For every student who soars academically, seemingly stock-piling scholastic awards along the way, there is another student at the other end of the spectrum, one enrolled in remedial classes yet still teetering on the edge of failure. But this isn’t about them. This is about all the others who fall somewhere in between: the ‘typical’ or ‘average’ student who exists in a world where not being the best just isn’t good enough. How can we parents help them thrive?

   Leda Fan, a local immigration attorney, has first-hand experience—on a few fronts—with helping students realize their own potential. Mom to Noelle, 12, and Nicholas, nine, she says her daughter had been a strong student at Lusher but was capable of doing better.

   “She’s good at English, but at math? She’s bumping along. She needs someone to pay attention to her,” explains Leda.

   Noelle is a beautiful writer, according to her mom, who wanted to help nurture her daughter’s passion and talent; two summers ago Leda found a writing program in Texas—SpiderSmart Learning Center in Houston. “No other program like it exists for writing, long-term,” she says.

   Leda was so impressed with the SpiderSmart program that she opened her own franchise in New Orleans this past March. Now it’s her business to help lots of ‘average’ students thrive.

For 5 quick tips to help your student study & succeed, click here.

 keeping things in perspective

In a world where even a 4.0 GPA isn’t perfect (weighted, or honors, courses can yield up to a 5.0 or higher), an “average” student can feel downright mediocre. That’s unfortunate, because there’s much more to learning that just grades.

   “A lot of students don’t realize how well off they are, that they can think independently,” says Julie Boyd, the Upper School division head at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. “Empathy, problem-solving—emotional and social intelligence that you use throughout life. We’re fostering these skills.”

   Julie explains that students need motivators—like grades, athletic activities, social activities, or collaborative work. She finds the best motivators are internal. “Giving them a new role in a group project, encouraging them to think differently. So it’s not just ‘I have to memorize this formula,’” she says.

   Still, grades are a part of school, and Julie says they are the biggest cause of stress for ‘typical’ students. “Going into an exam, we need to find out what you know and don’t know and there’s no need to keep studying what you have down pat,” she says. “You should focus on what you don’t know. [But] they’re afraid they’re going to make a mistake, and they get caught up in that and study, and study, and study,” she says. “They get so nervous. Don’t focus on that grade. Let them know it’s OK. ‘I know you’ve studied.’ At some point, kids need to go to bed.”

   Of course, sometimes, additional help is warranted. Parents can seek out private tutors, or go to a tutoring company like Leda’s that employs specially trained teachers. At Sacred Heart, honors students tutor upper and middle schoolers for free through the school’s National Honors Society Tutoring Program.

   “[The tutors] have captured the material and they really resonate with the students,” says Julie, who has overseen the program since its inception seven years ago. If a student does have to move on to an outside tutor, she adds that it’s important to have that tutor communicate regularly with the student’s teacher and parents.


parental pressure?

Sometimes, pressure on kids to be better students than they are comes from parents, who refuse to see them as anything short of gifted. While that can be a good thing—we want our children to reach their full potential, after all—we also don’t want to crush them under weighty expectations.

   “Often parents are in denial,” says Lena, who recounts one case of a young client who was struggling in a subject. “She took a diagnostic test—40 questions—and only got 16 right,” she explains, adding that the tutor began working with her in specific areas where she tested poorly.

   “Her parents texted [the tutor] to say that her level was too low, she needs to be higher. Her parents just didn’t believe that she didn’t know so much.” Leda copied the whole diagnostic test and sent it home with the girl, so her parents could see their daughter’s areas of strengths and weaknesses.

   As for Leda’s own daughter? She started at Isidore Newman this fall, after spending the summer getting tutored in Math so she’d be up-to-speed with the material. Leda’s hoping the new school will be a better fit academically. She’s doing all she can to help her student thrive.

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