Helping kids survive and thrive in public school

Disenchanted with your kids' public schools? Here's how to make sure they succeed despite the drawbacks.

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  • Editor's note: A version of this article was originally published in the Gwinnett Daily Post. It has been reprinted here with permission.

  • Many parents these days have become disenchanted with the public school system. They question the quality of their kids' educations and the apparent lack of discipline. They don't want their kids being taught things that conflict with their personal values. They worry that bullying, drug abuse and sexual promiscuity are commonplace.

  • These are all legitimate concerns.

  • Some parents respond by sending their kids to private schools, but not everyone can afford that. And, in any case, the same problems exist at private schools, if perhaps not to the same extent.

  • Other parents embrace home schooling—but that's not the answer for everyone, either. Many aren't able to home school because of work schedules while others simply don't feel qualified. Plus, some parents worry that children schooled at home might miss out on important social interactions.

  • If you're dissatisfied with the public schools, yet you're not sold on any of the alternatives—and I think that probably describes most parents, myself included—let me share with you some of the strategies my wife and I used to help our four children not only survive but thrive in public school and beyond.

  • Engage with your kids

  • One of the best things you can do to enhance your children's education is talk to them on a daily basis about what they're learning at school. We found that the dinner table is a good place for this, so we've always made eating the evening meal together a priority.

  • Asking your kids about their classes shows you're interested in their lives and also provides opportunities for you to counter any bad information they may be getting. You don't want to trash their teachers, the school or the curriculum, but you can offer opposing viewpoints, complete with your reasons for disagreeing. This teaches kids to think critically and helps ground them more firmly in their beliefs.

  • Teach values at home

  • If you're counting on the schools to teach your kids values, no wonder you're disappointed. As a parent, that's your job. Not only can you do it better, but you can make sure the values your children learn are the ones you want them to have.

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  • That means more than just teaching by example. To really make sure your children adopt the right values, you have to talk about those values often, perhaps setting aside time to do so on a regular basis. You can also take advantage of life's many "teachable moments" to address moral and social issues — in the car, over dinner, during a TV show or after church.

  • Help with homework

  • Want to know what your kids are learning? Look over their shoulders while they're doing homework, offering appropriate help as needed.

  • Of course you have to be careful not to "help" too much; they need to be able to do the work themselves. But assisting them in coming to understand difficult concepts strengthens the bond between you and your children while also allowing you to monitor their curriculum.

  • Read what they're reading

  • As an avid reader, I've always tried to read the books that my kids bring home from school. Incidentally, I've discovered a lot of good books that way (Harry Potter and Hunger Games come to mind).

  • Reading what they're reading, if nothing else, should give you plenty to talk about with your kids over the dinner table. At the same time, you're setting a wonderful example for them simply by the act of reading regularly.

  • Get involved at the school

  • If you really want to know what's going on at your kids' schools, you have to be there yourself. When your kids are young, you can volunteer to help in the classroom, monitor the halls or shelve library books. Or you can go a step further and become a "room parent" or get involved in the PTA.

  • It's even more important to be part of your teens' school experience — even though they might act embarrassed to have you around. Wonder what's going on at the high school football games? Put on your spirit wear and go see for yourself. Don't want your daughter and her date bumping and grinding at the homecoming dance? Be a parent chaperone. The ways in which you can support the school while annoying your children are virtually endless.

  • You can't protect your kids from everything, nor are schools ever going to be perfect. But if you take time to become involved in your children's educations, they and their schools will benefit.

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Rob Jenkins is a newspaper columnist, a happily-married father of four, and the author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility," available on Amazon. E-mail Rob at or follow him on Twitter .

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