Parent Engagement

Student academic performance in the state of Wisconsin, and indeed throughout the nation, has been falling precipitously for many years now.  Third grade proficiency rates in math and reading in Northeast Wisconsin are now below the 30% mark.  That means fewer than 1 in three of our young people are reading or doing math at a level that will allow them to succeed academically or professionally.  If students continue to miss the mark through 5th grade, as most do, the odds of those students excelling in middle or high school are very small.  Uneducated adults will struggle to become financially independent and suffer much higher rates of incarceration, abuse, addiction, and mental health challenges.

We all know that our schools and our teachers are overwhelmed; as a community over the past several decades, we have become very comfortable with laying many of the challenges that our young people are facing at the doorstep of our local public school, and then returning back at the end of the day expecting all to be well.  It is simply impossible for school administrators and teachers to be experts in education, all aspects of mental health, every imaginable physical and learning challenge, food service, addiction, abuse and basic needs.  Education is a tremendously complex and all-encompassing career field that requires the full focus and attention of our teachers and administrators.  We as a community need to begin to carry much of the weight of the other issues and let schools focus on their critical mission of education. 

The truth is that in our current disconnected reality, many parent / teacher or parent / school administration interactions are negative.  Oftentimes, parents will only reach out to the school if there is a problem (failing grades, bullying, attendance problems, etc.).  The same can be said for the reasons schools reach out to parents.  These interactions are necessary, but perhaps we can find ways to bring parents and schools together in more positive and hopeful circumstances and in the process reduce the need for those negative interactions.

So how can we as a community begin to empower parents to reconnect and engage in their students’ education in a positive and proactive manner?  The goal is to empower parents to take their rightful role as primary educators of their children, and to give schools and teachers the assistance they so desperately need.  There is already some very promising work being done in Northeast Wisconsin to empower parents, including programs in the birth to 5 category, activities at some of our local libraries, and collaborations within some of our schools and after-school programs.  But the truth remains that there is literally an army of capable and passionate parents on the sidelines who we desperately need in the game.  So, what’s holding them back?

Obviously, some parents will have the ability to be more engaged than others; however, we believe that all parents should be empowered to engage to the extent that they are able and to the extent that they are comfortable.  Perhaps for a parent that is struggling, engagement takes the form of getting his / her kids to school on a more regular basis.  Attendance is a leading indicator of student success in education.  For another parent, who may have had a negative educational experience as a child, perhaps attending a parents’ welcome night at their kids’ school and having some positive interaction with the teachers and staff would be empowering.  For our ELL parents, let’s give them the assistance they need to become confident in their ability to read and speak English, and then invite them to read with their children (perhaps both in their native language and in English). 

Other parents who have more stable foundations at home may be willing to take on larger roles if the opportunities are made available.  What if every elementary classroom in Northeast Wisconsin had a parent volunteer working individually with students who are struggling behaviorally or academically?  How would the dynamics of the classroom change and how might student learning improve?  What if two or three parents volunteered to be on the playground during recess or in the cafeteria during lunch hour?  How would parent perspectives change about the student challenges that teachers and school administrators must face on a daily basis?  What if your student’s school had a thriving PTA or a school Facebook page that promoted positive interactions and support for teachers and a loyalty and respect for your school?  What if parents could reach out for support to other parents if their student is struggling socially instead of calling the principal?  What if all teachers shared basic lesson plans with parents once or twice per month as well as homework assignments so that parents could be aware of and assist in what their children are learning?

To the teachers and school administrators, what would it take to make these opportunities available?  As we envision what the future of education in Northeast Wisconsin might look like with empowered and engaged parents, we acknowledge that turning this ship will take cooperation, effort, and time.   Parent involvement will be a trickle before it becomes a stream; but if we can make these first interactions with these first brave souls a positive one, we will be developing a grass-roots team of ambassadors who will invite and recruit even more engaged parents.

The first step in the process is to get the word out.  Parents and our community need to know that our schools and students are struggling and that we need their help desperately.  The next step in the process is to provide hope and action items to invite and empower parents into the fray.  Parents – don’t wait to be asked – our kids need you today.  

Finding Purpose

Our young people are battling a crisis of purpose.  Not that many years ago, one’s purpose in life was a given.  As recently as the early 1900’s, children would be expected to work on the farm or elsewhere to help support the family so there would be food on the table.  Many of the necessities of life were created in the home, so kids were busy building, fixing, sewing, milking, hunting, and fishing.  Elderly parents were cared for in the home, and most ‘health care’ needs were tended to by other family members.  If time allowed, schooling may have been an option.  As these children grew older, the assumption was that they would find a spouse, have children, and commit their lives to the support and protection of their new and extended families.  There were other vocational paths, including religious / missionary work and social justice causes, but suffice it to say that most people back then did not struggle to find purpose as purpose was generally right in front of them.  Employment was a consideration as well but was more of a means to an end versus a calling.

Our world has transformed tremendously in the past 100 years; food and the other necessities of life are available in seemingly limitless quantities at relatively affordable prices, so most of us in the United States do not have to commit our lives solely to feeding our families.  Technology and economic progress have given us the luxury of disposable income that can be spent on wants like vehicles, vacations, apparel, and hobbies.  Health care has been institutionalized as has the care of the elderly, dramatically reducing the average person’s time spent ministering to others in need.  As travel and relocation is now effortless, we have lost touch in many cases with extended family members and neighbors, and we no longer feel obligated to participate in the challenges others are facing.  We have disconnected from our churches and from our community centers where volunteering your time and skill sets was the life blood of those organizations.  The concept of marriage and child rearing is fading fast as younger generations are buying pets and focusing on ‘experiences’ versus commitments.

And where has this left us?  Well, look around.  Our young people see the lives that adults are living, and they are not impressed.  If the purpose of life is to be self-obsessed and pleasure-obsessed, our kids are saying ‘no thank you’.  Depression, anxiety, psychoses, suicide, despair, confusion, self-loathing and isolation rule the day.  Social media and society command our kids to focus solely and exclusively on self, and the effects are devastating.

Moms and dads, grandparents and mentors, we have the power to help our young people to rediscover their true purpose and to begin to thrive again.  We must know going into this that finding purpose does not equate to an easy life.  Living one’s true purpose in life can be extremely difficult, exhausting, and lonely in some cases, but will always lead to true joy and fulfillment.

The first question that we must ask ourselves is, ‘have we found our purpose’.  ‘Sure’, you say.  ‘I have a kid or two.  That’s my purpose’.  That’s a good start, but have you truly committed your life to raising your kids, or are you living your ‘best life’ with kids in tow?  Kids will give our lives purpose, but only if we invest the time, the emotional commitment, and the sacrifice required to help them flourish.  Do you have a volunteer activity or hobby or professional vocation that involves outreach to others?  Are you aware of the challenges that your neighbors or other families are going through, and do you take action to help?  Are you involved in your children’s school, your church, or your community, making life just a bit easier for someone else?  If your purpose in life is you, it will be a struggle to assist your child to find his / her true purpose in life.

We must also begin to ask ourselves why we are spending so much time and effort focusing on travel sports, competitive dance, and even extreme educational pursuits for our children.  Will these activities assist them in finding their true purpose in life, or will they teach our kids that they deserve to always be the center of attention and their self-worth is dependent on their skill sets? 

At the end of the day, purpose in life can only be about the other.  Model love for neighbor in your own life, and your children will follow.  Require your kids to visit with grandma on a regular basis, help out at a neighbor’s house if they are old or struggling, volunteer at church or be part of a mission trip, help care for or coach younger children, or work at a local food pantry or homeless shelter.  These experiences will allow our young people to discover what gifts they have to offer and what their unique purpose looks like. 

When these young people begin to investigate potential careers, they can use these experiences to help them choose a job that may allow them to thrive financially and to fulfill their life’s purpose.  Or perhaps the job will only be a way to pay the bills, so they are able to pursue their purpose (eg: fatherhood), and that’s good too. 

With Artificial Intelligence rearing its ugly head, our lives will most likely only be getting easier in the years to come.  Unfortunately, an easy life will not bring fulfillment or joy.  We are not called to be comfortable; we are called to be extraordinary in the lives of others.  Find your purpose and be extraordinary.

Saying Goodbye

As August wraps up and the Packers season kicks off, many college freshmen are preparing to leave home and begin a new life experience away from parents, family and friends.  This can be a very exciting and somewhat traumatic time for both students and parents alike. 

The first and probably most important step in assisting your soon-to-be college student to be a thriving, independent young adult, is to allow them to take the lead in preparing for college.  The process can be a bit overwhelming, so stay close and be willing to help when needed; however, avoid the temptation to drive the bus, even if you could do everything more efficiently and effectively.  If your child is wondering what she needs to pack, direct her to her college’s admissions page or have her generically Google, ‘What should I pack for college’.  Encourage her to communicate with her roommate(s) to coordinate who is bringing what furniture and who is moving in when.  This will take some of the anxiety out of move-in day and will allow for the roommates to get to know each other a bit before they begin living together in a smallish dorm room for the next nine months. 

Although parents can use this preparation time to share cautionary instructions like ‘make sure you always walk with a partner at night’ and ‘drinking too much can have very bad consequences’ or ‘you’ll need to study two hours for every one hour you’re in class’, try not to dwell on your fears. First, know that the admissions staff at the college will cover all of these topics thoroughly during the orientation process.  Secondly, trust that the foundation you have laid over the past 18 years of your child’s life has equipped him with the tools necessary to process information and make wise decisions as he navigates his new world.  Be positive and encouraging, letting him know that he is going to do great things, meet wonderful new friends, and discover who he is in the process.

And know that he will make mistakes; much of what we learn over the course of our lives is a result of mistakes that we have made along the way; if you hover too closely, you will be depriving your student of those opportunities to fail and then emerge stronger because of the failure. 

For you ‘first time’ parents, drop off day will most likely be a whirlwind of emotions.  Your job is to do your best to keep it together until you get back in your car to make the trip back home.  Long, drawn out, tear-filled goodbyes with lots of last-minute advice need to be avoided.  Smiles, quick hugs, and maybe a slap on the back will give your student the emotional stability she will need as she begins to adapt to her new environment.  Although the next several weeks will be challenging for you, avoid the temptation to text with your child.  If she reaches out with a specific question, answer the question and push ‘send’.  If she is having second thoughts or is homesick, reiterate that she is going to be great, to hang in there and to get involved in orientation activities.  In most cases, the fewer the words coming from parent texts, the faster your child will transition. 

For those of you who will be empty nesters in the near future, you need to begin discerning God’s next role for you.  If you are married, that could mean reconnecting with your spouse in a way that was not possible with kids and kid commitments.  Take some time to discuss what a dream future would look like for the two of you (travel, hobbies, cottage, etc.) and then take steps to make those dreams a reality.  Also, challenge yourself to find ways to use your time and talents to improve the world around you.  If you loved being a parent, there are many children in your community who are desperate for a mentor, a tutor, or just a friendly face and a willing listener.  Take some quiet prayer time to see what good God needs you to do.  Although your children may need you less, the world needs you more.

Saying goodbye to a child who is moving on can be confusing and challenging.  Our identity as parents is intimately tied to our children and the time we spent raising and nurturing them.  Take this time of transition to be thankful for having been chosen to fill this awesome responsibility, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and then look ahead to see what else life has in store for you.  

Stay-at-Home Moms (or Dads)

Many of us in the 40 or over category have the shared experience of having stay-at-home moms for at least a portion of our childhood years.  Dad went off to work each day, and mom ran the house.  She was responsible for everything from household finances to grocery shopping to kids’ schedules to cleaning, cooking and discipline.  There was a strong sense of consistency and structure for my siblings and I, and whether it was summertime or school time, my mother was always present in the home (at least until my teenage years), creating order from the chaos of raising five children.  If we had a question, or a problem, or were sick, she was always available, and we were her top priority and full-time job.  Home was not necessarily an exciting place, and it didn’t always look like Leave it to Beaver, but it was a safe place and a constant in a world of change.

Much has changed over those 40 years regarding parenting roles and the focus on childrearing, but are our children generally better off today than we were back then?  Is it possible to raise healthy, well-adjusted children when both parents are focused on demanding, stressful, full-time occupations outside of the home?  You can bring that question to your next cocktail party or family dinner for some lively discussion.  For today though, should we consider re-opening the door to the possibility of one parent staying home, at least for a time, to raise their children?

Unfortunately, according to recent studies, nearly half of all children born in the past year were born to unmarried parents.  For these children, even if the father is in the picture, the odds of these families surviving long-term under one roof are extremely small.  So, before we can even talk about the possibility of a stay-at-home-parent, we must raise our sons and daughters to make choices with the assumption of a life-long marriage commitment.  There have been truckloads of so-called experts who have revolutionized the discussion of sexual intimacy over this same time period, all to the detriment of women, families, and children.  Teach your children that if they are not interested in getting married (forever) and committing themselves primarily to the raising of children, to avoid sexual intimacy.  Free sex and strong kids do not go together.

Another deterrent to the stay-at-home parent role is the major hit that marriage has taken since Woodstock.  Even if the mom and dad have college degrees or a very marketable set of skills, individuals now have a new level of vulnerability in regard to leaving the workforce for an extended period of time.  What if my spouse should leave me?  Could I find a job outside the home?  My earning potential is certainly not going to go up if I’m out of the game for 10 years.  Again, we need to teach our teenagers to choose wisely when looking for spouse; choose generous over wealthy, hard-working over successful and self-less over well-dressed.

Even if a child is born to married parents who are in it for the long-haul, is it possible to financially afford raising a family with a single income?  The short answer to that question is definitely ‘yes’.  Our children can get confused as to where they fit in the world because they don’t start paying attention to finances until their teenage years; they have no recollection of the lean years that the family went through when they were younger; they have come to expect that a car for every driver and a very nice family vacation every year is a given.  If finances are / were tight for you or your family, share that experience with your teenagers.  Walk them through the sacrifices that were necessary and the how you and your spouse had to depend on each other.  Tell them about all of the wonderful family memories that were created when you all just had each other. 

See to it that your teenagers / young adult children avoid digging themselves into a hole that makes stay-at-home parenting impossible.  Do not let them graduate from college with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt; help them choose a career field that they would enjoy but that also pays them enough money to support a family; advise them to avoid purchasing that $60,000 pick-up truck several days after graduating from high school or college.  Making difficult but wise decisions as young people will give them the freedom to choose as they begin to build their families.

There are also many cost-saving strategies that make stay-at-home parenting possible.  Dave Ramsey, an internationally known finance guru, has many resources and step-by-step processes for you to use; a few of these include: create a budget so you know exactly where your money is going; only use cash / debit card and cut up your credit cards so you feel every dollar you spend; cut coupons, make your own meals and shop on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace; find a part-time job that allows you work from home or after the working spouse returns home.  Most importantly, keep your eyes focused inwardly on your family and forget about keeping up with your friends or neighbors.  Their lives are not nearly as wonderful as they appear on social media.

Our children face unprecedented influences from a world that is in no way interested in their personal well-being or fulfillment.  Now is the time for us as parents to reclaim our responsibility as the primary educators and mentors of our children.  They need us desperately.


Who am I and what makes me who I am?  This is a question as old as humanity itself but is still as relevant as ever for our young people today.  

External characteristics define us to a certain extent, but society tells us that that we can and should continuously re-invent our outward appearance.  Western cultures provide a wide array of products and services to allow us to redefine ourselves, from hair dyes to steroids to tattoos to colored contacts to plastic surgery.  The challenge with playing the game is that styles and fads come and go, so a body shape or body accessory or a lifestyle that is popular today will most likely be thrown out and replaced five years from now.  Additionally, if we fully commit to the game to impress the Joneses, we will lose respect for ourselves and those characteristics that make us uniquely and wonderfully ourselves. 

We do not have to look far to see the devastating effects this process is having on our young people.  No longer is fashion the only driving force behind our students’ need to fit in.  With the advent of phones and social media came ‘influencers’ who, as a friend once told me, “are popular because they are popular”.  With an insatiable need for power and money, these ‘influencers’ promote strange and dangerous trends with no regard for the well-being of the children or young adults; in turn, our children view these ‘influencers’ as their ticket to the in-crowd.  Whatever feels good at the moment is definitely what you should do, even if that change is permanent and life changing.

Are our young people happier now?  If only.  As any conscious person in this country knows, anxiety is through the roof, suicides are skyrocketing, serious drug abuse is rampant and sexual deviance of every kind is on the rise.

But these influencers are not the problem in our world; they are just a natural symptom of and by-product of our collective loss of who we are as a people.  Who am I and what makes me uniquely me (on the inside) is a question we all need to be asking ourselves; we then need to allow that understanding to guide our lives. 

So where do we start.  Mike and I and our family look to God to answer that question, as so many generations before us have.  We know that we were made in the image and likeness of God and that we were made on purpose for a purpose.  Our physical features, our personalities, our talents and passions are not random happenings that can or should be changed; on the contrary, they should be celebrated and used for his glory.

Unfortunately, our human condition brings with it a fallen nature and a battle against darkness.  Again, God gives us the path to follow; do not lie, treat your neighbor as yourself, a life well-lived is one that is sacrificed for others, do not kill, keep holy the Sabbath, do not commit adultery, etc. etc.  As we are all weak, we live up to these ideals much better on some days than others; however, we can always go back to God for forgiveness and begin again. 

So, what if God is not your thing.  How do individuals create for themselves an internal set of morals or beliefs that will serve them well throughout their lives, regardless what the world around them is saying or doing?  You certainly can use the ten commandments as your starting point, because in spite of the arrogance of the current generation, human nature has not changed one bit over the past 4000+ years.  Begin by asking questions.  Is truthfulness important to me, and do I expect truthfulness from those around me?  If so, then work hard to be truthful in all your dealings, whether public or private.  Beyond that, do your homework.  Research the important topics of our day and find the Truth.  Do you believe that human life begins at conception, when the baby is born, or at some point in between? Do you believe that humans are primarily good or primarily evil?  Do you believe that your purpose on earth is for pleasure and gain, or to care for and support others?  Is your belief based on facts / wisdom, or convenience? 

What we don’t do is look to wealthy corporations, or the government, or to social media influencers to define our moral compass.  The moral compass they provide spins in circles and stops only occasionally to point them to more money and more power.  A handful of years ago, social influencers told us that we couldn’t pray in public – now they are telling us that we must pray for an injured athlete.  Two years ago, the NFL made a marketing decision that the United States and its military were irreconcilably broken – today the NFL has kicked off a new marketing strategy celebrating the United States and the military. 

You and your children can be people of integrity with a strong moral compass.  Talk with mentors you know who seem to be whole and at peace and get their opinion.  Use the internet to sort through all the powerful voices and listen for the quiet Truth.  Pray if you are so inclined.  When you make that thought-filled determination on a particular issue or virtue, leaving aside your personal bias, then you are obligated to be true to that Truth – every day.

One additional note.  Some will say that all that is needed is for people to be to be kind and support others in whatever makes them happy.  Although it sounds nice, this concept is lazy and dangerous.  If your daughter was upset that one of her feet was bigger than the other and asked if she could have her left foot removed to make her happy, you certainly would not oblige.  Some choices are good and some are not, and the vast majority of right and wrong is based on Truth, not personal opinion. 

Mike and a couple of the boys have been watching the Hobbit / Lord of the Rings movies recently, and he shared with me a quote that speaks to integrity.  In the movie, The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf the Wizard is asked by the Elf Princess why he brought Bilbo Baggins (small, defenseless, but steadfast and determined) along with him on his dangerous journey.  Gandalf replies, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.  Why Bilbo Baggins?  Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.” 

May we and our children all work hard to discover our north star and then be unwavering in our commitment to our consciences, even in the small everyday deeds.  We will then be influencers in our families and communities and provide courage to others in a world that desperately needs clarity and strength.


Parenting is hard and can be overwhelming to new and to seasoned parents.  There is no rule book, and every child is very unique in regard to personality, temperament, and challenges.  The first new-born baby for a young couple comes with a bucketful of questions and frustrations. Toddlers, who are just beginning to express themselves and learn about their world, can keep parents on the edge of their seats both physically and emotionally.  Elementary school and the new social interactions that come with the pre-teen years provide a new obstacle course for mom and dad to navigate.  When our children hit their teenage years, hormones are raging and many of the realities of life are hitting home; we are unable to protect our kids from the tough spots that growing up inevitably entails.  As late teens and young adults, a strong need for independence mixed with an all-knowing arrogance can make parenting feel more like a mine field than an obstacle course. 

As Mike and I look back on some of those challenging times (and some that are currently presenting themselves), we have noticed that many of the parenting mistakes that we made over the years resulted from making decisions out of fear rather than using our brains.  Unfortunately, fear is part of the human condition; we cannot hope to avoid it, but we can be aware of it and manage it.  To manage fear effectively, parents will need reason, courage, and perseverance.

Our natural instinct when we are confronted with fear may be to react quickly and instinctively (aka: run).  If our two-year old is mounting a full-scale temper tantrum as she sits in the packed grocery cart demanding some candy from the store shelf, our immediate instinct is to tear into the package of candy to quiet the child down.  Although this may seem like a great choice in the short term, any parent who has survived raising toddlers will tell you that is exactly the wrong thing to do for the long-term wellbeing of the child and the parents.  The right approach to this challenge would be to stop/breathe/think (reason), take the child out of the cart and carry him/her screaming to the car (courage), and then listen to them cry for the next 15 minutes on the ride home (perseverance). 

Another area where we struggled with fear was dealing with medical issues with our children.  As neither of us are trained in the medical field, we felt somewhat inadequate when it came to deciding the correct course of action when medical decisions needed to be made.  We are big fans of the medical profession, and have many instances of how knowledgeable doctors or heroic nurses have made a tremendous difference in the lives of our children; however, medical professionals worth their salt will tell you there is far more they don’t know about the human condition than they know for certain.  Some medical issues are cut and dried, but many more are shades of gray.  Often, a pill or a medication is not the right answer, even if the doctor prescribes it (or the parent demands it).  Parents need to advocate for their children by doing their research, seeking second opinions, and being willing to do the hard work over the long term, when necessary, to raise healthy kids.

Teenage friends, social media, and dating will send a shutter down the spine of the most hardened of parents.  Talk about scary!  I’d much rather spend the afternoon with a circus clown  than relive some of those negative experiences with my children.  Again, rely on reason, courage, and perseverance when you find yourself in the middle of these emotional and sometime heartbreaking realities.  If your eighth grade son has made friends with a group of boys that may not treat him well or may be making bad choices, your first response may be, ‘well, as least he has a group of friends’.  Your fear of him being lonely or not in the ‘in-crowd’ may cloud your judgement.  Remember that your responsibility as parent is not the quick fix, but the long-term wellbeing of your children.  Assisting your son to move away from that group and find a new social circle can be slow, difficult, and painful at times.  Courage and perseverance do not fully describe the fortitude that is required in situations like this.  Parenting is hard. 

Sports is another category where fear rules the day.  Much time, effort and money is spent feeding fears like, ‘what if my son can’t play varsity basketball’ or ‘if I don’t get my daughter started with dance at the age of 6, she will never be able to catch up’.  Sports are great.  All of our kids played multiple sports and the teamwork and camaraderie they learned from sports are valuable life skills.  But we as parents need to keep our fears, including our fears of our childhood sports failures, in check when we decide what is best for our kids.  In some cases, we just need to walk through our fears.  ‘What if Jenny is not able to play varsity softball?’  Most likely, she will still be able to attend college or a trade school, get married, have kids, etc.  ‘If Sampson does not play AAU basketball, there is no chance that he will be able to get a D2 scholarship’.  Well, then, Sampson should probably get a part-time job in high school so he can afford college if he decides to go.  One of our sons was never on a winning Little League team, but he had better coaches and more character-building opportunities during those years than any of our other sons who had many winning seasons. 

Fear is of the devil.  God tells us not to be afraid over 365 times in the bible.  We cannot erase fear from our lives, but we can manage it.  Recognizing fear is the first step in the process.  Then take back the power from fear using reason, courage and perseverance to make the right choices for your child.

Helping Your Student with Math

Here at Life Tools Tutoring, over half of the students that we work with are struggling in math.  The parents that call us are anxious and frustrated.  Many have attempted to work with their child at the kitchen table, only to have the session end in arguing or tears.  Some of our parents had negative math experiences when they were children, and others have labeled themselves ‘bad at math’ which effectively, in their minds, lets them off the hook. 

We can all agree that a certain level of math proficiency is essential in today’s world, regardless of your chosen profession.  Skills like being a wise shopper, understanding the real cost of loans, completing simple construction projects, etc. all require math knowledge.  In addition, many occupations use math every day, including engineering, accounting, insurance, finance and many positions in the medical field, to name a few.  As we mentioned in a previous article, math proficiency rates in the state of Wisconsin are hovering below the 30% rate.  Most of our kids are graduating high school without the requisite understanding of math to be successful.

So what can we, as parents, do to assist our students to become proficient in math and possibly even enjoy math?  For some parents, the first step is to stop and breathe.  Of all the dragons you will be required to slay as a parent, math class will not fall in the top ten; more importantly, God put you in charge of your child, so you have the skill sets and intellect required to guide your student to maximize his/her math potential.

That having been said, math curriculum, even at the youngest elementary school levels can be unique and unrecognizable in some cases.  Some school districts have adopted visual learning strategies to help young people see how numbers relate to real world scenarios and how to manipulate numbers in a variety of ways. The problem here is that many of us are not familiar with these new strategies; moreover, as homework has become a thing of the past for many schools, parents may be in the dark regarding how their students are being taught, and how they can help. 

Parents, we need to be proactive.  If the teacher is communicating well, outlining curriculum and providing ‘how to’ instructions for new math strategies, we to need fully engage with these tools.  We must take the time to learn these strategies and work with our students in the evenings to make sure they are understanding and keeping up.  If the written instructions are confusing, the internet will most likely have video explanations for you to follow.  (Check out the Life Tools Tutoring YouTube video to learn about ‘box multiplication’).  For teachers out there, actively engage your parents in the process; although it will require more effort in the short term, your students will find much more success utilizing this army of at-home educators.

Again, we must remember that education begins at home.  Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division flash cards are an excellent way to reinforce what your student is learning in the classroom.  Five minutes of practice in the evenings should be more than enough time to develop proficiency.  If your student is struggling with a particular concept, reach out to the teacher and ask for additional worksheets or practice problems that you can work through with your student.  Be sure to make this time together with your child relaxing and enjoyable; include snacks and don’t sweat it if some nights are more productive than others.  Make up real-world problems or questions that involve your child’s favorite cereal or use playing cards instead of flash cards.  As an aside, please also teach your young people about the value of coins – you might be surprised how little they know about them. 

As the middle school and high school years approach, parents become more and more intimidated with the idea of keeping up with their student’s math curriculum, much less assisting in the process.  We challenge you to step toward the problem; cast fear and/or laziness aside and do what needs doing.  Reach out to your student’s teacher to see what’s coming up in math class this month.  Borrow your own hard copy of the math textbook and self-teach if you need to.  “I was never good at math”, or “I don’t have the math gene” are comments that should not be verbalized, particularly in front of your student.  Although the internet is full of dark and dangerous spaces, the number of free math videos that are well-produced and easy to follow is simply staggering.  Or if the math is beyond your ability, search out a tutor (or a smart neighbor) to give your student a boost.

For those of you who are responsible for choosing math curriculum and textbooks for your school or district, please keep parents in mind.  As Life Tools tutors students from many different school districts, we can tell you that much of the math curriculum is confusing.  Moving forward, let’s try to find textbooks that teach the students how to work through a new concept and then provide four or five example problems to reinforce the concept.  The Socratic method (asking students questions until they come up with the right answer) is a great teaching technique for some subjects, but absolutely not for math.  Teachers, please provide digital slides from your lectures for students and parents to reference if needed.  When presenting a new concept, provide 20 or so problems on that concept for the student to work through so that they are able to lock down the strategy.  Mixing six or more math concepts on every homework assignment is confusing and demoralizing. 

We can get our students back on track with math and other subjects, but we as parents must step into the front lines.  Teachers are overwhelmed with challenges in the classroom, and they need our help.  Start today by asking your student what they are learning in math…and do it with a smile!


Mike and I were blessed to be able to send our children to the Catholic grade school in Kaukauna (now St. Ignatius).  Because the school was smaller – approximately 200 students – and because the school budget was very tight, parent involvement in the school community was a necessity.  If new playground equipment was needed, a group of families would get together to raise the necessary funds and then call volunteers to complete the work.  If the 7th grade girls were going to have a basketball team, one of the parents or grandparents would need to step-up to fill the role of coach.  The Home and School (aka PTA) was busy planning dances and other fun activities for the students as well as supporting the teachers with meals and other tokens of appreciation.  Parents were welcomed into the classroom to assist with a project, to help monitor an energetic classroom and to help with reading and math.  Many parent and student gatherings were planned for after the workday to welcome new parents and to provide an opportunity for parents to meet staff and one another.  There were many opportunities for after-school sports and clubs, including basketball, volleyball, track, Lego club, computer club, Boy / Girl Scouts, Spanish Club and many others over the years; again, all led and organized by parents or other St. Ignatius community members.

The focus of the teachers, staff, and administrators was to provide the highest level of academic achievement possible for the students under their care.  With parents and other community members managing the ancillary activities, the teachers were free to focus on educating our children, which is most definitely a full-time job.  Our children received an outstanding education, and we are forever indebted to those individuals for their passion, their compassion and their expertise. 

St. Ignatius was far from perfect; because people and kids were involved, there were struggles and conflict. However, because we were part of a community, we utilized those parent relationships and lifelines to help our students through difficult times.  If a student was being bullied on the playground, parents would reach out to each other first to fix the problem.  If a student was being excluded or was going through a tough time, we were made aware of this by other parents, and we would then sit with our kids to encourage them to be part of the solution.  Parents were on the playground, in the lunchroom, and in the classroom, so very little went unnoticed.  Obviously, teachers, administrators and staff were always available as well when needed, but they were just one part of the wider St. Ignatius community.

As many of us know, education in the state and in the country has been in a steady decline over the past few decades, with math and reading proficiencies hovering at the 30% mark.  Teachers and administrators desperately need parent engagement to get our students back on track.  There are definitely challenges to creating a sense of community with larger public schools.  With large enrollments, many teachers, large campuses, and government red-tape, getting involved in your school may seem intimidating. 

Begin by identifying your strengths.  Do you have some experience playing sports?  Were you a Boy Scout or Girl Scout?  Are you mechanically inclined or skilled at IT?  Maybe you have some time during the day to work with students who are struggling with 3rd grade math or 1st grade students who are just beginning to read. What could you do to assist your school to create that sense of community?  Can you create a parents’ network on Facebook or social media to keep parents informed about school activities or challenges within the school?  Is there a welcoming committee at your school to bring new parents into the fold and to provide a friendly contact for questions and concerns?  Do teachers have access to parent resources they can reach out to if they are undertaking a complicated science experiment or going on a field trip or managing an unruly student?

Engage with your students as well.  Have them walk you through their school day.  You may be surprised by what you hear.  Mike was recently working with a 6th grade student who shared with him that very little math learning took place in her math class for a six-week period due to a group of disruptive students.  This is tragic and unacceptable; what can you do to be part of the solution?  Is your student receiving homework on a regular basis?  Mike and I are big believers in homework to reinforce what is being taught in the classroom.  Engage with your student in completing their homework, and reach out to other parents, teachers, or Google to get yourself up-to-speed if needed.  If your school has a no homework policy, perhaps you need to reach out the school administration or join the school board to make your opinions known.

“But I don’t have time,” you say.  “I have a full-time job; I’m raising my kids and chasing them around to activities in the evenings and on the weekends.” 

These are desperate times, and your involvement is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.  Many employers offer flexible scheduling to allow for time away during the traditional workday.  This may require your working at home after the kids are in bed.  You may have to give up time at the gym or nights out with friends to take on the junior soccer league, but the work is very rewarding.  Finding parent volunteers to staff a committee may not be easy, but the relationships you create may last a lifetime.  Take it from parents of kids that are pretty much grown: time moves amazingly fast; you will never regret time spent on your children and their education.  Do it today.

Failing Literacy and Math Proficiency Rates – Where Do We Go From Here…

In the aftermath of the school shutdowns during the Covid outbreak, there has been much discussion regarding the negative academic, social, psychological, and emotional impacts on our young people.  Although the scale and depth of the impact may not be fully understood for years to come, the devastation on state and national proficiency rates is fully apparent.  Moreover, in looking more closely at the reading and math proficiency rates in Wisconsin over time, the fact of the matter is that these rates have been alarmingly low years before Covid reared its ugly head.

We can all agree that the attempt at remote learning during the covid year was ineffective at best and an utter failure at worst.  Even though many teachers and administrators poured their hearts into making the most of that very difficult situation, and most parents engaged to the best of their abilities, little to no learning was accomplished during the 2020 / 2021 year for the schools that remained virtual.  So, the 7% decline in literacy proficiency rates, and the 10% reduction in math proficiency rates during that time period was somewhat predictable.  What is much more concerning is the fact that proficiency rates were hovering at the 44% rate in English and at the 43% rate in math, back in 2017, and either decreased or held steady for 2018 and 2019.

That means that fewer than one out of every two students in the state of Wisconsin are grade level proficient in reading and in math.  What’s even more startling is that Wisconsin fairs better than average relative to the other states in the union.  Aside from covid, then, why are academic proficiency rates so low across the state and across the country, and what can be done to achieve proficiency rates of 75% or higher – rates worthy of this great country of ours.

Some will attempt to discount this state of emergency by blaming it entirely on the pandemic and assuming all will become good again over time.  The data simply does not support this argument, so be very careful not to be lulled into a false sense of security.  Others will tell us that there is not enough money in education; again, the data dramatically refutes this red herring as educational spending in this state and across the country has doubled and tripled over the past handful of years, with the average cost of educating a student having risen to $13,000+ per school year. 

One of the main reasons that educational standards and proficiencies have plummeted is that we as parents have abdicated our responsibility as primary educators of our children.  Many of us have become far too comfortable dropping our children at the school’s doorstep and assuming that the teachers and administrators will take care of things for us.  Do you know what your children are doing during the school day?  Do you talk with your kids about what they learned in math class today?  When your student’s teacher sends home a summary of their curriculum for the week, do you take the time to read through the details?  If you have some thoughts or concerns about a how a particular subject is being handled (or mishandled) at your school, do you take the time to respectfully follow-up with the teacher and/or the principal?  If your student has homework, do you take the time to get engaged if needed?  We are our children’s teachers, and we must not and cannot surrender that critical role.

Another reason that academic proficiency is down across the country is that overall educational rigor has decreased significantly over the past 30 years.  The next time your students comes home from school, ask them to break down how much of their day was spent being taught a subject and how much of their day was ‘work time’ or ‘flex time’ or ‘movie time’.  You may be surprised.  In an effort to keep as many students ‘on board’ as possible, there has been a conscious decision in education to dumb down the curriculum and the overall workload.  Inordinate amounts of teachers’ days are spent managing unruly students, in an endless cycle of reprimands and disrespect. In addition, as some parents may not be able or available to help with homework, the decision has been made to eliminate homework to ‘even the playing field’. 

We must immediately and aggressively reverse this devastating mindset.  We must raise the bar of expectations for all of our students.  Teachers and administrators must focus on filling the class time with instruction and information exchange vs free time, group work, or work time.  We as parents need to support our schools in taking a more serious approach to our children’s education and then prepare our kids with clear expectations and respect for their education.  We need to volunteer in the classroom; we need to work together in ‘mom networks’ and ‘dad networks’ to support teachers, parents and students who might be struggling or who just need assistance.  We need to get back to the basics of teaching phonics, ‘regular’ math, science, history, technology and financial literacy, and leave the social experimenting to other organizations.  If there are students in the classroom who continuously disrupt the class, a new setting must be found for these students apart from the mainstream classroom, so that real learning can take place every day.  We need to get back to the days of no food, proper dress, and now, no cell phones in the classroom, so that our children begin to develop a proper understanding of the value of education in their lives. 

We must cultivate smart, passionate young people, especially in the STEM subjects, to become teachers and then provide work environments that are conducive to serious learning.  We will need to pay these teachers well, so the choice to teach does not significantly impact their earning potential; likewise, we must release some teachers who are unqualified or who are confused about their role in the classroom.  Most importantly, we as a community need to re-prioritize academics in our schools above sports, building needs, and social engineering.  This will allow our teachers to again re-discover their true mission and our students to reach their true potential.

The Greatest Bedtime Story of All

Luke Ch. 3; Matthew Ch. 1 and 2.

Now, this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, an upright man unwilling to expose her to the law, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention, when suddenly the angel of the lord appeared in a dream and said to him: “Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. She is to have a son, and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had directed him and received her into his home as his wife.

In those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to register each to his own town. And so, Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to David’s town of Bethlehem – because he was of the house and lineage of David – to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child.

While they were there, the days of her confinement were completed. She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travelers lodged.

There were shepherds in that region, living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flocks. The angel of the Lord appeared to them as the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very much afraid. The angel said to them: “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you – tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole people. This day, in David’s city, a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord. Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.”

Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.” They went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the bay lying in the manger; once they saw, they understood what had been told them concerning this child. All who heard of it were astonished at the report given them by the shepherds.

After Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of King Herod, astrologers from the east arrived one day in Jerusalem inquiring, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” At this news, King Herod became greatly disturbed, and with him all Jerusalem. Summoning all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they informed him. “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the princes of Judah, since from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Herod called the astrologers aside and found out from them the exact time of the star’s appearance. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, after having instructed them: “Go and get detailed information about the child. When you have found him, report it to me so that I may go and offer him homage too.”

After their audience with the king, they set out. The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them, until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, found the child with Mary, his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their coffers and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

They received a message in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, in accord with what had been told them.

From the Life Tools Tutoring family to yours, we wish you a blessed, joyful and peaceful Christmas season.