By Zerline Hughes
Today was one of those days that I really made that effort to ensure that these two touch the prison system in no way, shape, or form.
No, I didn’t lecture them – well, maybe a bit. I seem to always give them some sort of lecture or lesson during the commute back and forth to school bus stops and such. But that’s not it. And no, I didn’t take them to a juvenile detention center or local jail for a scared straight program with incarcerated people yelling in their faces. Studies from orgs like Psych Central show these types of programs don’t work anyway, and states are starting to phase them out (see Juvenile Justice Information Exchange).
What I did do was take my daughter to work. What I did was volunteer at my son’s school and attended a school event that he prepared for and participated in.
I’m positive things like this, in addition to enriching at-risk programs, peer mediation trainings and registering youth in Big Brother/Big Sister programs, too, are successful deterrents for at-risk behaviors. In fact, according Michigan Department of Education research, when parents are involved with their youths education, students have:
- higher grades
- higher graduation rates
- better self-esteem
- lower rates of suspension
- decreased use of drugs and alcohol
- fewer instances of violent behavior
For my daughter, spending time at Morgan State University, where I am a new adjunct professor teaching public relations writing, has got to be part of one’s arsenal in motivating our young people to strive for something better. She was so excited; she got dressed last night in her ‘career outfit’ and slept in her clothes so she’d be ready to start the day. She packed her own lunch. And she even agreed to let me joke with my students and tell them that she was a new enrollee and child prodigy. She saw her mother at work in front of a college classroom. She sat in the same row as college sophomores and juniors. Though she kept quiet and seemed unphased, she watched every interaction and fully experienced each of those 50 minutes (even while playing games on the multimedia lab computers).
For my son, who attends an independent school, I have to be a real advocate. I need to make sure his teachers and faculty see me and know that I care – about him and the school. (Actually, the same goes for the girl and her public school as well, so I’ve got double duty – per usual). As a result, I was there today, as promised, to work with the librarian on some electronic archive logging. Though my son was in classes, I told him I’d be there volunteering, and my daughter was there right at my side (she was off today for Veteran’s Day).
Following my duties, she and I were able to stay for the middle school talent show. Student and teacher dancers, pianists, singers, guitarists and my son, the saxophonist. I know my being there made his nerves that much more frayed, but it’s my hope that my being there also put him at ease and let him know that I am present in his life, I support him, and that I am proud of his extra efforts.
“When parents come to school regularly, it reinforces the view in the child’s mind that school and home are connected and that school is an integral part of the whole family’s life,” Michigan Department of Education found.
In my new skin as a full-time business owner/contractor, I’m excited to be more available to my children. They need me not only to chauffeur them to their varied activities, but they also need to see me at those activities, on campus, interacting with their friends, their teachers and supporters. They need to know that any time of the day or week, I may just end up surprising them in their classroom. They also need to know that they are welcome wherever I am, and can do what I do – or more!
Of course, the obstacle, for so many of us, is simply stated by the Michigan Department of Education: “Teachers often think that low-income parents and single parents will not or cannot spend as much time helping their children at home as do middle- class parents with more education and leisure time.” That’s where the challenge lies. Most of our workplaces and schedules don’t allow for such involvement. Sigh. Not much we can do about that.
What we can do though, is understand that modeling behavior can be the best way to teach and expect good results. And that’s what I’m banking on. No, these kids are not gonna’ be parolees. Not these two. I’m banking on college enrollees – and beyond. But it’s not ultimately up to me. Let’s see what they chose.