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Organized Effort Works Best


In the seventh grade, Shawn Weiler's report cards were filled with Ds and Fs, and his mother didn't know what to do.

But in the eighth grade, Mary Ann Weiler teamed up with Shawn's teachers to help her son focus on schoolwork. He made the honor and citizenship rolls at Helen Stacey Intermediate School in Huntington Beach and now is looking forward to high school in the fall.

It was all a matter of organization, something we often see lacking in our students' lives just by looking in their backpacks. How old did you say that leftover sandwich is?

But the Weilers' experience teaches that organization isn't just something to sigh about and hope the kid will get the hang of some day. Parents can play a key role in helping, often in simple ways.

Shawn, for instance, was given a special study area in his garage. He and his mother experimented with a daily schedule. And she checked on how and what he was doing through weekly progress reports coordinated with his teachers.

"I really think we get between a rock and a hard spot as a parent," said Weiler, a waitress and day-care provider who is a mother of three. "We want to help our children, but because I'm not in the educational field I don't know how. There has to be an absolute communication line between the parents and all the teachers concerned."

Stacey is one of many Orange County schools with new programs that help students learn how to juggle the demands of homework, tests and extracurricular activities. Foothill High School in north Tustin now requires all students to take a course covering study and career skills. In Garden Grove, teachers have drawn up a new study skills primer for seventh and eighth grades.

Schools can teach students how to use libraries, take notes, take tests and read textbooks effectively. But experts consulted by The Times, including a teacher, a principal and a school district official, say parents also can take some basic but effective steps.

* Ask the school for frequent progress reports. Don't let a troubling situation get out of hand. Call for a teacher meeting if you're worried about how your child is doing in a particular class.

* In many schools, you can have your child's notebook signed each Friday by the teacher or teachers, so that any problem areas or missing work can be taken care of immediately. Schools often don't tell you this option is available. Ask for it.

* Make sure your child has a quiet place available every day to do homework. That means a clutter-free desk or table and a lamp. It also means freedom from distractions: the telephone, the television, friends or siblings and, especially, the stereo.

"Some kids will always argue that they can study better with music. I disagree," said Jim Reames, who teaches Foothill High's study skills course. "You have to have a good, solid place to study."

If the space is in a common area, try to reserve it for a set time every day.

* Have your child make contact with a "study buddy" in each class, getting the name and phone number of a reliable student to call on those inevitable afternoons when the assignment isn't written down or the work sheet is lost.

* Build the habit early on that homework comes first in the afternoons, perhaps after a short break to unwind and eat a snack. That way you avoid arguments through the years about getting down to work. Earlier in the day, kids tend to be fresher and more alert. And if a problem crops up,--there's a better chance of getting help.

* Map out a typical week with your child. On a chart, fill in the hours spent in class, meals, transportation, homework, outside activities and, of course, having fun.

Obvious time-management problems should leap out from the paper. Television, for example, might be getting more time than studies.

* Make sure important events and homework assignments are logged in a weekly agenda.

Many schools provide spiral-bound weekly planners for their students, which note school days and holidays. If your school doesn't, educators say you should invest in one.

"Talk to your students, ask them what they have learned and whether they have a test," said Stephanie Paggi, director of secondary instruction for Garden Grove Unified School District. "Participate. That is the major key, to be aware of what your child is doing in school."

Try the backpack test. If your child's satchel is a mess--crammed with papers, books and folders in no particular order--educators say that's a strong sign that vital homework assignments are in danger of getting lost.

* Be organized yourself. Kids tend to mimic their parents. If you commit to helping with homework or another school activity, do it. If you let something slide, your child might do the same. Are you doing the family finances in front of a blaring TV? "They notice those kinds of things," Paggi said.

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