Academic Success Begins At Home

Have you heard of Kwasi Enin? I had the privilege of “meeting” this young man virtually because of his recent accomplishment. The article in the online version of Newsday magazine was an interview about how he was accepted into all eight Ivy League schools, as well as several other institutions of higher education. This rare feat was amazing by any standard, but I was struck by an incredible sense of pride because he was a young man of African descent.

It seems that anytime you hear news about young, black males, the report is usually downbeat. I loved posting Kwasi’s feat on my social media profiles because I wanted to add a morsel of optimism to the overwhelming weight of negative stories.

While there may have been others that have been accepted into every school in that elite grouping, I haven’t had the privilege of hearing about them. Getting into even one of what’s arguably the United States’ academic standard of excellence is by no means easy. As a group, they admit roughly five percent of all applicants each year. Not only are the vast majority of those applying to those schools at the top of their class when it comes to grade point averages, college entrance board tests and their high school’s extracurricular activities, the successful applicants also had to show a willingness to serve in their communities, and perform well during an interview.

Kwasi also attends a public high school; not a private academy. We constantly hear how our students lag behind other countries in academics. We see the results of local school boards latest and greatest teaching methods. We witness students going through their formal training years in a nonchalant way; their GPAs barely reaching “average”. In some districts, getting students to earn an average grade in “the three R’s” would be cause for celebration.

In today’s highly competitive college admissions, as well as in the rapidly changing workplace, mediocrity is a sure ticket to being left behind in one’s chosen life path. What makes the hundreds of (mostly) unheralded, bright young people excel, while the rest of our country’s student body languishes? I believe that there are four keystones in the homes of those that excel academically that are, to some extent, lacking in the homes of the scholastic morass –

1. A clear vision of one’s desired future – If you ask the achievers in school what they’d like to do as a career, you’ll either get a definite answer, or a choice between two interests. Most of them made well-researched decisions years ago on their ideal career. It was based on observations over time, a school subject they’ve taken, or a special talent in a hobby.

Unfortunately, a large portion of the student body in most schools haven’t put any more thought into what they’d like to do after school than they have on what clothes they’re wearing this weekend. As graduation approaches, they’ll go into panic mode and begin their search for college or job opportunities. Many will find that they’re not qualified for the fields that interest them.

Do the young people in your home have an idea or a thought about a career they may want to enter? Do they have a skill that can be developed into a well-paying occupation? If not, have a conversation with them, and find out what they like to do, and why they like to do it. Don’t settle for “Because it’s fun”. What’s fun about it? How did they become involved in the activity? What sparked their interest? Help them research any related classes and jobs associated with that interest. This will help them develop a focal point for their future.

2. Building a thirst for the end result  The high achieving students have the ability to go into great detail about what their life will be like once they graduate. They can picture themselves in their college classes, absorbing knowledge, and applying their research on course projects. They frequently imagine themselves working in their ideal profession.

When your child tells you about their future as they picture it, how do you respond? Do you encourage them? Do you make it a point to expose them to the people and environments of that dream to bring realism into their imaginations? Or, do you discourage them because of your ingrained boundaries, such as their intelligence, physique, gender, or race? The Academic Pride of East Africa

The way you respond will have a profound effect on their outlook and, in turn, their academic performance. Why? Because the motivation for attaining knowledge lies in one’s desire to put that knowledge to use in a meaningful way. This can be simply for the joy of learning something new, but many times it’s a building block for future academic and career goals. Those students that have been consistently encouraged will perform better.

3. Expectations of excellence  In the Enin household, mediocrity was not an option. Kwasi’s father, Ebenezer, said that Kwasi was raised, along with his sister, to strive for excellence.

“He’s been trained to be a high achiever right from when he was a kid. We have been encouraging him to be an all-around student. So far, he has proved himself.”

This is a common theme in the households of the achievers. There’s a high level of expectation, focus, and an encouragement of self-discipline to make sure that the goals are met. To keep the scholars mentally sound, there’s also time to participate in non-academic activities. Remember, while all work and no play makes one dull, boring, and uninteresting, these other activities were secondary to the academics.

Do you set high standards for the young people in your home, or do you give “lip service” to those values? Do you expect the best from your child, or do you give them the ready-to-wear excuse “Well, I was never good in that subject… you’ve taken after me.”?

If they fall short of expectations, what actions have you put into place to help them reach the bar? Do you have a reward system in place for the attainment of excellence (not necessarily money)?

Establishing high standards, and emphasizing excellence, will help your children to develop the best in themselves.

4. Support – at home and school  Everyone needs support at one time or another. We all go through times of struggle and stress, and having a support system is vital to our well being. This is especially true for younger people.

College admissions remain rigorous. The workplace is going through its own revolution; changing the way we work, and how we gain access to the companies where we want to grow our careers. Peer pressure has always been a concern, and the youth today may have to deal with these pressures at home via the internet.

Many households have one parent or guardian working two or three jobs, just to make ends meet. In these homes, it’s difficult, at best, to provide the support your kids need when you may be tired. However, it must be done.

After taking some time to wind down, talk to your children for at least 15 minutes a day. Find out what’s going on in their lives. Look over their homework. Stay in contact with the faculty of your child’s school by attending the conferences throughout the year (ask any teacher about the relationship between parents attending conferences and their child’s progress). If your child knows that you’re talking to their teachers regularly, they’ll see that you’re serious about their success.