Graduation Matters: How parents can help

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Graduation Matters initiative is a statewide effort to reduce the dropout rate that must originate in the home. Though the issue is being viewed and approached from the perspectives of the school system, the student and the community, the path to graduation begins at home with parents who care.

What can parents do to put their children on the road to graduation? It takes more than just getting the kids off to school with a good breakfast and a pat on the head. Those things are important but not as important as becoming involved in every aspect of the education process. Parent and family involvement is the most important thing when it comes to getting diplomas into the hands of students, according to R-5 superintendent Dr. David Stephens.

One local family that is very involved in education is the Geeding family. Tom and Brenda Geeding have three children in the R-5 district. Michael is in the sixth grade, Nick is in the eighth and Michele is a senior. The Geedings are both educators and that certainly has an influence on their children, but the main reason they are so involved in their education is because "We love them," Tom said.

One of the rules at the Geeding house is that homework comes first. "They have to get their homework done before they're allowed to do anything else," in the afternoon, Brenda said. And that's not easy sometimes with all the activities the kids are into. But the extra curricular activities are encouraged. "Staying interested in what the kids are interested in," helps keep the family close together, Tom said, but you have to have a balance too!

The Geedings not only attend all the band concerts and games and special events their children are part of, but also make all the parent/teacher meetings and conferences and stay informed as to what is going on with each child. "We put a lot out, we expect a lot back; not for us but for them," said Tom. Parents need to participate in their child's education, that's the bottom line.

Not every family is like the Geedings. In fact most of them are not like them. Many parents struggle to keep their children in school. The reasons for struggling vary, but one of the common reasons is being a single parent. Divorce often has far reaching effects that aren't immediately apparent.

Before Debbie Swait got a divorce, she thought her family was the typical American family. Happily married, one boy and one girl and "both of them did everything at school." And then it all changed and she found herself trying to raise two kids on her own.

She struggled to make ends meet and the effects of the divorce could be seen in the children. They stopped participating in extra curricular activities and her son became harder to handle. He finally dropped out of school. Once he was 16 he knew there was nothing his mother or the school could do about him quitting.

By the time her daughter got into high school Debbie had changed. "All the way around my parenting was different," said Swait. She said she could have been more proactive in her daughter's education, but that her "daughter saw the effects of dropping out on her brother and decided she had no choice but to graduate. And she did!

"We all saw what it did to Josh -- it created a hardship on him," Swait said. "I wish he would have graduated; I think he wishes he would have graduated." She said parents, whether they are single or not, should encourage their kids to participate in activities at school and that parents should be involved. Involvement is the key to keeping kids in school.

It is interesting to note that the R-5 district has a higher graduation rate than some of the surrounding districts and that may be because the "parent participation is excellent in the R-5 district," according to Tom Geeding who is also a counselor at the Nevada high school. Parents of R-5 students have a variety of tools to use in being an active participant in their child's education.

Aside from the telephone, one of the most valuable assets parents can utilize is the school's Web site at www.nevada.k12. It has several resources on it that parents will find useful. One of them is the parent portal tool and Parent Link, which gives parents access to a student's grades, homework, attendance, lunch account and similar information. It is all confidential and requires parents to have a password to gain access to their child's information. School reach is another good tool and so is the e-mail system.

Geeding says that most parents are using e-mail for school contact and it works very well. If a student is having a problem, a parent can contact the teacher directly through the e-mail system. The individual teacher is the first point of contact in resolving any issue a student may have and further action can be decided from that point.

All of the R-5 educators play a role in keeping children in school until the graduate, but Graduation Matters is a community effort with the goal of lowering the dropout rate and improving the community. The endeavor will include the efforts of local businesses, civic groups and public agencies all working together. That will be the topic of next week's installment of Graduation Matters to us all.

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