CEG dates for the upcoming school year

It’s amazing! The school year rapidly approaches and we thought we’d better put up our upcoming blackout dates. Please keep in mind that you are allowed to take up to three weeks off of tutoring per school year outside, or if you choose to, within, the following dates without payment penalty. Beyond that and sick days, you will be charged the hourly rate for missed sessions. Those three weeks need to be taken in blocks of not less than a week at a time, and we need to be informed ahead of time. In other words, if your child is scheduled Mondays and Fridays for an hour, you can’t take off Mondays and Fridays for two weeks here, and four weeks there, and count that because it is only ten missed tutoring days. Please understand that we have to plan as any business does for our financial needs and that includes keeping to schedule as much as possible; our vacation policy is generous. Please inform yourself and don’t ask your tutor to make exceptions for anything other than illness and true emergencies such as a death in the family.


August 15-19

September 5 & 22

October 6-7

November 21-25

December 26-30

January 16

February 20

April 3-19

Please put these dates on your calendars, and thank you!





Education, and choice

Seven New Smyrna Beach Senior High School graduates: James R. Davis, Jr. ’71; Dr. William M. Davis, ’73; Kate (Davis) Cumiskey, ’80; Richard V. Davis, ’76; Front Row-John D. Davis, ’79; Carol Ann Davis ’88; USN Commander Philip D. Davis, ’84

As a child, I was educated in the public school system in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Coronado Elementary, Chisholm Seventh Grade Center, New Smyrna Beach Junior High, and New Smyrna Beach Senior High–that’s the list of schools I attended before college. I was also dual-enrolled at Daytona Beach Community College my senior year of high school at the local campus started by my friend Michele Diesen’s mother, Jeannie.

I grew up in a large household, with five brothers and one sister. Both of my parents attended college in Georgia; my father at Georgia Tech, my mother at Georgia State. My mother worked in the guidance office at NSB Senior High; my father was a lead designer at Kennedy Space Center for NASA. Neither of my parents ever expressed the expectation that I would go to college. If I asked them what they wanted for me, the answer was always, “to be happy.”

Although my test scores were high–particularly in reading–and I was identified as a National Merit Scholar my junior year of high school, I was not a very good student. I worked full-time from the age of 14 on, and was a year ahead in school, a year younger than most of my classmates. I was an interested student, if the classes were challenging, a poor student in classes which taught me nothing new. My goal was to graduate, marry, and leave the state, which I did as rapidly as possible after high school. But, in the end, my home environment and education served me very well. I eventually earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Florida–an excellent school at that time, and one of the top ten schools for exceptional student education in the nation–then a Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina. All six of my siblings have higher degrees; three of us terminal degrees in our chosen fields of study. Every single one of us chose public service. Several are pioneers in their fields–my brother Bill Davis invented a non-intrusive mobile mass-spec lab for environmental field work; my brother John, environmentalist for the Attorney General of New York, successfully brought the largest environmental settlement, ever (N.Y. vs. G.E.) about. My brother Rick was a private first responder after the Haiti earthquake, and stayed three years. My oldest brother, Rusty, left his private psychology practice to respond after Katrina to Biloxi, and never came home. He helped redesign mental health disaster response and is now with FEMA. Yet, we weren’t pushed to college.

I think a lot about how our parents influenced the seven of us to not only pursue higher education, but to choose public service and to be life-long learners.  A large part of it had to do with example. Our parents were always reading. The newspapers, news magazines, novels, anything they could get their hands on. They read to us, constantly, and we all discussed what we were reading around the table at dinner. Grades were important, and discussed–if one of us did poorly in class, our parents worked to find out what the problem was. They knew each of our teachers personally and volunteered at our schools. Our parents helped us with long-term projects and with our homework. They kept a set of encyclopedia at home, and encouraged us to bike to the library frequently. They took the time to discuss world events and conflicts, and to listen to our ideas. If we made an argument,  we were required to support it with evidence. We were required to listen to each other and speak civilly. We were never allowed to fight–not even to wrestle–or to own weapons. We were taught that the greatest weapon is the human mind, and to sharpen ours.

Our parents often took other children in who needed a place to stay, and our household was busy and messy. Nobody got their own room. We watched the news together at night and sometimes a little T.V., but we rarely had time for that. If we wanted spending money, we were required to work outside the home for it–there was no money for allowances. My parents, together, did the majority of chores and we weren’t required to help, but we wanted to. One of the biggest privileges at home was to be allowed to be the one to wash dishes after dinner. So, we loved to wash dishes. My point in all of this is, it’s all about perspective. Our parents wanted us to be happy, and they were happy, and they were educated and served others for a living. They didn’t make us the center of their world (with seven, that just wasn’t possible), and through their service to us taught us to look outward rather than in.

When it came to school, we were taught to make the best out of bad and good situations. That teachers are people, and get tired and irritable, and we were to be kind to ours. If we had a bad teacher–which a few of us did from time to time–we were taught to shut up, hunker down, and do our best. School was a microcosm of society; and, life is not fair. We were taught that if we wanted a good education, we had to work for it. It wasn’t up to the educators to make sure we got the most out of school, it was up to us, the students. The teachers’ job was to guide us, present the material at the appropriate time in our educational development, and it was our job to push ourselves, to question. To quest.

The reason all of this has been on my mind is I have noticed that some students are developing into helpless, lackluster learners. They don’t reach for more knowledge within the context of school, particularly in nonpreferred subjects or topics, and have little stamina for the struggle forward which makes those synapses jump and promotes mental growth. Although as a parent I have always been a “yes Mom” myself, and given my sons as much as I possibly could, I am alarmed when I see how much is handed to children. How rapid the access they have to information is. How little their parents emphasize the skills of research, working for knowledge, and sticktoitiveness. Children need to learn how to push through difficult tasks. Sure, assistance is what the adults around them, including teachers, are there for; but they have to learn how to independently work, and how to reach forward for learning. The learning, itself, needs to become the reward for the work.

When I see the complaining parents are doing all over facebook and out in public about public education, I am not at all surprised at the lackluster behavior of their children. Because parents are role models for their children. If your children see you complaining about following the rules, or the ineptitude of the rule makers (and that includes the Superintendent and the Board) you can’t expect them to be respectful, or to not whine. When you complain about these things, you are being a terrific role model of how to be a whiner. When you don’t teach your children that they have to follow the rules, like wearing school uniforms, you are teaching them to be anarchists. Try, instead, showing your children how to right wrongs; how to change things. Show them the great American systems which are in place like free, appropriate education, and the power of the vote! Teach them to make logical, respectful arguments based in facts they can show and support. Let them see you sit down and write a letter to the editor, to their teacher, to a state representative. Teach them to write a letter! Let them see you invest the time it takes to implement proactive change; not rant, rave, and give up.

School is not there to spoon-feed your children their educations. School is there to guide them in accessing those educations. They, and you, have to do the work to get them there. Choose to show your children how to be life-long learners, and how to look outward to the world, rather than be the center of it.

Why plumeria?

Why is the plumeria our symbol? The main reason is, we love it! Plumeria are beautiful flowers, and to us each color seems to have a different scent. We love Hawai’i, and have visited there several times. When you step off a plane at night (it always seems the planes from the mainland land at night, there) the floral scent from these flowers–which make up many of the leis, there–is powerful.

Here, in Florida, these flowers flourish. Their only real enemy is a hard freeze; over-watering can be an issue, but the sandy soil here is perfect. You can literally take a cutting, stick it in the dirt, and give it light and water and it will grow. That’s a lot like education: give those children a place to grow, don’t crowd them or over do it, be patient, and wait for them to bloom.

The plumeria is also known as frangipani, and there’s a reference to it in the very first chapter of one of my favorite novels of all time, Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor! Pick up a copy this summer. It’s a post-nuclear war novel from the late 1950’s which takes place in central Florida; the town is fictional but the writing so exceptional any Floridian can see it. And, many of the places we know and love appear in the book; New Smyrna, Salt Springs, the St. Johns, even Pinecastle! Read it, and keep an eye out for Anthony, who likes to hide in the frangipani.

For teachers–Finding that extra income

I thought it might be helpful to do a blog post which holds new information for educators. Some of you may already be aware of these things and using them to reduce your monthly bills. For those who aren’t, summer might be a good time to check them out to see if they work for you.

I was recently consulted by two young people concerned about student loans. These were two separate clients. The first, a high school graduate who got into his early-decision college out of state and wants to be a teacher, came to me because he was nearly talked out of accepting his very sweet financial aid package by a teacher and a guidance counselor. The teacher told him her student loans were more than her mortgage; the guidance counselor that he was better off financially staying here and going to Daytona State. Both couldn’t have been more wrong, for reasons I’ll explore in a moment.

The second client was a young, recently married student who went to an expensive private school up north, and recently took a teaching job here. She had heard I knew how to access the student loan forgiveness programs. We were able to set that young family up with a program which will pay 100% of her remaining loans back if she teaches for ten years and her and her spouse’s incomes only increase by 5% per year. A five percent increase per year looks pretty good to local teachers!

Colleges offer financial aid based on two things: the Expected Family Contribution on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the Cost of Attendance (COA). This is true for both public and private accredited institutions. If the COA is high ($200,000 over four years for the first student I mentioned), the college offers a package which first includes all federal and college grants, then scholarships, then offers loans. For the student above, his loans at the college for four years would total about $35,000. BUT, the cost of attendance covered includes laundry, three meals a day, and housing. And, since he will be teaching, he will not have to pay back that $35,000, effectively turning those loans into federal grants. All while building his credit. I’ll explain in a moment.

The second client will actually have to pay back a small amount of her federal loans, but was thrilled when I showed her how to drop her payments from $487 dollars a month to $25 a month. That will really help to offset her healthcare costs. Her loan balance was over $50,000. For her family of two, the adjusted gross income was $27,000. She chose the Income Based Repayment plan, which factored in up to a 5% increase in income for her and her spouse (if their income stays in that category, and they have children, both the AGI and the monthly loan payment drop).

Here is a key point, applicable to both of the above cases: The Income Based Repayment Plan is spread over 240 months; twenty years. BUT, this client, actually both clients, will participate in Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which forgives ALL outstanding FEDERAL loans after 120 (and they can be nonconsecutive) months of service. That’s key, because the teacher above is scheduled in the Income Based Repayment Plan to pay back $29,189 over 240 months, ending in $52,411 forgiveness (the higher figure is due to interest over twenty years.) However, she will only be paying back 13,212–because she is participating in both programs and her loans will be forgiven after ten, not twenty, years.

I know, I know. It’s complicated. There’s a lot to this, and you need to talk to the public servants at the end of the line on the federal end to get it straight. By the way, the first client? He will end up paying even less back. He plans to do several years with AmeriCorps and the Peace Corp before teaching; his payments will be nothing. Even if he went straight into teaching, since his loans are less than the second client’s, his payments would be less. And, he almost gave up a wonderful private-college education because his teacher and guidance counselor just didn’t know about this!

In order to participate in these programs, your loans need to be federal, and you need to have none in default. For the first, public service is not necessary. For the second, and the real money-saver, it is. One of the mistakes some teachers make is they think teacher loan forgiveness is the only path for them to get some assistance with paying back those loans. It isn’t.

Here are some links I hope you’ll find helpful, and please contact me with any questions. A word of caution: It is CRITICAL to do these steps in order. To have the low payments, you have to choose from the best federal repayment plan for your situation. To get public service loan forgiveness, you need to fill out the paperwork, and have your employer do it, annually. But, you need to be on a repayment plan (which means coming off of a forbearance or deferment) before signing up. Call them.




Lipsticking the pig and other delusions

One Volusia County Schools graduate–ready for the adult world

It’s a tough time in the world of education in the good old U.S. of A. I think about this a lot. A lot. It keeps me up at night, wakes me early in the morning. One of the terrific things about the past year has been the fascinating situations I’ve been invited to be a part of. Each case is so different from the last! I’ve worked with home schooled, public schooled, and privately schooled children and adults; I’ve worked with adults out of school; I’ve worked with faculty and administration in both public and private K-12 settings and in colleges and universities. I’ve worked with the children of people across economic and social spectrums from the extremely wealthy to the homeless. With children who are only children, who are part of a large family, who were adopted, who are being raised by grandparents. For me, this diversity has been a beautiful reflection of what it means to be a citizen of a nation which is still a great experiment.

One frustration for me has been (and this is consistent with my experiences as a public servant) misperceptions about public education. Public education is an entitlement program. When I posted that in an education forum on facebook, outrage ensued. Entitlement! That cannot be! Entitlement programs are not for people like ME! That’s for people who don’t pull their weight! NOT ME OR MINE! 

Sorry. Public education in the U.S. is one of the largest entitlement programs, if not THE largest. It may be a bitter pill for some to swallow; get over it. Count yourself blessed that you are so used to free K-12 education that you take it for granted. Don’t let emotion confuse you. Or, politics. Facts are facts, and just as that wonderful commodities program implemented during the Great Depression (and continued at the back doors of churches all over town this week, next week), you may get blueberries, you may get cheese, and you may get canned beans; you take what the bureaucrats dish out, which depends on a tangle of factors it would take several lifetimes to sort, or you get off your wallet and head elsewhere.

This takes me to myth #2, the one which really burns my bacon; your child is entitled in this great socialized system of education not to free and red carpet, but, free and appropriate. Once you accept the debunking of your first illusion that you are above entitlement programs because you are this terrific, capitalistic, maximally independent and contributing John Q. Citizen and realize you not only drive on public roads but follow them to the doors of public schools; this pill is easier to swallow and will help you understand your child’s education sooooooo much better than you do right now.

The largest obstacle I have run into this year is parents who can’t get past their disappointment in their child’s teacher, school, district. What do you expect from welfare? A red carpet? A custom-designed program for little Johnny’s favorite things; that his teacher should teach him using the harpsichord because he has a talent for it, the 32 flavors because he knows them by heart, and a celebration of his taste in sports team T-shirts to protect his fragile little ego?  Parents say they are so very concerned about the way teachers are treated by the School Board (us: we elected them), but turn right around and complain about these public servants, these bureaucrats, these teachers. Teachers are, by and large, AMAZING people. But they are public servants just like firefighters, cops, nurses at the public health department. Teaching is, for most, NOT some holier-than-holy, mystical calling which ebbs and flows but reaches a climactic moment accompanied by angelic singing when your daughter earns that honor roll certificate. It’s a job. For some, a career. It’s a low paying job, where professionals are often treated like morons by their bosses and by the public, where the donation of time is expected. I am a huge fan of my profession, because I know that the overwhelming majority of teachers are amazing at their job. If they weren’t, they simply would not last. It is that difficult. I promise you.

Teachers not only have to deal with professional parameters which are so dynamic they are pretty much liquid; they have to deal with the little individuals in their classroom! They can’t customize twenty-two educations! And, if they did, they’d be ripping your child off from the education they are entitled to; based on the fabulous American culture of education, which includes not only research-based programs, but literally hundreds of years of trial and error; legal, ethical, and curricular precedent; the ability to participate in thirteen years of preparation for entry into that unique on the planet social experiment–our society.

So, maybe dial back your expectations to match reality. Quit lipsticking that porker; stop coming to the free lunch table and expecting a five-star meal, or even meat-and-threes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something for everybody, and the payoff for your child can be enormous. There is, to my mind, no substitute for the diversity present in public schools. Diversity of exposure to concepts, styles, individuals. This, folks, is a reflection of the real American world. Diversity of authority figures. Diversity of problems. It can be very difficult to navigate. It is much more appealing to think of sheltering your child, home-schooling. But think about what that teaches them. I am not right for what everybody else gets. This affects different learners in different ways, as you can imagine. But, the worst myth about homeschooling is that many parents think they can teach because they know their child best, and because they went to school. That’s like thinking that because you broke your arm in the third grade, you can do orthopedic surgery. Sure, there are parents who have the education to be teachers (they’re called “teachers”)! Sorry to be so blunt. Just debunking myth #4.

Right now, education is in crisis. That’s not news. In a crisis, we need to come to grips with the facts, discard illusions, and get busy working together. I’ve worked with parents who absolutely, positively, understand all of the above, and come to the table to work with the schools with clear eyes and heads. Sure, they’re upset and get it straight when their child’s educational needs are not addressed, or when a teacher or administrator screws up—psst: educators are human—but they get it solved. They are available to the school and they know the school. They work within the system to change what they can, and find creative ways with the help of the educational team to go around what they can’t. And, because they know that public education can absolutely, positively, be the very best place for their children to prepare to become contributing members of our democratic society, they sweat it out and stay there.

A momentary backtrack, before I close. It is very, very important for you to know what you want for your child when they are small and in school. Later, it becomes important to know what they want, as well. Do you want them to earn lots of money? Do you want them to follow their muse, find their heart, peace-out their way into the cosmic consciousness?  Do you want them to enter politics, medicine, space? Do you want them to be brave enough to jump into the ever more complex, ever more precarious world of love and parenting? Do you want them to enjoy the journey, or to set a goal and get there? Do you want them to fulfill your dreams? All of these things, these big-picture, global issues, factor into the appropriate educational setting for your child. Be honest with yourself. Wade through the myths, hype, and crap out there and communicate with the educators before deciding.

Or, you could always yank your child out and plop them into any one of many available private, unaccredited settings where the teachers might, or might not, be teachers. In the state of Florida, anybody with a high school diploma and a clean criminal record can teach in private school. Sure there’s great ones around–Sacred Heart in New Smyrna pops to mind–but there are far more masquerading and lusting for your public dollar.


Public Education as Welfare



Graduating, circa 2016, New Smyrna Beach

Before I take a moment to discuss, specifically,  the “village” which helped a student I work with to reach graduation, I want to reflect on what the ceremony meant to me, yesterday at the Ocean Center.

I have been involved in the local education community this past year in ways I never have before. I work for myself: no boss to tell me what I can and cannot do. My natural inclination to think out of the box roams free, high, and wild! Sometimes, that works. Sometimes, people seek me out for it, as the student, his parents, and his educators did in the story to come.

This has been a difficult year. I belong to a forum comprised of less than one percent of the parents, teachers and students of public schools in Volusia–an online social media forum which has sometimes frightened me with its mob mentality. A small group of parents deliberately stir vitriol toward the District, and if you don’t rubber-stamp their (largely uneducated) opinions, bullying tactics ensue. It is sad. The moderator of the forum had to remove a demonic meme from a thread below one of my comments this week. Awful. At graduation, I sat and thought about these things, and about the recent comments of my own graduate regarding the unprofessionalism of some of her teachers at the high school in discussing, during her instructional time, their dissatisfaction with their salaries and benefits. I thought about the fact that the head of the teachers’ union, here, didn’t allow teachers to vote on the contracts offered by the Board. Instead, he made a decision without consulting all of his union members, without a vote, to sue the District in their behalf. I was thinking about the fourth grader I worked with this year who had four teachers in the same year. In his primary classroom. Mostly, I was looking at the stage where members of the School Board, the Superintendent, and Theresa Marcks (whom I consider a friend) waited to speak and to celebrate the graduates. Honestly, I was a little concerned about the response to the District speakers, not just by the audience, but by the graduates. I looked at the section reserved for teachers. It was nearly empty. I was feeling down; the day before I’d ironed what will probably be my last high school graduation gown. No more rushing to the high school at 7am. No more being a part of that community from the parents’ side of things.

I relaxed when I heard the student body not only clap for both Linda Cuthbert and Mr. Russell, but cheer. Both gave heartfelt talks. Good speeches. They did not choose to put on the shoulders of the celebrants their own griefs; they rightly behaved as the professional educators they are.

I was thrilled to hear Linda talk about her husband, one of my favorite teachers on the planet, Bill Cuthbert. Bill, himself, was once the victim of an unprofessional, misguided witch-hunt. He remains one of the smartest, wisest teachers I’ve ever known. Linda included a lot of movement in her talk, she had every graduate stand to be recognized for very specific accomplishments. Only an educator can reach people like that. I proudly stood with one of my sons when she called for past NSB grads to stand. And remain standing. And stand a little longer. She had everybody laughing, some crying, and she choked up a little herself. I found myself wishing the nay-sayers could hear her. Hear her shine the light of her gentle and wise and full-on teacher’s spirit outward.

As the roll of graduates was called, my attention turned to one of the ones I was there for. How fortunate I was to work with him this past month. How much we both learned!

Porter was hurt in a horrific boating accident the first week of April. He was pitched out of the prow of a speed boat onto the back of his head at 35mph: onto the concrete ledge of a swimming pool, in the wee hours of the morning. He then flipped, unconscious, into the pool. He was saved by a friend on the boat, a lifeguard, who dragged Porter from the water and revived him.

After a medically induced coma, critical care, and the repair of multiple skull fractures–weeks in the hospital–Porter came home. I’d known him for years as a grommet, a friend of my youngest son’s. It was a miracle he survived, but Porter had one goal: he wanted to graduate.

His father and I met with Ms. Heath and Mr. Hargrave at the high school. They, too, wanted to see Porter walk. Their flexibility and thoughtfulness–and that of teachers Desko, Rizzo, Scrivano, and Perry– in how to accomplish that humbled me. We all worked together to come up with a plan, and the school allowed me to instruct Porter at home. He was too fragile for school. He had multiple doctor appointments and, due to his injuries, needed someone with him 24/7.

Porter had to complete a quarter of Honors English 4, a quarter of Honors Marine Science, and a semester of American Federal Government. In a little less than four weeks. When we started working, he could not read yet.

We worked every day, and Porter’s parents worked with him. Friends came over and helped him study, and discussed the books they were reading in class. I was astonished at how quick my student’s mind was! Despite his injuries, he was able to make the sort of inferences and cognitive leaps an honors student should. He’d been taught well, very well. And he worked hard.

I was deeply impressed with the online format of American Federal Government, and called Mr. Desko to tell him so. The educational design is fabulous, despite some annoying graphics. I told Porter I’d shout, “Way to go, Einstein!” at graduation, and I did. That was one of our little jokes, a computer-prompt when he correctly answered a quiz question. I learned along with my student all about the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government.

Despite a fragile body, Porter worked harder every day to meet his deadlines. In case he didn’t, I contacted Sheila Harlacher, ESE family support specialist at the District. Even though Porter had never had an IEP, Sheila was generous with her time and advice, even calling me at home with ideas. She didn’t hide behind protocol but jumped right in. We made a plan in case Porter couldn’t meet his goal.

But he did. The picture I share is one I snapped when my student saw me waiting for him outside the Ocean Center. When I first saw this photograph, I thought of two things. That whoever they were, those calm students in white couldn’t possibly fathom what my student in black had been through; after nearly losing his life he had no notion of containing his joy. Good for him. My next thought was how, one morning when we were reading about the different types of state and federal courts, the responsibilities of each, and the path to judgeship, Porter said, I want to do that. Be a judge. A lawyer. I think that’s what I want to do. I hope I’m still around when he dons that black robe!

Miracles are wonderful, and from God. How you cope after experiencing one is up to you. I fully hope to live long enough to see Porter achieve that lofty goal, but whatever he does, he has one proud teacher, right here. By the time I left the Ocean Center, my professional concerns paled in comparison to my humility in being involved in one of the greatest vocations there is. Sure, we have differing views on how to educate students, and how to govern the District. But if we can keep our eyes on the prize and park our egos to work together, magical things will happen.

Porter McEver, New Smyrna Beach High Graduation, 2016



Quick point of clarity for clients

In ironing out our summer schedule, several clients have asked about a different mode of tutoring for summer, including homework and curricula for parents to work at home with their children. As a point of clarification, tutoring is billed at the (lower) tutoring rate for face-time. If we need to do research, assessment, and curriculum design for you to use at home with your child, that is billed at the (higher) consulting rate. As well, since it is not face-to-face tutoring time, if we plan and send work home with your child and then assess that before moving forward, homework, that time spent by your consultant is billed at that consulting rate as well.

These are actually two separate at-home things, educationally speaking: homework by design should always be merely fluency building on skills your child has mastered–work he or she can do independently without your assistance. Curricula you would use to teach your child at home, as well as educating you in guided practice, is more complex and time consuming for the educator, so would be more expensive for you.

We can provide these services, but, again, they would be billed at the consulting rate in your contract.

Please see the previous blog post for excellent tips in working with your child over the summer to prepare for next school year!

A few tutoring tips for summer

As we all prepare for summer, I’d like to reflect on some things I’ve learned from my first full year (I started in summer) of tutoring.

It seems these days as if everyone is so busy running from one activity to the next that sometimes we forget the value of down time. Children, particularly small ones but older ones too, need down time. Childhood is short. It doesn’t need to be cram-packed.

Over the years I have noticed that the children I’ve known who grow up to be the most well-rounded, hard-working, and yes happiest adults are those who had the least in childhood. They’re the ones who went to work while still in high school; who rode the school bus to school and didn’t have cars until they earned them; who learned how to play with toys they made themselves or with an inexpensive one, like a ball, when they were little. Who didn’t have televisions or game systems in their rooms. Who didn’t own cell phones as teenagers. Who had to, of necessity, take responsibilities in their households.

As I’ve started this new endeavor I’ve encountered families from all walks of life. The children who respond best to tutoring seem to be those whose parents have high expectations, even when they are small, and who limit activities for their children and allow them to make their own fun.

So, a few tips to better prepare your child over the summer for the next school year.

  • If you are choosing tutoring, take the time to explain to your child why. Be honest. If your child has an exceptionality, talk with him about it. If he has an IEP and is receiving services, discuss with him that this is necessary now because we all have strengths and weaknesses, and some weaknesses can be met with special needs services such as speech, occupational therapy, and specially trained teachers. Don’t try to shield him from these concepts. Discuss these things with your child and talk about tutoring as a way to make the coming school year easier.
  • Find out what your child wants from tutoring, but explain that although she may have a choice of activities, the tutor is the boss. Tutoring is learning time, and the tutor is the expert in education.
  • Remember that your tutor is not there to correct your child’s behavior; that’s your job. The tutor is working with your child in academics.
  • Try to limit your child’s activities over the summer. Encourage a little sleeping in, some laying around in pajamas, reading books, drawing, building things, and leaving the technology off.
  • If your child has trouble with attention span on tasks, think about working, over the summer, on extending attention by getting your child more engaged in singular tasks. Try to stay away from immediately rewarding activities like video and computer games, television, and, particularly technology in the car or in restaurants. Make him work a little for enjoyment. Do puzzles, and games which require a bit of attention and sustained effort. When you eat out, talk with your child or draw on the back of a placemat. Keep your cell phone out of sight and model engagement with and attention to your surroundings. Converse, and practice appropriate conversational skills like volume control, turn taking, and staying on topic.
  • Although everybody likes to take a trip now and then, don’t deluge your child with the beach, the springs, theme parks, vacations. In other words, don’t spoil her! If you want your child to be able to pay attention and complete tasks at school, don’t go from thing to thing at home! Children benefit from being told “no” and having limits and expectations. This helps them to develop the necessary skills of patience and problem-solving, and teaches them that they are not the center of the Universe.
  • Read to your child. Even if you are working with your tutor on reading skills, take the upper hand and (even if they want to be the reader) have them practice just listening to stories. Don’t quiz for comprehension. Relax and enjoy reading with your child.
  • If you want your children to develop into good students, let them see you studying! Subscribe to a newspaper, and read it in front of your child. Let them see you curled up with a good book. Work challenging puzzles, like crossword puzzles. Beware of pushing, and let them see these activities as part of the natural slow-down of summer. You’re their role model; if you are constantly jumping from thing to thing, always on your cell or I-pad, you can expect a child who can’t sit still or keep themselves occupied while their teacher’s attention is elsewhere.
  • Be cautious of offering bribes or rewards for tutoring. If you have to reward the child every time for doing their job, which is the work presented at tutoring, this can lead to very short attention to task during the school year. Your tutor can help you with this, and she may use a small reward system, herself. Learning needs to be intrinsically rewarding or it can quickly become prompt and reward dependent, and miserable.
  • Give your children jobs around the house which are age appropriate. Never use response cost systems, which lead to a lack of trust. Have the expectation that they will do their task not for reward but because they are a member of a team, the family, and everybody on the team contributes.


Owning up

Mrs. Meg
Meg Ragsdale’s Afternoon Kindergarten, Coronado Elementary, New Smyrna Beach, Florida 1967-1968


I’ve had the opportunity to observe in various Volusia schools for forty-eight years now, starting in Mrs. Meg’s Kindergarten class. My last observation was yesterday. I fully expect to receive push-back on this blog post; thanks to Mrs. Meg for one, I can deal with that.

I don’t believe we can begin to solve the myriad issues in our local education systems until each stakeholder involved models for the students observing them the characteristic of owning up to their own mistakes; collective mistakes, individual ones.

We live in a frantic, frenetic world. Times are very, very difficult. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is in denial or lying outright. One of the first things I learned as a child, and something all children who have any higher-order thinking at all know perhaps more than adults do, is that we all as humans make mistakes. Daily. Hourly. Sometimes multiply per minute! Who we grow up to be often depends on how we learn to handle mistakes. One of the ways we learn those ticklish skills is from the adults around us. When you are the age I was in the photograph above, you tend to learn from family, caregivers, and the Mrs. Megs in your life. Although developmentally they become less crucial as role-models in life as we grow, teachers are more numerous as we do so.

I believe we need to rethink how we model these human characteristics: making mistakes, owning them, and correcting them when we can, for students in Volusia schools. I look around me and see hundreds of adults who not only expect students to be perfect or close, but lie to them on a regular basis. Then complain about the students! One woman posted recently in a Facebook forum I belong to that she couldn’t get good employees unless they were over fifty. Yet, she admittedly doesn’t offer even basic benefits such as health insurance or sick days! She was particularly complaining about high school students. Literally thousands of parents are screaming about tests (in often-abrasive, rude, and ineffectual manners), yet fully expect their children to pass driving tests, math tests, ACT and SAT tests, and the daily tests of behaving in school to the arbitrary tastes and often-hidden expectations of teachers. Viewing mistakes as an opportunity to gain knowledge often disappears from the educational lexicon with manipulatives and crayons. Sure, we give it lip-service; but, if an F in American Federal Government is the result of student errors, do parents and educators encourage the high school senior to look at this as an opportunity to slow down, increase this crucial learning time, and take the class again at a slower pace? Do they take the time to debrief, make a plan, let the student know that education is not something to hurry through but a thoughtful, reflective, pre-adult opportunity to treasure? If the student is already an adult in high school? Is s/he treated like one; given complete control, including the ability to check her/him self out at will, make their own educational decisions, get privacy if they break a rule at school? No. The VCS “policy” is to call parents (even if an adult in high school doesn’t live with those parents!) Why? Because the schools couldn’t “control” eighteen, nineteen, and up to twenty-two year-olds (IEP students have until their twenty second birthday to complete public school) if they couldn’t call parents. Yes, that’s a quote. It may not even be legal, but it doesn’t matter; the entire school system’s control of students depends on the illusion that parents can remote-control children. Even adult children. Yet, over and over, ad nauseum, for years before they become adults we tell children and tell children to take more and more responsibility for that all-important demarcation; the eighteenth birthday. When they are adults by law, and in our eyes. Talk about a mistake. Talk about a lie.

Students are fully expected to “show respect” but are disrespected at every turn. By educators, parents, employers. “Respect” means different things to different people. We don’t explain what respect is, how to show it, what it looks like. People model disrespect for students all over the place. Then punish students when they make the mistake of not meeting the often-hidden, often-arbitrary expectation. This week, a teacher I once respected, highly, and a fellow poet, came onto a benign post I put up and began to attack me for no reason I know of (talking about personal things about me to the point the post had to be removed by the forum administrator). Under the post, as I became more and more alarmed at his behavior, other parents began to post to him. One spoke about not knowing why his “boxers were in a bundle.” He posted in reply that he doesn’t wear underwear and that was “relevant to the forum spec. re: uniforms.” In an open forum. To which high school students belong. A once highly respected educator. In front of students. Talking like that. Disgusting. Deeply disturbing. Certainly a mistake. One would hope he would eventually apologize not only to the parent of five VCS students he creeped out, but to all of the parents, educators, and students he made the mistake in front of. Take the opportunity to educate; to teach that we are human. To teach the we make mistakes. To teach that we own up to them. To rebuild the broken trust and regain respect.

School is bewildering, these days. Adulthood is even more so. We have to get back to the basics and we can do that without more money, with just a change in perspective. I remember something my colleague the late Carolyn Moore once said to me, and I remember it often. She said,”Oh how I despise those high school teachers who are just teaching at that level for power over, who teach seniors, adults, just so they can have one more opportunity to stick it to students, to control them, to keep them under the fist! They shouldn’t be teaching at all and I do everything in my power to get people like that out of the classrooms.”

There is a student who attends a local high school. I am that student’s patron. It is a legal distinction, she is what is designated an “unaccompanied youth.” The registrar at the high school refused to give this poor student the correct form until I went over her head to Pam Woods, the homeless liaison for the district. The registrar made her feelings plain by telling this brave, accomplished, and independently self-supporting student that, “you’re not unaccompanied. I won’t give you the form. You live with your boyfriend. That’s a choice.” It wasn’t a choice for this young woman, but that was none of this small-minded public servant’s business; she was taking some mysterious resentment of me, the student’s legal patron, out on an innocent party. She made a mistake and certainly owes the student an apology. And, she is one of the last VCS role models this student will know. Power. It is such a shifting, elusive thing. The power to educate. The power to be kind. To be compassionate. To show that even more elusive, much more critical characteristic. Respect.

Teachers, like you and me, make mistakes. On a daily basis. The best teachers own up to them in front of the students and show students how to respectfully move forward from there. This is an even more crucial skill for parents.

Hitting people is a mistake. In school, you aren’t even allowed to hit back. Yet, many parents still make the critical parenting mistake (and yes, it is a scientifically proven one) of hitting children. Some never own up to that mistake. Many wait until it is too late; when their children are adults and have begun hitting their own children or have gotten into trouble for a variety of abuse-related problems or crimes. If you hit a child to teach them respect, guess what? They will believe that hitting is how to get respect. It’s a no-brainer.

I learned from an early age about the cost of mistakes. More importantly, I learned how to learn from them. Some years ago I was in Washington D.C. and had a moment to run by the Air and Space Museum between meetings with a colleague. I was humbled to find some of my father’s NASA designs on display. One of those, the capsule door from Apollo 1, brought me to tears. But what dried my tears? The memory of my father and his peers picking up the burnt pieces, dealing with their mistakes, and moving on. My father never forgot the screams of men he loved as they were dying. Ever. Yet, he was humbled and accepted the nearly-overwhelming task of redesigning the door when his superiors put their faith in him despite his mistake and had him do that. He designed a new door which could be opened in three seconds instead of ninety. Although the Apollo 1 astronauts would have died even with the new door, my father never forgot, even to his own dying day, his part in those deaths. His mistake. But, he learned from it, admitted it, accepted correction. And picked himself up. Those are all critical, critical human skills. We have to model them for students.

When we model for children, we are showing them who to be.

Update for current clients

Hello all! Just a couple of reminders for current clients. Please, please don’t forget to read everything on the website. This is where, per the contract you signed when beginning the relationship with CEG, blackout dates are posted. If your tutor doesn’t show for an appointment, before calling the office please check the website to see if perhaps you missed a blackout date. These should be marked on your calendar. If you have paid ahead one week, as required, and a blackout date occurs, your fee is pushed to cover your next tutoring date. If you cancel two or more sessions in a row for reasons other than illness, you may lose your time and/or day for tutoring and need to contact us to renegotiate the relationship.

I’m posting the remark about blackout dates prior to posting our summer ones. They will be up by the end of this week.

Please also remember, if you cancel for reasons other than illness, you forfeit the fee for that session. You can cancel for illness right up until tutoring time, though! If you cancel for another reason (and “illness” means illness of the person being tutored, not their parent, guardian, or driver), please get the fee for the next session to your tutor prior to that next session. All of this is outlined in “How we work.” Happy May to all of our wonderful clients!