Vol. 20, No. 2 • May 2016

How I Helped My Daughter Turn it Around at School

by Toni Davis

It was about 95 degrees and all I could see were people, cars and trucks, luggage, long lines, bicycles, and signs pointing to different buildings. It was move-in day for freshman. My daughter was in college and it was the scariest time for us.

I felt a range of emotions. Of course I was extremely proud, but I was also very nervous. School hasn't always been easy for her.

"I hate school!"
I recall the night she was placed with me. She arrived with a book bag and an overnight bag. She did not talk at all. When you asked my daughter a question, she would just nod in response. But when I asked her about her school, she spoke up.

"I hate school!" she shouted.

I knew then education was going to be a big hurdle on this journey ahead of us.

What I Observed
For me the word "hate" is so strong I needed to step back and evaluate how to help her. I began to observe the interactions between her and her teachers when I would walk her to her classroom.

One of the things I quickly noticed was that other students seemed to be comfortable. They said my classroom, my school, and my teacher.

My daughter said the classroom, the school, and the teacher.

It didn't seem she belonged or took ownership at all in her school. At that point I made a decision to do what I do at home.

Getting Involved
At home, I involved her. She decorated her own room. She not only helped me make dinner but helped select the meals and went to the store to help shop for our food.

I needed her to be involved at school so she could feel it belonged to her.

To figure out how to help her belong, I had to get involved. I began volunteering in her classrooms and chaperoning field trips. This helped my daughter open up and talk to students and teachers that she normally would not interact with.

While I was volunteering I noticed things my daughter was interested in knowing more about. I also became aware of areas she needed help.

In preparation for the End-of-Grade (EOG) testing the school offered tutoring. It was encouraged and free, but my daughter would never sign up for anything.

Being a Bridge
This is where I recognized that I was going to have to be a bridge between my daughter and the school. I spoke with the guidance counselors and informed them that they were missing a lot of students by just offering tutoring. Students like mine needed to be reached out to individually and sold on the benefits of tutoring. I also suggested that parents be notified and transportation offered for those students.

I was so grateful the guidance counselor heard my concern and reached out. My daughter got tutoring and received a 4 (out of 4) on the EOG test that year.

Connecting to Clubs
The tutoring experience made me think there could be more outreach for other students like my daughter. We went together to every club or organization at her school to gather information.

I just told her we needed to go because I was gathering information about her school. She would never have gone without me, or if she thought it was for her.

She became interested in a couple of clubs and stuck with them all the way through high school. My daughter also started a support group under the direction of her guidance counselor for students who were grieving.

Staying Involved
When my daughter got to middle school and high school, it wasn't as easy to volunteer and be physically there with her. I had to find new ways to stay involved.

I reached out to every one of her teachers once a week. The guidance counselor and I communicated twice a month about classes and opportunities that may be a good fit for her.

I also served on the PTSA board and was Team Mom for her volleyball and rugby teams. I constantly looked for opportunities to engage and stay connected with her so she felt supported at school.

And it worked. My daughter graduated from high school with Honors and is now attending college.

When Fostering Perspectives approached me about writing this article I called my daughter and asked why she thought she was so successful in school.

"I always felt like you believed I could do it," she replied. "And when I saw how invested you were in my education, Mom, I just followed your lead. I'm glad I did."

Toni Davis is a foster parent in North Carolina.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~