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The Diligent Dozen

The Diligent Dozen
 A ‘To-Do’ List for Parents of Minorities Aspiring to College

JDon’t leave the choices in your child’s high school curriculum to school guidance counselors. Too often, counselors will steer students of color to less rigorous courses that fail to adequately prepare them for college work.

JDon’t leave it to counselors to decide which higher education institutions your child might apply to. One counselor tried to dissuade my daughter from applying to Boston University because of the racial climate in that city.

JMake sure your child has access to Advanced Placement courses. And be prepared to have to search for a school with the desired AP courses. If your school district has a magnet school-type program, you should be able to find these courses there. Proficiency in AP courses will enhance a college application.

JMake sure your child takes algebra no later than the ninth grade. And then move on to calculus, trigonometry and as much math as he or she can get. Numerous studies show math is key to doing well on college entrance examinations — and in college courses.

JGet involved in your child’s school as well as their schooling. Go to the back-to-school nights and teachers’ conferences. Volunteer for school trips and career days. You may be asked to stay away from the school socials, but somebody has to chaperone. Get involved with the PTA. If the teachers and administrators see you as an involved parent they are less likely to ignore your child, and you are more likely to wield greater influence in the education of your child.

JHave your child take the PSAT as early as possible. The more times students take this exam, the more comfortable they will become with it and other college entrance exams. Additionally, if students do well enough, they will get noticed by the National Merit Scholarship and National Achievement Scholarship programs.

JLook for programs both locally and nationally that will give your child a college-like experience for the summer. Some programs begin early, accepting children who are entering the ninth grade or younger. And most of these programs offer financial assistance, including transportation for those traveling long distances, for children from low-income — and in some cases, middle-income — families. And if you can’t obtain a summer experience for your child, then just take them to the nearest college campus and allow them to soak in the atmosphere. By taking your children to athletic and cultural events on local campuses — many of which are free to the public — you will be showing them that they belong in such places.

JCheck your children’s homework often — preferably every day. Even if it is something that you don’t understand, check it. And then, have them explain it to you. If the homework is done but they can’t explain it so that you can understand it, then have them ask the instructor to explain it in a way that their parents can understand. When they come home the next day, they should be expected to offer a more easily understood explanation.

JEncourage your children to read. Take the time to find the right reading genre for each child, because it will vary. One child may like Terry McMillan’s view of today’s Black women in America; another may like the grit and honesty of Walter Mosley; yet another can’t get enough of Terry Brooks’ Hobbit-like fantasy-lands. You may not succeed at interesting them in the swashbuckling adventures of Black French classical writer Alexander Dumas. Nonetheless, read some of their choices with them, and then discuss what you’ve read. Hopefully, this will give them appreciation for, and excellent examples of,  how to communicate ideas on paper.

JWhich brings us to writing. It doesn’t always come easy. Get children to start keeping some sort of journal as early as possible. Keep track of your children’s term papers. Remember that term papers require research. No adequate term paper can be researched in one sitting. Additionally, no term paper can be written in one sitting. If the teacher doesn’t expect to see more than one draft of the paper, then that is something on which you should insist. Do not allow your child to wait to begin writing until the night before the paper due. And this is especially true when writing the essay for the college application.

JHave your children study a foreign language — the more proficient they get, the better. As Hispanics become a larger proportion of the population in the next century, Spanish will become a more frequently heard language in almost every neighborhood of the nation, as it is in most of the Western Hemisphere. And aside from the native African languages, many Black Americans who aspire to return to the motherland are encouraged to learn French because of the many Francophone countries on the home continent. Swahili, Bantu, Chinese, Japanese, German, Italian, whatever— having familiarity with another language can do nothing but help.

JExtracurricular activities and community service are little things that can make a big difference on a college application. A growing number of the nation’s school systems require some form of community service prior to graduation. It is the sort of thing that usually leaves a very favorable impression. And colleges and universities always seem to need musicians for their bands, athletes for their teams, leaders for their student governments and a host of other talented individuals to “round out” their entering class.

—By Eric St. John, Black Issues’ News Editor, whose daughter is a Williams College graduate whose eldest son attends Stanford University, and whose youngest son is a scholarship student at Chelsea Clinton’s alma mater, The Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.

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