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Strong relationships vital to education

By Tamara Uselman, School Superintendent

"He impacted my life when I was in junior high". A complete stranger, obviously bereft, told me this before a memorial service this weekend. "I had to come to say goodbye. It's been thirty years since I've seen him; he shaped my whole adult life." During the service, several people offered testimonials both publically and one-to-one. A compelling story was told by a man in his mid-thirties. Quietly, calmly, he spoke, "I made a major life mistake in ninth grade, a major life mistake. He disciplined me hard and then he took me by the hand and led me back to where I could respect myself. Had he not done that, I would've been lost."

Standing there, in that tent under the rain, I remembered school is about so much more than test scores.

Though test scores are an important measure of our work and I believe our work should be measured, I'm dubious anyone anywhere will ever say, "I will never forget this person because my MCA score was raised three points by him or her" or "I went from a 31 to a 34 on the ACT because of him or her."

First, once you are a grown up, nobody cares what your test scores were; you must find something else to talk about; and second, maybe what is of greatest importance simply can't be measured. Relationships are that important. Strong positive ones can shape a person's entire life, according to the people who knew and loved Ert Jones-Hermerding. Ert was a man like no other. Ert will be deeply missed.

Strong relationships are vital. Building and maintaining those relationships involves more than one way communication from the school; we know that. Our principals and staff are looking forward to two-way communication with children and families. Our schools will be a place where families feel welcome, children feel cared for and experience appropriate academic challenges, and where community members without children in school know we need and value their support. We won't be perfect in our attempt yet we are committed to continuous improvement in relationship building.

An important message to communicate involves preparing for the school year. Families with preschool and primary school children can impact successful beginnings now by setting bed times and wake up times in a school-like pattern. That helps the little ones stay awake and tuned in during what is, at first, a very long school day.

For middle school children, sleep patterns are important, too. Another step that helps middle schoolers find success is family conversations about expectations for studying, household chores, and expected behaviors during the school year. That conversation holds more power than a parent may guess. Many bad habits never form because the ground rules were clear, because the conversation took place ahead of time.

For high schoolers, good sleep schedules are critical. Teenagers will short themselves on sleep as a matter of practice. Their lives are extraordinarily busy: family and church time, challenging curricula, work schedules, extra-curricular activities all compete for the teen's time. Set the sleep expectation early. In terms of school work, now it the time to tightly tie school work and grades to the conversations about post-secondary options and plans. Helping your teen see the link between doing geometry and becoming a ___ (fill in the blank) is important. The wisdom parents and grandparents bring to the table, is, like the relationships mentioned above, immeasurable in value. Teens have not been around long enough to develop the kind of wisdom that Mother Nature and Father Time teach us all. Therefore, the conversation prior to school along with being ready to "take by the hand and guide back" when mistakes happen matters much to a teen's success now and to his or her entire adult life.

Finally, please feel welcome to stop in at our Open House, Tuesday, September 1, 4 to 6 p.m. In addition to typical Open House events, parents will learn to use the Infinite Campus parent portal for access to grades, attendance, food service bills, etc.

Regardless of whether you have children in school or not, we need your support to do our jobs well. And you need children, who as successful adults can look back at their school experience to realize it shaped an entire life. Building relationships, communicating clearly, and working through challenges - let's commit to working on it together.