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 The Importance a Family Places on Education Makes the Difference

This was the headline of William Raspberry's Second Opinion  column which appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal on February 28, 1994.  In the article Raspberry outlined the findings of New York Times columnist Bob Herbert who wrote about old Intermediate School 10 in Harlem, whose former students included James Baldwin, the painter Romare Bearden, sociologist Kenneth Clark, and Rep. Charles Rangel.  Another remarkable school was Dunbar High School which graduated Sen. Edward Brooke, blood plasma pioneer Charles Drew,  Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton,  and Robert Weaver (the first black Cabinet officer).  Both of these once-fine schools are now in decline, surrounded by areas marked off by gangs.

Raspberry asked the question:  What made these schools so special?  Was it the quality of the faculty?  Was it the quality of the students?  Or, was it the wealth and/or status of the families?  After discounting the special status of the faculty or students at these now floundering inner-city schools, Raspberry guided the reader to what he felt was the key factor in the equation of school success:  families.  Yes, families. 

Gerald W. Bracey, a research psychologist, says that an attitude among families about education –– not money, or status, or even the quality of the school itself –– is what matters.  Consider for example, he says, the startling success of the Vietnamese boat people.  Here is a typical evening in a boat family's household:  After dinner the table is cleared and all students in the family sit around it and study.  The parents might not be able to help because of their limited English, but they encourage their kids.  The older children assist the younger ones.  Coupled with this intensive, on-going routine of after-dinner study hall is the apparent regard that Asians have for education and teachers in particular.  It is through education that they can help their children bridge the gap between cultures.  Education is their goal.  Education is their passion. 

How many of us sit down with our kids after dinner each night and work with them on their school work, encourage them, or even read a book at the table while they study?  It's something to think about if we want good results.  What is it that the Vietnamese parents are modeling?  They are modeling the “behavior” of good study habits.  They are sending a message to their youngsters that they value school, they consider the after-dinner homework sessions vital to school success, and they expect their youngsters to participate.  It seems so simple!

Raspberry calls this family ethic –– culture, family culture.  The importance a family places on learning, the way a family supports and backs up the efforts that teachers make on behalf of students; the academic demands a family  makes on its children, and the children's own sense of their future through a good education –– this, he says, is what makes up the family's attitude towards education.  It is, he says, the critical difference between good schools and bad ones.

Now, you might ask, what does all this have to do with the HG program?  Raspberry concluded his article by saying that good schools do produce good students; but, schools cannot do the job in a vacuum.  Good schools need a team effort –– good teachers, challenging curriculum, good students, and involved families.

The seventh grade HG program  is an excellent chance for you to experiment with using your family to enhance your child's academic experience.  The HG program at Hanes IS an academic program.  Yes, your child will have some memorization work.  Yes, your child will have to learn new vocabulary words, geography terms, mathematical and scientific formulas, science concepts, and new techniques in writing.  Yes, some of the tests are hard and will require much preparation.  Good grades are not a guarantee just because a student is enrolled in the program.  Our expectations for the productivity of students are in line with local and state guidelines for gifted education.  Expectations need to be set at a high level, for these are the most capable 7th grade students in our entire school system of over 30,000 students.  The HG program at Hanes, we have found, provides students with excellent preparation for honors and advanced placement high school classes in math, science, history, and English.