance and Counseling from Columbia University, and has been in private practice for 30 years. She is an active member of several professional organizations including IECA, SSATB, SACAC, NACAC, and is an Emeritus Trustee of the IECA Foundation.
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