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Nobody rises to low expectations; set bar high for children

A child upon whom there are low or no expectations is a rudderless ship. She casts about her life with no sense of purpose or direction. If his parents don’t help him navigate, he may accomplish little or find someone else to give his life direction. Many times, that someone else might be a peer or gang member who won’t have your child’s best interest at heart.

Our job as parents and teachers is to set high expectations for our children so they can succeed in life. How do we set high goals for our children? I found that telling my teenagers anything directly was usually met with resistance and excuses about why they did not need to do it. Then, I remembered that my parents never said things like, “You will go to college!” Instead their expectations were implied.

My mother always spoke of how college was the best time in her life. My father said, “You and your sister argue so much, you should be lawyers.” But the most important message always was to do our best. And that was communicated by the way they took the time to give us direction.

My first-quarter grades in high school were mediocre at best. And while I put up the usual teenage tears and resistance, my father sat down with me and showed me how he learned to study for tests: take notes in class, outline the important points from your notes, and study those. This method carried me through high school, college and into my professional work. He took the time, he held firm, and this in turn let me know what was valued in our family.

Success and happiness lie in setting standards for family members. Parents teach children what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior: dress up for church, television off during dinner, homework must be done, cellphones given to Mom or Dad at bedtime. Is this old-fashioned? I don’t think so.

Children crave structure. When they are young, they want to know how to please adults; when they are teens, they want to know where the boundaries are, so they can abide by them or choose to cross them and suffer the consequences. I substitute-taught for a few years when I first started out. I learned that supervising a kindergarten class without following the established daily routine was like herding cats. By second grade, the students were not shy about telling me what came next or what I’d not done in the way their regular teacher did. By junior high, children needed more latitude; they wanted to be listened to, and to be given options and avenues for their creativity, but they still needed firm guidance in order to know how to direct their energy.

High school is the perfect time for children to focus on their goals for the future, and a parent is their sounding board as they navigate what might be the best direction to take. A four-year college is not for everyone, nor should it be. We all come into this world with different interests, aptitudes and strengths.

In McHenry County, there are multiple avenues for students to explore possible career choices, but they can only do this if they are enrolled and attending school. Those who choose to drop out lose this opportunity and are truly cast adrift. The minimum expectation for any child must be to graduate from high school. Why?

Many young adults come to the Regional Office of Education to register for the GED test because they cannot get hired for even the most basic job without the GED certificate or a high school diploma. The GED is not regarded as highly by employers as a high school diploma. The current cost to take the GED test is $50, and this cost will more than double in 2013 when the GED will only be offered online. Additionally, your child will miss out on all the significant events that coincide with being enrolled in high school.

All of the high schools in McHenry County offer programs and pathways of study that will lead students to the career path of their choice. High school offerings lead to post-secondary community college programs, where the student can earn an associate degree and/or industry-based certification. Both of these may then lead to a career or four-year college degree. The career pathways available in McHenry County schools include agriculture science, automotive tech, construction/trade skills, advanced standing in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), culinary arts, CAD/drafting, accounting, finance, management, cosmetology and the computer sciences.

McHenry County College also offers technical classes to McHenry County high school juniors and seniors. There are programs for automotive technology, early childhood education, fire science and emergency medical technicians, criminal justice, fitness instructor training, nurse assistant, robotics, web development and culinary management.

It is not always clear which decisions to make and which to enforce, but we cannot leave our children drifting rudderless in the sea of this chaotic world. We have to do our best, even when we may be too tired to stay the course.

• Leslie Schermerhorn is regional superintendent of McHenry County schools.

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