Monday, September 24, 2012

What do you think? Divorce and Family Issues

What do you think? Divorce and Family Issues

Scenario- Dean is right in the middle of high school in his sophomore year. His parents always used to argue, but he thought that was normal for every family. Then during the summer, his dad started not coming home until really late at night, or on the weekends. This summer, he overheard his parents talking about divorce, and this year of high school just hasn't felt right. Dean doesn't know who to talk to, his older brother is working all the time up north, his younger sister is too young, and he is worried he will upset her more. She cried one night their parents were fighting, and now Dean feels like he has to protect her. Many of his friends at school don't have a dad around, and have always considered him lucky, so Dean is embarrassed to complain or whine about his family drama. He has decided to simply keep quiet about the divorce and just try and keep his sister happy. Unfortunately his mom has been so busy trying to keep everything at home organized that she sometimes forgets to buy enough food and keep the house clean. It has been a struggle for Dean to be a parent to his sister and take care of his schoolwork, her schoolwork, and the house. Dean feels like he is spinning out of control, forgetting homework assignments and often missing class, and so emotional he just doesn’t know how to handle all the changes. He just wants to make things work at home, and be the man of the house since his dad is not around as much. He is unsure of talking to anyone about it, but doesn’t know if he can keep it together on his own.

Questions for Discussion-
1.)   What do you think about Dean's decision to focus on his family and take on adult responsibilities without talking to anyone? What would you do in his situation?
2.)   How do you think Dean feels about the divorce of his parents? Would talking to someone about this situation help him? If so, how?
3.)   Do you think Dean should ask for extra help in school or work something out with his teachers considering his difficult situation? Do you think that his teachers will understand and give him some leniency?
4.)   Have you ever opened up to a teacher, or adult, at school about personal problems that affect your work? What happened, and did it help you?
5.)   Have you, a family member, or close friend been through divorce/family problems? How has that affected you?

**Divorce can be a serious trauma for children of all ages and has many serious potential consequences. Children whose parents have divorced are more likely to be the victims of abuse. They exhibit more health, behavioral, and emotional problems, are more frequently involved in drug abuse, and have higher rates of suicide.

**Children of divorced parents also tend to perform more poorly in reading, spelling, and math, are more likely to repeat a grade, and to have higher drop-out rates and lower rates of college graduation.

**Children expect and deserve to grow up in a safe and consistent world. Their parents' role is to nurture and protect them, and help them understand the world and their place in it. The dissolution of the family is the single greatest threat to a child's emotional – and often financial or physical– wellbeing. Having their parents publicly declare that they cannot love each other enough to stay together causes a child's sense of security, and their view of the world, to change completely. While they struggle to deal with this immense change, other areas in their lives, such as academics, become a low priority, and this can cause the variety of problems mentioned above.

**Children often believe they have caused the conflict between their parents. Many children assume the responsibility for bringing their parents back together, or protecting younger siblings, sometimes by sacrificing themselves. They need those around them to let them know these are not their responsibilities, and to support them as they try to find a new clear role in their changed world.

**While parents may be devastated or relieved by the divorce, children are invariably frightened and confused by this immense change. Some parents feel so hurt or overwhelmed by the divorce that they may turn to the child for comfort or direction, which can cause greater confusion for the child. Divorce can be misinterpreted by children unless parents tell them what is happening, why it is happening, and what will happen to them moving forward. They also need the support of friends or trusted adults outside the family to help them cope and understand what is going on.

**When there is no viable alternative to divorce, parents must ensure their children's emotional well-being by arranging some form of therapy. Divorce certainly does not condemn a child to a lifetime of unhappiness; many children of divorce have successful relationships and happy lives, but the insecurities caused by their parents’ divorce must be dealt with before this can truly happen. Sometimes just speaking with a therapist or trained counselor a few times can be enough to help them move through the crisis in a healthy way by providing them the understanding and coping strategies they need, but they always need this help.

How Mentors Can Help-
            **Try to talk to your mentee about their family, and the relationships they have with their parents and siblings, and start by sharing about your own family. This can be difficult, and it often takes time for mentees to build a trust with their mentor before they open up about these things. But it is important to discuss family relationships because most of the time there is a direct correlation between a child's mental and academic stability, and their home life/family dynamic. If one parent is absent, or if both parents are working, it is more likely that your mentee will have parental/babysitting responsibilities towards their siblings. These dynamics can sometimes be detrimental to your mentee's study habits and motivation in school, not to mention their emotional state, as they are already being forced to take on adult responsibilities that eclipse less important things like homework or play. Open communication and updates on their family life are keys to successful mentoring so that you know where they are coming from and can provide support.
            **Once you know some of their home situation you can help them by giving them what they may be missing. Sometimes it’s just a person they can talk to who cares, and can help explain why things are the way they are. Someone who can reinforce that their parents love them regardless of how they may be acting. Maybe they need someone to help with school and show them that it is still important, or perhaps they need someone to show them how to be a kid and just have fun and learn experientially. If you are not sure what your mentee needs this is something your case manager might be able to help you with, and we would love to talk about it with you.
            **Asking for help is challenging for everyone, but it can be incredibly helpful to have the school staff know what is going on with a student who is struggling. Encourage your mentee to talk to their teachers or counselor about their family situation if it is at all relevant to their academic work, so that there is a support system in all areas of your mentee's life. This is especially helpful if there is divorce or a sudden absence of a parent that is causing great turmoil in their life. Often times if they speak to a counselor about what they are going through and ask for help that counselor can advocate for them to the teachers for leniency and understanding so your mentee doesn’t need to tell more than one person at school about their personal crisis, which can be difficult enough. The point of this is to avoid unnecessary reprimanding at school that can cause more emotional stress in your mentee, and to reinforce that asking for help from school staff is acceptable and positive.
            **Divorce, and/or sudden changes in the family structure can dramatically change the way a child behaves in and out of school. There are studies and research that shows a child who experience divorce at a younger age has a greater risk of dropping out of school, using drugs or alcohol, and other behavioral problems. If you see warning signs of any potential behavioral problems like these speak to your case manager right away so we can discuss how to help, and potential services available.
            **Sometimes all mentors can do is be there, listen, and support in any way we can. Your mentee might resist anything more than that, and as mentors we don’t want to break their trust by pushing too hard. Remember that you are not responsible for changing everything in their life and just do your best to be the empathetic friend and supportive adult they need in their moment of crisis. Just being there for them will make a huge difference.


Check out these websites for more information and tips-

Monday, September 10, 2012

What do you think?: Consistency and Communication

Scenario- Silvia has been struggling with junior high since she entered 7th grade last year. She needs a little extra help organizing all of the homework from all of her different classes. Not only does she feel busy at school, but her family isn't doing very well, and her parents have been stressed out with work, and concerned about paying the bills on time. Silvia feels overwhelmed and gets distracted during classes worrying about her family. Then she gets upset that she cannot focus in class, or on her homework. It feels like an unbreakable cycle and she doesn't know what to do.
Normally she talks to her Mentor, who she has been seeing since last year, but unfortunately they haven't been meeting as much this school year. They don't have a consistent meeting day during the week, and most of the time they try to schedule a meeting it doesn't work out, either because Silvia is helping out at home or her Mentor is booked, and they don't meet at all. Silvia is starting to feel that her Mentor is too busy to meet with her, or maybe just doesn’t want to be her mentor anymore. Silvia doesn't want to bother her Mentor too much, so she stops calling and texting because she is worried it might stress her Mentor out, and she is a little upset at how her mentor hasn’t been communicating with her. When her Mentor calls now, Silvia avoids the phone calls and tries to focus on helping her family.

Questions for Discussion-
  1. What do you think about this situation? Why are they having so much trouble with communication and consistent meetings?
  2. What do you do when you get stressed out about something in your life? Is it hard to open up to someone about it, especially if they are busy with their own drama? Does it help to talk to someone?
  3. What do you think will happen if Silvia focuses on her family and drops out of school? Will that really help her family? What could she do instead?
  4. Do you think that Silvia's Mentor really stopping caring about her? What could the Mentor do to rebuild Silvia’s trust?
  5. What do you think is the best solution for Silvia and her Mentor? How can they both improve their communication and get back on track? 
How Mentors Can Help-
          **When it comes to building a relationship and trust, with your mentee or anyone, the most important aspects are consistency and communication. It is the mentor’s responsibility to move the relationship forward and do the majority of the communication and reaching out to set up meetings, at least at first until a rhythm is established.
**It is important for Mentors to establish consistency with their Mentees early on in the relationship, and especially during the beginning of the school year. A consistent start is a good start, and usually leads to development of good routines and habits. In the beginning of the school year try to set up a consistent day and time for your weekly meeting, and then add on extra time to hang out outside of school if you want, while keeping that same weekly meeting. You can change or experiment with your meeting place(s) depending on what activity/assignment you're doing that day.
**The hardest part of setting up these meetings is communication with your mentee, so if you run into trouble contact your case manager for information on the teacher or school counselor as they are excellent assets to help with this process.
**However, we know that you have your own lives and responsibilities that can throw your routine off track sometimes. When this happens its important to communicate with your mentee not only that you need to reschedule the meeting, but why, and reinforce that you look forward to meeting them on the rescheduled date. This is so that they don’t feel you are just ditching them or that you no longer want to mentor them. Many of the kids we work with are sensitive to rejection so it’s important to be aware of this. If you cannot meet with them try to stay in touch with a text message or phone call so they know you are still there for them.
          **Show your emotional support by asking about them and their about their family. Share what’s going on in your own life so they feel more comfortable opening up and sharing in return. Talk to them about school and how that is going for them. Maybe it is best to separate school and family time; suggest that they do their assignments with you, after school in the library, or during their supervision period so they can focus on fun and family when they are home. When your Mentee knows you understand both their school life and their home life, then they are more likely to reach out when they need help or need advice about something.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September 4th, 2012

What do you think?: Back to School


Martin just started junior high last week and is already feeling a little overwhelmed about having so many different classes, with different teachers, and each having different homework! He sees other kids with lots of binders and folders, color coded pens, and always writing things down. He wonders how he will keep track of his notes and assignments, and if he should buy a binder and folders. His mom never made it past 6th grade so she doesn't know how to help him when he asks her about classes. He thinks about going to one of his teachers and asking him about what he should do, but Martin feels intimidated asking for help since he doesn’t know them. He feels too nervous and thinks it is it's too much work to ask for help. Martin decides he is probably fine to do what he has always done, so he puts his homework away in his backpack to pull it out later at home. He decides this and quickly feels better and goes outside to play with his friends.

Questions for Discussion-

  1. What do you think will happen if Martin does not get organized for school and just tries to keep on using his old methods? What would you do in his place?
  2. When you get confused about an assignment or anything school related do you ask for help? Who would you go to if you did?
  3. What do you do to get organized for school? Do you have a binder? Folders?
  4. How do you keep track of your assignments? Do you write things down anywhere?
  5. What happens when you just put things in your backpack? How might this method make it difficult to do well in junior high or high school?

** The basic advantage of doing homework is : in a well-run class, doing the homework prepares students for taking the exams. This does not mean that exam problems are like homework exercises; it means that students who put a lot of time and effort into homework tend to do better in exams than students who do not. But there's an additional advantage: doing the homework helps students to learn the material better. By reading a text, a student can memorize facts; by doing homework, a student can learn how to use those facts [1].

**Beliefs regarding the positive non-academic effects of homework include that it:
• develops or improves attitudes about school and learning,

• develops or increases organizational and time management skills,

• increases the opportunity for independent problem solving,

• develops positive attitudes toward learning and school,

• develops self-direction and self-discipline,

• promotes inquisitiveness and exploration, and

• promotes the understanding that learning extends beyond the school walls [2].

** In a 2007 study data collected showed 95.0 of elementary student and secondary students reported that they completed homework outside of school [3].

** Average hours per week spent by elementary and secondary students who do homework outside of school was 9.2 hours for elementary students and 8.8 hours for secondary students [3].

**A higher percentage of Black students (83 percent) had parents who reported that they checked to make sure that their students' homework was done, compared with parents of White students (57 percent), Asian students (59 percent), and students of two or more races (66 percent).  In addition, 76 percent of Hispanic parents reported checking homework, higher than the percentage of White or Asian parents who did so [4].

** Homework has shown to have a positive impact on achievement in comparison to no homework. The impact of homework varies by grade level and is greatest for older students. Homework had twice as large an effect at high school as at junior high. In turn, the impact at junior high was twice as large in comparison to elementary school. Marzano and Pickering (2007) note the following effect size and average percentile gains [1]:

Grades 4-6: Effect Size = .15 (Percentile gain = 6 points)
Grades 7-9: Effect Size = .31 (Percentile gain = 12 points)
Grades 10-12: Effect Size = .64 (Percentile gain = 24 points)

How Mentors Can Help-

**Ask your Mentee about their daily routine with school and homework, and share your own experiences with school. Help them identify areas that they might be able to improve their organization or practices to make their life easier and less stressful. The beginning of the school year is a great time to create new and better habits!
**If they are transitioning to Junior High ask them how they feel about having more than one teacher. This can help you gauge their levels of anxiety, excitement, maybe if they are overwhelmed, and then help them find fun ways to organize themselves and explain how that might help ease the transition into their new schedules and routines and reduce stress.
Some people love to color code while others may want multiple binders or colored folders etc, so be open to their ideas about how they want to organize.

**Ask your Mentee if they ask for help on certain assignments or if they talk to a teacher at school, maybe an AVID teacher or counselor.

**It is important as a Mentor to begin every school year with consistent meet-ups. It is essential for the relationship to have a routine and consistency (especially at the beginning of the school year), so that you can establish that you are there for them. Make it known to them that you are available during this busy transition time and try to set up a consisted day and time to meet with them on or off campus.

**Talk to them about their homework habits,  especially where and when they do their work. If they feel overwhelmed by all of the work talk to them about ways to make it easier like breaking it up into manageable chunks with short breaks in between for fun and games or relaxation. And definitely try to reinforce the idea that work gets done before play. This website explains how  "creating a homework station" can improve good study/assignment habits:

1. McColm., G. (n.d.). About homework . Retrieved from
2. George , M. (2007). Got homework?. The Association of California School Administrators, Retrieved from
     3. Youth indicators 2011, america’s youth: Transitions to adulthood. (2011, December ). Retrieved from
     4. Digest of Education Statistics

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