Peggy Pozzuto, mother of five – and a tutor, substitute teacher and active parent leader in the West Seneca schools – has the following advice for teachers, students and parents preparing for the new school year:
• For teachers: As a parent, please make our children accountable. It’s OK to take late work and deduct points without failing them, but their knowing there are no consequences makes our job as parents impossible.
• For those starting college: What I said to my daughter (Sarah, 18, a freshman at Canisius College) is, make the most of every opportunity. Really enjoy this time because you only get this chance once. You can switch jobs, you can switch houses, but you can’t go back to your freshman year in college. I texted her after she moved on-campus and said, ‘Make sure you don’t overextend yourself, but really go out of your way to enjoy what you’re doing.’
• For parents of new high school students: Make your students take ownership of their grades. Make them check the parent portal. When you start doing it, they just back off and you become kind of the student again.
And you can only give your kids advice and guidance; you can’t want it for them. I tell my son all the time, “You have to want the 95.”
• For high school students: Don’t let assignments get ahead of you. Playing catch-up is 10 times harder than doing the work the first time. The second thing kids should realize is stay involved in school clubs, sports, volunteer. You need to be a member of the school community. When you make these connections, I think your days just feel fulfilled. When you’re an observer, you have no connection.
You have to find something you’re interested in. That’s how you find your friends, how you find your niche. Force yourself. Join something.
• For middle schoolers: Their main focus should be finding new friends, because you’re being corralled in from different places. Extend yourself. Make people accept you for yourself.
A lot of middle schoolers tend to reinvent themselves into something they think other kids want them to be. They’re not true to themselves, and then they can become really unhappy.
Try something new. And a really big thing is to stay organized. This is the first experience with multiple teachers. They really need to focus because there’s not the same somebody guiding their every play every period. There’s different expectations, so you really need to focus.
• For primary grades: All elementary school kids should make a new friend the first day of school. And be kind to the new kids. It’s really important to show empathy because you never know if you’re going to make or break somebody, ever, every day of your life.
I tell that to my kids all the time: “Your smile might be what brings them up; your nasty look must be what breaks them down.”
Eat all of your lunch. Smile every day. Ask lots of questions and know that’s everybody who’s in that building cares, because they chose to be there.
• Practical ideas: Visit school before the first day and find the child’s classroom. … They’ve got to know when they get off the bus what the route is to their classroom. It takes away so much anxiety from them.
Middle schools allow the kids to come in and out and check their locker, work with it, set up their locker, and then it’s not a huge hurdle for them. They can start the school year confident.
Pack everything the night before, except the lunches. Looking for your sneakers and your calculator when the bus is coming down the street is extremely stressful. And know what you’re wearing before you go to bed.
And the night before school, they have to have their school supply list – we’ve already purchased everything – and they have to write their name on everything. I used to do it. Now, they all have to do it themselves. They have to check it all off and highlight or circle anything that they’re missing. I’ve learned. With the first one, everything was in my handwriting. Not anymore.
Keep a sweater in the little one’s locker, and write your name on everything from pencils to shoes.
• Read: Reading is the key to school success. The more exposure to reading, the more kids can make connections, build vocabulary, analyze, infer, predict, apply knowledge. Those are the results of everyday reading. You definitely can tell the kids who read every day.
• Homework: No headphones, computers or TVs during homework time. Or texting. They’re a complete distraction.
• Most importantly: And my biggest thing, and this is my mantra to my children: “Make good choices.” I say that to them every time they leave my sight. I say that and “You can make or break someone’s day” more than anything else.