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Making the Grade

Local school officials offer strategies for strengthening study habits.

Francis Scott Key Elementary School teacher Briana Tavernier leads first grade students in a morning discussion. Experts say helping children succeed academically requires an open dialogue between parents, students and teachers.

Francis Scott Key Elementary School teacher Briana Tavernier leads first grade students in a morning discussion. Experts say helping children succeed academically requires an open dialogue between parents, students and teachers. Photo Contributed

When Jackie Jackson’s son brought home his report card recently, the Centreville mother of three was shocked.

"His grades had fallen to an unacceptable level," said Jackson. "Getting my son to do his homework has always been a battle, but during the winter break when there was no school, we got out of our routine and haven’t been able to get back on track."

Children with low grades and poor study habits can be a source of stress for some parents. Educational experts say that there are effective techniques that can improve learning practices.

Starting a dialogue is a good first step. "In terms of academic success, it is key that there is open communication between parents, students and teachers," said Lizabeth Borra, School Counselor at Potomac Elementary School in Potomac, Md. "We want to work as a team to teach students the tools to be lifelong learners. In order to do so, we must set expectations and work together."

Experts say that one of the best ways to improve academic performance and decrease battles over completing homework assignments is to develop a daily schedule that includes time for studying and relaxation. "Set up a regular time to do homework; routines develop into habits," said Borra. "Establish a regular procedure; study for a length of time, have a short break, and return to studying."

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Students at Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Arlington practice math skills. A quiet study environment can help students improve their grades.

Once the schedule is in place, work to maintain it and hold children accountable. "Consistency helps establish a pattern. When it is done on a regular basis it becomes second nature," said Valerie Garcia, principal, Blessed Sacrament School in Alexandria. "When a student is personally responsible they understand accountability and they understand the consequences if they don’t follow through. Those consequences can end up being a less than desirable report card."

Create a study environment with minimal distractions. "The best way to help children is to have a quiet place in the home for homework," said Dr. Marjorie Myers, principal, Key Elementary School.

Support children, but avoid over involvement. "If parents help too much, children become dependent on them and don’t develop their own sense of responsibility for getting their homework and studying done," said Myers. "Let them get a ‘C’ or a ‘D’ on a test and show them that if they … study … and pay attention in class, they can change those grades to ‘A’s’ and B’s.’ It’s their responsibility to learn and the intrinsic reward of earning that grade on their own is extremely valuable for future academic success."

There might be times when a child needs extra help. "If parents are concerned that their child may have difficulty learning they should contact the teacher," said Borra. "Teachers are well trained in working with students that have many different learning styles."

Organization is critical, particularly for older students. "Plan ahead," said Leila Sidawy of Georgetown Learning Centers in Great Falls and McLean. "A great way to do that is to get a planner. This is important especially for students who have multiple activities that they are juggling like sports or clubs. Having a planner can help them stay on top of their assignments and avoid procrastination. The planner should include test dates, project due dates and after school activities. Getting organized will help a student feel more in control."

"Note taking is a crucial, but often overlooked aspect of academic success," said Sidawy. "Make sure students take good notes and keep them organized by date or subject, and include headings on the notes as well as relevant chapters or page numbers. After class, students should review the notes to help solidify the material."

Educators encourage parents to stay optimistic. "Maintain a positive attitude regardless of how challenging an assignment may appear," said Borra. "Prioritize studying and homework. Help your child understand the purpose of learning and that they will do it throughout their lives."