Reacting to report card time

October 10, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Although it may seem like the pool-splashing, hammock-lounging, late-sleeping days of summer were here a few minutes ago, it's autumn and the school year is well under way.

If you have any doubts, look at your calendar. In Tri-State area school districts, first marking periods are coming to an end.

It's almost time for report cards.

How will your family handle it?

No parent should be shocked on report card day, says Jenny Belliotti, mother of two daughters - a Western Heights Middle School eighth-grader and a North Hagerstown High School junior.


"Communication is the key to it. It's really important," says Belliotti, former president of the Washington County Council of PTAs.

That communication includes talking with your kids and being involved in the school part of their lives.

And it starts before the report card comes home.

"It's a continuing process through the year," says Scott Nicewarner, president of the council.

He says the school system does a good job of making sure parents know they are welcome. Nicewarner, father of a South Hagerstown High School sophomore and a Bester Elementary School fifth-grader, finds e-mail a convenient way to communicate with teachers. Most have computers in their classrooms. E-mail messages remain accessible and can eliminate drawn-out games of phone tag.

But teachers also can be reached by telephone at school. There are some teachers who even provide home phone numbers, Nicewarner says.

Education is a partnership, Belliotti says. The student, teacher and parent play critical roles in the business of education.

It's also important to keep report cards in perspective, in their proper place.

"Report cards are just an indication of one area of student life," says Chuck Rahauser, principal of James Buchanan Middle School in Mercersburg, Pa.

Parents need to connect with their kids' teachers, and not just in the academic area, Rahauser says.

Middle school, in particular, is a time of change, Rahauser says. Kids are dealing with huge physical, intellectual, emotional and social changes.

It's important to know if your kid is happy, to know what's going on - beyond the report card.

Rahauser, in his 16th year as principal at the roughly 650-student school, welcomes parents to connect with their kids' teachers at "team meetings." He wants parents to be involved - not just at report card time, not just when there's trouble - but when their child is doing well.

"Don't you want to know the good stuff?" he asks.

Being involved is a strong message to your child that you care, Rahauser says.

Belliotti likes the Washington County schools provision for sending home interim reports - at midterm. If a kid is struggling, there's time to get help or to re-evaluate whether a class was the right choice in the student's schedule.

Parents need to know how to be an advocate for their children, Belliotti and Nicewarner say. It's OK to ask - it's important to know what's going on and why.

Parents need to know what grades mean. Belliotti appreciates teacher comments that sometimes accompany grades. A grade of C, for example, may be acceptable if the teacher notes that the student has exerted "outstanding effort," Belliotti says.

How should families handle less than satisfactory report cards?

Parents should keep their cool, according to Thinkport, a partnership between Maryland Public Television and Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education, online at

Ask your child why he thinks he's received the grades, and remember also to ask about the good ones and why he succeeded in those areas.

Talk together about what he thinks the problems are and what you can do together to solve them.

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