A Grade Ahead Examines: Student Advocacy

I was recently chatting with some parents in my neighborhood, and I learned that some of their kids are dissatisfied with school. Overall, these kids had had success in school, but they were becoming bored, and this was affecting grades. Of course, this isn’t uncommon. Asking more questions, I learned that there was one thing that all the kids had in common: there was typically one subject – and one teacher – that they liked a lot. Usually, these kids had good grades in that subject, whether it be math, English, science, or anything between, and they had positive responses from that teacher.

I began to think that the next step that the parents of these students could try would be to take more classes with this teacher and, ideally, have the specific teacher as a mentor, which may result in a positive overall effect on other subjects. One of the parents I spoke with later mentioned that they had asked the teacher about her child being assigned to the same teacher’s class for the next semester, but she was told that they had no control of this and would need to ask the principal. They were then told that special requests could not be made.

Of course, this issue does not affect just one student; they are not by any means alone. Overall, this concerns a general lack of institutional sensitivity to the requirements of individual students.


It Only Takes One Teacher to Make a Difference

If you speak to just about anyone about their experience in school, there is always that one teacher who stood out, the one who made a difference. I was listening to a radio program recently with Ohio State University Professor of Earth Sciences, Lonnie Thompson, and his wife, climate scientist Ellen Moseley Thompson, lead researcher at The Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at The Ohio State University. They both said that they had one teacher who made a difference in the career paths that they chose. For one, it was a high school teacher, and for the other it was a college professor. For me personally, it was a counselor in middle school. We never know when this will happen, or who it will be, but when that special teacher enters our lives, our perspectives and world views can be changed for the better.

Advocacy In Schools

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in student advisory periods in middle school and high schools. This is built into schedules, so that a small group of students meet with a teacher or tutor for advisory help. During this time, students are supposed to be provided mentoring and psychological support, but unfortunately this does not always happen. Many students with whom I have spoken believe that this is a time for which they can receive academic help, but they do not consider it a place where they can go to manage other personal challenges and problems.

A solution to this could be a designated student advocate to whom students can go when they feel they are not receiving the help they feel they need. The advocate would be someone they can trust, such as a mentor or counselor. The advocate should be someone who makes sure that the students are treated fairly and effectively in the administrative structure of the school system. When a student asks for assistance, the advocate should be easily accessible to not only them, but to the parent as well. These individuals may be a member of the school staff or have experience in counseling.

Outside Intervention

Today, students at all grade levels receive tutoring help or counseling services outside of school. Tutoring is done either on an individual or in a small group setting, and according to an article at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, “Tutoring-defined here as one-on-one or small-group instructional programing by teachers, paraprofessionals, volunteers, or parents-is one of the most versatile and potentially transformative educational tools in use today.”

If schools lack the ability to provide proper in-school tutoring, there are outside services available across the country. A Grade Ahead offers enrichment programs for students, empowering them to learn in a systematic and structured learning environment. The goal for students is to become independent learners acquiring the critical thinking skills for success in their academic future.

While advocacy in schools is an ideal scenario, seeking outside intervention may be an option for parents to seek out if one’s own school is not able to meet particular needs. Of course, most school districts have resources to help students in need. Just ask!

What do you think? Does your school provide advocacy services? Are you satisfied that your school is meeting the total needs of your child? We would love to hear from you in the comments!

Author: Pamela Crum, Lead Teacher at A Grade Ahead.


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