Navigating Middle School Waters: Partnering with Parents

Every day (no exaggeration), I am informed about a posting, screenshot, or conversation happening online or outside of school involving students. They are usually either mean-spirited or pertain to content inappropriate for kids. I do not seek these out. They always find their way to me. They sadden me. I try to find new ways to help students, parents, and teachers steer clear from them.

Our school has several proactive elements that I believe help to address these behaviors and hopefully provide a positive model for students to follow. A few of these include…

Parent University
External experts host seminars and forums with parents about social media and other adolescent issues (topics include: social media, social cruelty, eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, etc.)

Chapel & Christian Education Small Groups
Every week students are taught Christian values and encouraged to ask questions related to topics found in the 7 Checkpoints curriculum including making wise decisions, healthy friendships, moral boundaries, spiritual disciplines, authentic faith, and serving others first.

Ethical Decision Maker Mindset
The Mount Vernon Mindsets are central to every classroom and learning outcome in our curriculum. After reading Tony Wagner’s ‘Global Achievement Gap’ and viewing three different educational documentaries, our stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, board members) collaborated and adopted six mindsets (solution seeker, ethical decision maker, collaborator, communicator, creative thinker, and innovator).

Specifically, our teachers work to infuse the mindsets with the learning outcomes (standards). They are not separate. It is not ‘either or,’ but rather ‘both and.’

There are three specific indicators for the EDM mindset…
* Exhibits integrity, honesty, empathy, fairness, and respect
* Demonstrates personal, social, and civic responsibility
* Develops understanding of emerging ethical issues regarding new technologies

We have a dedicated, full-time counselor who meets with students and communicates with parents to help them resolve conflicts and concerns that arise throughout the course of middle school life. She is available and resourceful with a wealth of experience in dealing with a wide range of issues.

Our teachers and Dean of Students have a positive philosophy of discipline that assumes the best and seeks to advocate for students, yet also draws clear boundaries and consequences around behaviors that are inappropriate and unacceptable. It empowers teachers to handle discipline at a local level, yet also supports them when behavior requires administrative intervention.

Also, we have an Honor Code and a set of written expectations for student conduct in our Student Handbook.

Filters and Security
Our IT Team has up-to-date security features related to internet access and we frequently engage students about what it means to be responsible digital citizens not only in technology course, but throughout each classroom.

Despite all of these wonderful initiatives and resources, it should come as no surprise that middle school and high school students are going to make unwise choices and get into trouble from time to time. That’s part of the reason why they are in school – to learn, grow, and mature into responsible adults. It is our job, partnering with parents, to help make sure they learn these valuable lessons, hopefully while the consequences are still small. While school can offer a lot, we must partner with parents. If you were to ask me what are a few things I wish parents knew/did…

What are some “Do’s” for Parents?

1. Monitor your child’s online activity.
– Strike a balance between freedom and responsibility.
– Make them turn in cell phones at night.
– Have a common area computer that is always in sight.

2. Stay informed about latest, trendy apps/websites, etc.
– Perhaps consider outlawing certain apps that have zero constructive value (ex:
Article 1 about (new site, same old bullying)
Article 2 about (advertisers are boycotting)
– I’m really not a fan of, can you tell?

3. Talk openly to the parents of your child’s friends/classmates.

4. Take screenshots of inappropriate postings and share them directly with the parents of the offending student. Don’t spread it around everywhere else.

5. Talk to your child. Frequently. Let them know you are aware and in touch (and take necessary steps to be aware and in touch).

6. Take advantage of what your school is offering and reinforce it. Schools and parents are partners working together. If the School is teaching about digital citizenship or 7 Checkpoints, how can you discuss and instill those same ideas at home?


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