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  • Ten Perfect Gifts

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    The forecasts for our public schools have been cloudy lately.  That’s not much of a forecast.  That’s more like sticking your head out the window, getting all wet, and declaring to everyone inside that, “Yup, it’s gonna rain today.”

    Well done, eh?

    But while the education forecast remains a significant bone of contention to political forces on all sides, there is indeed a gift we can all give, whether we have kids in school or not.  And more importantly, these gifts can unite the common passions of conservatives, liberals, progressives, and moderates and pretty much everyone except the Grinch and Scrooge.  
    Consider giving one or more of these 10 simple gifts.  And while these are not in any priority order, we really can make a real difference this holiday season; a difference that can last for years.   At least these gifts promise something a little more cerebral than sticking our heads out the window to check the temperature…or into the sand to hide from one another.  Ready?  Here we go:
    1. Ensure that every child has a healthy breakfast.  Yes, a properly fed child performs better; in both life and in school.  We can all find some way to get good food to a needy child.
    2. Ensure that every child gets proper rest and sleep.  Even 20 minutes more sleep an evening makes a big statistical difference in classroom performance.  And all of us could help enable a little more peace and quiet in our neck of the woods couldn’t we, especially during school nights? 
    3. Expect high expectations and goals for all children.  If we expect less, we get less.  How can we do that?  Why not work within your community or local schools to support high standards in programs and activities, whether during or after school, that can impact every child?  Yes, as adults, our high expectations for our youth really do matter, and children will notice and respond.
    4. Understand that homework time is a sacred time.  What can you do to ensure high-quality study time?  As a parent, protect this vital space.  As a community member, volunteer to be a tutor or support other study times with your own expertise.  We all can be assets if we are willing!   
    5. Communicate with teachers.  If it's your children, let teachers know what personality traits make them different or resonate with them.  But any of us could share insights about what makes our neighborhoods special or different.  Work with teachers as a volunteer in classrooms or any school activities.  Be a chaperone on field trips, athletic events or coach extra-curricular clubs or sports.  Our opportunities to communicate are only limited by our imagination and willingness to engage.  But we can all do something.  And we should. 
    6. Respect a child’s goals and objectives from his or her perspective.  If it’s your son or daughter, maybe have him or her write them down and post them for all to see.  Help him or her celebrate goal achievement; encourage kids who have the courage to publicly list their goals.  That’s awesome!  All of us, however, can be good listeners and support students when the opportunity presents.  Goals are cool, important and fundamentally related to increased student achievement results. 
    7. Understand that every student will fail at something.  It might be a test, a class subject, an extracurricular activity, or a troubled friendship.  Regardless, we all will run across a troubled kid now and then, and you never know when even a slight acknowledgment or encouraging word might be just the thing he or she needs to hear. 
    8. Support extracurricular activity.  It really doesn’t matter what it is: sports, clubs, robotics, internships, chess, band, whatever.  Empty nesters, find some time to engage yourself in these activities to support your local school.  You’ll have more fun than you think.  And, extracurricular activity has a robust, positive effect on classroom performance. So for my neighbor a few years back, that complained about the sound of the high school band practice before school started, well, I wish you could have heard that glorious sound through my ears.  Your frown would be a smile, your angst would be a celebration that your choice to live near a school can have some pretty awesome side benefits!
    9. Commit to being a leader … so lead!  Get involved!  School community groups abound, from school PTA to municipal, to county to statewide activities.  My daughter is involved in 4H and let me tell you, it keeps us busy.  But it is a GREAT busy.  What an amazing transition I’ve seen in my daughter’s confidence and sense of responsibility.   Even better, our whole community is supportive of 4H and many neighbors have gotten involved.  Perfect.
    10. Engage.  Everyone, do you get the real theme here?  We can all improve our public schools by one great gift; pledge some of your precious time.  This holiday season we can celebrate all year, and all life, by giving a little of our time.  How much time?  Oh, how about all you can spare, and one hour more a week.  
    Happy Holidays everyone!  And remember, it truly is better to give than to receive when it comes to public education!  
    Oh, and what about the Grinch and Scrooge?  Well, as Arizona Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians says about making poor decisions, “Don’t be that guy!”  

    NOTE: Dick Foreman is president & CEO of ABEC.  To contact, please send him an e-mail.
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