Back-to-school time is not just for kids

Back-to-school time is not just for kids By Richard W. Riley, US Sec. of Education Back-to-school time has always been exciting for children. It's a time to meet new friends, new teachers and resume the adventures of learning.

But back-to-school time is not just for kids anymore.

If our schools are going to do the job we expect them to do, everyone must pitch in and help. That includes parents and everyone in the community.

The fact is, schools today can't do the job alone. There are more children in our schools this fall than ever before � more even, than at the height of the baby boom! There is more diversity � in some schools, students come from dozens of nations. We are living in the Information Age, a time when our nation's economy and security depend more on the quality of education than at any other time in our history. That's why more and more states and communities are requiring students and teachers to reach for high standards of learning and why the public is demanding real results for its tax dollars.

So I encourage every parent, family and citizen to use this back-to-school season to make a personal commitment to supporting better education in their community. When children are surrounded by adults and communities that value education, they get the message that their education is important. And they're more likely to buckle down and do their best. When children see that adults and communities don't care about education, they get the opposite message. And we all lose.

To spread the message about the importance of family and community involvement in education, the U.S. Department of Education conducts a national initiative each year called "America Goes Back to School." We hold events all around the nation to stir excitement for the new school season. This year, I'm personally taking a five-state bus tour to spread the message. I'll be traveling through Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. If you pass me on the highway, be sure to wave.

We've also prepared a colorful, fact-filled "America Goes Back to School" kit which provides plenty of good ideas for getting involved in your schools and staying involved all year long. It's called "Challenge Our Students and They Will Soar," and you can get a free kit by simply calling the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-USA-LEARN, or by visiting our web site at www.ed.gov/Family/agbts.

Here are a few ideas that can get you started:


* Employers: Be "family-friendly." Give your employees the time to meet with teachers or volunteer for school activities. It's good for education and good for your bottom line. Giving parents flexible work schedules helps you keep your top-notch workers. Also encourage your employees to be mentors and tutors to young people. Offer students internships and work-study experiences. And invite teachers into your workplace to show them the skills that today's workers must have. This will help teachers to make sure students take the courses they'll need to gain those skills.


* Parents: Try to slow down your lives and help your children grow. Spend at least 30 minutes a day supervising your children's education. Start early and read to your youngest children. Share books with your older children. Keep in touch with teachers. Make sure your children are doing their homework. Keep TV watching to a minimum. And talk with your children frankly about drugs and violence and the values you want them to have.


* Educators, community leaders and law enforcement officials: Many communities are holding town meetings with mental health professionals to talk about troubled youth and school violence. Think about holding one in your community. Talk about ways to help troubled youth and find ways to connect each young person to at least one caring adult. Every child should feel that he or she is the most important person in an adult's life. Creating connections and a caring environment in the home, at school and in the community is an important part of preventing violence. And work with others in your community to develop quality after-school and summer programs. Isn't it better to have children in school where they can continue learning, rather than being at home alone or going to the mall to play violent video games?


* Teachers and school officials: Make your school parent-friendly. Reach out to families and remove the obstacles that sometimes make them reluctant to get involved in school activities.


* Students: Challenge yourselves! Take the tough courses in middle and high school that will put you on the road to college and careers. Take algebra in 8th grade, geometry in 9th grade, and physics, chemistry and trigonometry in high school. Take four years of a foreign language and an Advanced Placement art, music, English of history course. Explore tech prep and other career courses. Studies show that students who take academically challenging high school courses are more likely to attend and complete college and earn more in the work world, regardless of their family's financial status, race or gender.

Elementary school students should focus on reading and math too. Develop those basic skills. And no child should be promoted to a grade they're not ready for. Let's get rid of social promotion. If some children aren't making the grade, give them the extra help they need, either after-school or over the weekends and summers.

At the national level, we're working hard to provide communities like yours with more of the resources you'll need to accomplish these goals. If Congress agrees, we will expand after-school programs, help reduce class size by hiring 100,000 well-prepared teachers, fund safe and drug-free schools programs, provide mentors for middle school students and put them on the road to college and build or modernize schools to alleviate overcrowding and put computers into every classroom. Technology is critically important if we're going to prepare our children for success in the 21st century.

If you want to get involved, you don't have to do it alone. Building partnerships is the key. Join with others in your community to determine your school's needs and then ask teachers and principals how you can support their efforts.

No one stands taller than when they stoop down to help a child. Get involved with your community's young people and you will stand taller and feel taller than you ever have. Back-to-school time is the perfect time to start.

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