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Parents Should Prepare Early for Children’s Future

February 22, 2012
By HEATHER ZIEGLER - Associate City Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

What has been termed "the best years of our lives" also are often the busiest when it comes to parents preparing their children for college.

Even before a child steps inside a kindergarten classroom, parents are encouraged to begin laying the foundation for their child's higher education needs. Financial experts recommend starting a college savings plan at birth for when the child will head off to college 18 years later.

A savings of even $50 a month will put a dent in some of the up-front financial needs of college-bound students.

Educators suggest that parents can play a key role in their child's academic success by encouraging good study habits and being involved in the child's scholastic endeavors from kindergarten through high school. And that may mean a look through the book bag and checking homework assignments each and every day. Using services such as Edline to keep tabs on youngsters' progress also is a good idea.

Parents also can set good examples through their work ethic and volunteer work.

When it comes to college, the college application process may focus on grades, but many universities also look at a student's volunteer and community work as determining factors in acceptance into the school.

Fact Box

Q: How do parents get kids ready for college?

A: By starting early with college savings plans, and then working and encouraging children to do their best. Visiting a college campus in middle school also can help take away some of the mystery of college.

College preparations must begin in middle school, experts contend. By the eighth grade, a college-bound student should have Algebra 1 under his or her belt. And from ninth through 11th grades, a student should be studying a history, geometry, geography and science class every year.

In high school, the guidance counselor should be consulted and students should be encouraged to ask questions about college applications, financial aid, admission testing and other issues regarding the selection of a college. Technical and business schools also are a good choice for some students whose talents lean in those fields.

Judy Stechly, Ph.D., an associate professor of elementary education at West Liberty University, is familiar with preparing students both before college and once they are in the college classroom. She is the mother of two college graduates and has been an educator for more than 30 years. She is the former principal of Wheeling Catholic Elementary.

Stechly said in the local region, many first-generation college-bound youngsters need to be exposed to the college experience long before they are seniors in high school. She said at West Liberty, the university invites middle school students to visit the campus and see firsthand what college life is all about.

"Many of these kids maybe would never see a college without these visits," Stechly offered. "It's so important for them to be exposed to the campus and the idea of college."

She also believes that parental involvement is key to a child's academic success. That means consistent and closer contact between teachers and parents, not just at the elementary school level, but through middle and high school as well.

"With the Internet and emails, I think it is there for teachers and parents to connect," Stechly said. "Even with the kids who are doing everything right, it's still important for parents to have that connection with the school and the teachers."

Campus visits at any age are welcome and take the mystery out of the higher education system, she added.

When students actually enter college for the first time, Stechly said she works with her pupils and counsels them in proper time management to help them better utilize their schedules.

"In high school, they go to class and typically do homework at night. In college, the nights come alive with distractions and activities so it's important for students to make the most of their days for getting their work done.

"They have to have good study habits long before they get to college. They have to be able to make the decision to walk over to the library when they need a quiet place to study," she said.

There are many tools available for parents and students to prepare for college. The U.S. Department of Education offers these suggestions as well:

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