Meet Lis Klemme

Elisabeth (Lis) Klemme, Brain Balance Program Director at Shelterwood, loves being part of a new chapter in our families’ stories. Get to know Lis.

What Lis loves most about Shelterwood: “Shelterwood fosters a continual growth process. I love that I’m constantly learning and constantly growing,” Lis says. “Shelterwood continually challenges its staff to be better and to grow in a kind, loving way.”

Brain Balance, defined: Often, students arrive at Shelterwood with a gap between their biological age and their brain’s age of maturity. For example, a student may be 16 years old, but with a brain function at age 11. Because of the gap, the student can struggle to handle situations as someone his or her biological age should. “Brain Balance helps make the brain teachable, so students can better learn,” Lis explains. Shelterwood is the only therapeutic boarding school with Brain Balance right on campus.

When she was a teen: “Sometimes I look around and think, perhaps I should have been at Shelterwood as a teen!” Lis says. “My mom was a politician and I learned from an early age how to just put on a pretty face. On the one hand, I was on the soccer team and Honors society and youth group, but then I had another side that was far less positive. I went to church every Sunday, but I spent Saturday night partying or doing things that were not God-honoring,” Lis reflects. She dedicated herself to Christ at age 17, as a senior in high school. “I always had a relationship with God, but when I gave my life up to God, that changed everything.”

What brought her to Shelterwood: Lis earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri, and after graduating, spent time writing grants and working with children through after-school programs, and then got plugged into the Brain Balance community. “One of my Brain Balance mentors was connected with Amanda Gunter, and when the coordinator role opened, it was a great opportunity for me,” Lis recalls. “I got to train with the previous Director, who was retiring, so it was such a smooth transition into both Brain Balance and Shelterwood.”

SW TherapyQuotable ElisabethKlemme Meet Lis Klemme

Favorite part about being the Brain Balance Program Coordinator: “One of the things I love about Brain Balance is that every day looks different,” Lis says. She works directly with students, counselors, parents and coaches. “My role is making sure everyone is engaged on all fronts, and I love being kept on my toes!”

Most unique aspect of Shelterwood Brain Balance: “Brain Balance is really innovative in that it acknowledges that not all behaviors are the child’s fault,” Lis explains. “Brain Balance starts first with the immaturities in the brain and gets to the root of the problem. Integrating Brain Balance from the beginning to the end also helps therapists along the way to know where the students are, so they are able to serve them more effectively.”

Family: Lis met her husband, Jason, while they were students in college. They have a two-year-old daughter named Corrine. When the weather is nice, Lis and her family head to the park or go for a bike ride. They also enjoy spending time with friends from their church.

Best part of her Shelterwood job: “I love enrolling new families!” Lis says. “It is such a new beginning for every family, so I get really excited when I am able to be part of that treatment plan and part of the next chapter in their story.”

The Brain Balance Difference

Shelterwood students receive the best in innovative therapies as they journey towards restoration. Among our many treatments, students have access to the life-transforming Brain Balance program, located right here on our campus. This holistic approach to increasing brain function helps students reach new heights.

“We like to use an iceberg as a visual for the Brain Balance process,” explains Elisabeth (Lis) Klemme, Shelterwood’s Brain Balance Program Director. “Symptoms are above the water and the function of the brain is below the water. Other protocols treat the symptoms, but Brain Balance gets to the root of brain function.”

DSC8805 The Brain Balance Difference

The brain has two distinct hemispheres — right and left — and these hemispheres are unique in what they do and how they connect. Brain Balance, therefore, is designed to isolate the stronger hemisphere of the brain and increase function in the brain’s weaker hemisphere.

While other programs may teach coping mechanisms and strategies to mitigate symptoms, Brain Balance addresses neurological gaps. “Brain Balance helps make the brain teachable, so students can better learn,” Lis explains. Shelterwood is the only therapeutic boarding school with Brain Balance right on campus.

Often, students arrive at Shelterwood with a gap between their biological age and the brain’s age of maturity. A student may be 17 years old, but with a brain function at age 11, so the student may struggle to handle situations as someone his or her age should. A number of factors combine to help the brain mature, Lis explains. For example, do students have primitive reflexes? Are gross motor skills at a place they should be for the student’s age? How about sensory items? Brain Balance addresses all of these and more.

Brain Balance is an adjunct program at Shelterwood, so parents must elect to have their student take part in the program — but the Brain Balance assessment is free of charge to all Shelterwood students, and the team reviews findings with parents, so they are well-equipped to decide if the program will benefit their teen.

In Brain Balance, students can progress as much as three to four grade levels academically. The impact of Brain Balance is typically noticed first in the boarding school classroom, but it has deep effects on a student’s emotional intelligence: traits like empathy and interpersonal connection are built too. “Having Brain Balance as part of the Shelterwood program helps students genuinely mature,” Lis says.

Brain Balance sets the stage for more productive and progressive clinical therapy as well. “Therapists have a real understanding of where the teen is at during every stage of their programming, and the therapist can adapt the plan based on the maturity of the child’s mind,” Lis says. Armed with this information, therapists can serve students more effectively.

There are many success stories as a result of Brain Balance. Lis recalls a student who faced a number of challenging triggers with a physical and dangerous response. Brain Balance brought about a night-and-day difference, helping the student respond to her triggers in healthy ways. Today, that student has successfully graduated Shelterwood, graduated high school and enrolled in college. “By the end of Brain Balance, this student was making a plan for her future,” Lis says.

Shelterwood receives the NATSAP Gold Seal Award

Everyone on the Shelterwood team is committed to serving our students with excellence. That’s why we’re especially humbled and thankful to receive the NATSAP Gold Seal Award For Evidence-Based Outcomes. This designation is just the latest in our ongoing commitment to measure our success.

As one of the first recipients of this award, this designation demonstrates the positive outcomes taking place every day at Shelterwood, says Rujon Morrison, Program Director. “The bottom line is, what we’re doing here at Shelterwood is working, and the Gold Seal Award says we have the evidence to prove it.”

DSC 3214 Shelterwood receives the NATSAP Gold Seal Award

NATSAP, the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs, was founded in 1999 as a national resource for programs and professionals assisting young people. From residential and wilderness programs to long-term care and transitional living, all NATSAP organizations are dedicated to serving children, adolescents or young adults.

One of NATSAP’s key endeavors is helping their member organizations conduct outcome studies. From this effort comes the Gold Seal program. To receive this designation, a minimum of 70% of Shelterwood students and parents must participate in and complete the outcome study on an annual basis. 

The outcome study provides important scientific evidence to back up the Shelterwood program, Rujon adds. “It’s so important for us to know what we’re doing well and where our opportunities for growth are. We take what we’re doing here seriously, and there’s nothing quite like hard data to support our efforts.”

%name Shelterwood receives the NATSAP Gold Seal Award

Also driving the study is Stacy DeVries, our Shelterwood Research Coordinator. Having worked for our ministry for more than 17 years, Stacey is committed to seeing and tracking student progress. Furthermore, her efforts help our therapy team track clients and interpret the results of these important surveys.

At Shelterwood, we’re gathering data from parents and students several times along the way: within a week of enrollment, upon departure, six months after discharge and then a year after discharge. These parameters mean we’re gathering long-term data, and we’re seeing restoration and transformation that lasts long after a student’s departure from Shelterwood.

“We’re very proud of this award,” Rujon says. “The Gold Seal demonstrates that the Shelterwood program has evidence-based treatment that creates reliable change. The outcome study provides that important scientific evidence that promotes what we’re doing here.”

Recreation Symposium

Shelterwood staff train fellow professionals at a local symposium

%name Recreation SymposiumThe 2015 Midwest Symposium on Therapeutic Recreation and Adapted Physical Activity, a regional conference, was held in St. Louis, Missouri this April. Shelterwood Academy’s Recreation Therapist, Karalee White, and Brain Balance’s Amanda Gunter presented to a large group on the benefits of the two treatment approaches and how they work in tandem on the campus of Shelterwood.

The field of therapeutic recreation is broad, as it is designed to serve all ages of clients and needs and as a result, recreation therapists typically need a hefty toolbox of interventions. Unfortunately, the study of left and right brain functioning has been reserved for patients with brain injuries, or severe cognitive impairments and processing disorders. This has meant that many recreation specialists working with teens at therapeutic boarding schools have overlooked the growing field of neurobiology, and the new discoveries regarding the plasticity of the brain that are being made.

In the session, Amanda introduced recent trends and discoveries in neurological research with stages of brain %name Recreation Symposiumdevelopment, and how our system responds to stress with fight, flight or freeze reflexes. She presented on the Brain Balance concepts of functional disconnection between the right and left brain, where one hemisphere is showing deficits in sensory, cognitive or psycho-motor processing. She then provided a breakdown of the characteristic strengths and weaknesses for each hemisphere.

Karalee provided the group with examples of specific interventions that she uses at Shelterwood to enhance the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. As she discussed the unique quality of motor movement, smells, colors and sounds required for improved functioning of each hemisphere, the room began to buzz with excitement as therapists started to whisper to each other with renewed excitement and intervention ideas.

The participants were invited to practice their understanding of the concepts by breaking into groups to design recreation and leisure programming that implemented hemispheric strategies to strengthen the weaker hemisphere and improve overall functioning. They were asked to assess a case and create a program based on hemispheric weakness, chronological age, brain age and problem area or diagnosis.  After a short time, each group presented their treatment designs with innovative detail and flourish, adding to the overall understanding of the group.

Responses to the session were numerous and some of the comments were:

  • “This is what Therapeutic Recreation needs to tie our wagon to.”
  • “Your session has been the talk of the conference.”
  • “These are tools I can use immediately!”
  • “I can’t wait to take this back and put this into practice.”
  • “I wish the session was longer, because I have so many questions.”
  • “This is something that we can do and do well.”
  • “The potential for this is exciting.”

Karalee and Amanda were encouraged by the response and have already been booked to speak again at the next symposium.

Karalee White, CTRS

Amanda Gunter

The Teen Brain

The Incredible Cognitive Potential & Vulnerability of the Teenage Brain

IMG 2774 300x224 The Teen Brain   Research in the past 10- 15 years has shown that our brains continue to develop in fundamental ways through the teen years and even into the late 20s and 30s.   In fact, Jensen argues in her new book, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, the teenage years comprise one of the brain’s most critical periods for development – likely every bit as crucial as early childhood. “That seven years in their life is, in a way, as important as their first seven years of life,“ Jensen says. “It is probably one of the most important seven-year periods in their entire life. “

Emerging brain development science is changing the way we view team behavior: why teens can seem so moody and disorganized, why they sometimes make such short sighted decisions and why many serious mental illnesses begin to emerge in adolescence.

New discoveries are also revealing that teen brains are far more vulnerable than we thought, revelations that are destined to give rise to a new war over how parents, teachers and society should treat teenagers – with more freedom or more rules?

Recent scientific thinking on brain development is a fundamental shift, one that is poised to make adolescence, rather than childhood, the latest battleground in the fight to make a generation of smart, healthy and independent adults.

IMG 5170 225x300 The Teen BrainThis past year has seen the release of psychiatrist Daniel Siegel’s best-selling book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, along with Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescents by Temple University Psychology professor Lawrence Steinberg and the updated re-release of psychologist David Walsh’s influential 2004 book on teen brains, Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen.

Among the most popular misconceptions about brain development is the idea that the most important changes happen in the first three years of life. This idea has been the source of much parental anxiety over the fear that they provide enough stimulation to their infants before their synapses are lost. Paul Howard Jones, a professor of adolescence and education at the University of Bristol believes that parents can breathe a sigh of relief and pack up baby Einstein’s toys.

IMG 4519 225x300 The Teen BrainAn improved understanding of the developing brain carries a growing acknowledgement that teenagers are uniquely susceptible to great risks. Behind the seemingly invincible teenage boy with the booming voice and adult body is a brain that is incredibly vulnerable to everything from sports related concussions to mental illness and addiction. New research is uncovering ways in which the activities that so often typify teenage years, such as experimenting with cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol, can lower teen’s IQ or increase susceptibility to mental illness later on. Chronic stress stemming from family violence, poverty or bullying has also been linked to changes in the teen brain that can raise the risk of mood disorders or learning disabilities.

Science is only beginning to understand just how crucial the teen years are to the person we ultimately become. “This is an incredible reveal of how much capacity we have that we never really realized we had at this age,” Jensen says, “but also that it has a price.”

At the heart of our understanding of brain development are two basic concepts gray matter and white matter. Gray matter consists of neurons, the brain cells that form the building blocks of the brain. White matter, are the connections that form between gray matter, helping to move information from one area of the brain to the next.

While gray matter growth is indeed almost completely finished by the age of six, white matter – the wiring between brain cells – continues to develop well into the 20s. In fact, says Jensen, “that wiring is only about 80% complete by the age of 18”.

The last area of the brain to be hooked up with white matter is the pre-frontal cortex, which controls insight, judgment, self-awareness and empathy – the brain’s so called executive functions.

Along with new wiring the brain of teen’s and young adults are also undergoing a process called myelination, in which those white matter connections are being coded in a protective fatty material. Myelin acts as a form of insulation, allowing signals to move faster between brain cells, helping to speed the flow of information in the brain. Since both the wiring to the prefrontal cortex, and the insulation, is incomplete, teens often take longer to access the prefrontal cortex is, meaning they have a harder time making judgments and controlling their impulses. The process of myelination continues into the 30s, giving rise to questions about how old someone must be to considered to have a fully developed ‘adult’ brain.

P1010006 300x225 The Teen BrainAt the same time the teens’ brains are laying down connections and insulation, puberty has triggered pituitary glands to release hormones are acting on the limbic system, the brain’s emotional center. The combination of heightened emotions and an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex explains why teens are often prone to emotional outbursts, says Jensen, and also why they seek out more emotionally charged situations, from sad movies to dangerous driving.

Hormones also appear to have a different effect in teens then they do in adults. The hormone THP, which is released by the body in response to stress, has a calming effect in adults, but actually seems to have the opposite effect in teens, increasing stress. It’s one reason why teens are prone to anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s also a good reason, Jensen says, why parents and schools should be sensitive to the problem of bullying.

Along with new wiring, insulation and hormones, teens brains are highly sensitive to the release of dopamine, which plays on the areas of the brain that govern pleasure And helps explain why teens seem to take so many risks.

It’s not that they don’t know any better. In fact, reasoning abilities are largely developed by the age of 15 and studies have shown that teens are as accurate as adults when it comes to understanding if an activity is dangerous.   Their brains are just more motivated by the rewards of taking a risk than deterred by its dangers. So even if they know something might be bad – speeding, drinking too much, and trying new drugs – they get more pleasure from taking the risks anyway.

Central to our understanding of how teens learn is ‘pruning’ – a period when the brain begins to shed some of the gray matter cells built up in childhood to make room for the growth of white matter. A long period of gray matter growth in childhood, followed by vigorous pruning in adolescence has been linked to higher intelligence, Jensen says.

It’s for this reason the Jay Giedd, an expert in child and adolescent brain imaging at the US National Institute of Mental Health, describes the teen years as a special period of ‘use it or lose it’ for the brain. Brain cells grown in childhood that continue to get used in adolescence form new connections, well those that go unused wither away. It’s also another reason why parents should be anxious about what happens during the teen years – adolescents now appears to be a period that can make or break a child’s intelligence.

A significant consequence of pruning is that IQ, once thought to be fixed for life after childhood, can in fact change dramatically during the teen years.

British researchers at University College London tested the IQs of 33 teams age 12 to 16 and then retest them four years later. They found some teens IQ rose as much as 18 points, the difference between being average and being gifted. They attributed the changes to increases in grey matter in two areas of the brain that govern speech and language, as well as hand movements. In a follow-up study, the same researchers found that changes to verbal IQ were strongly linked to reading abilities in early adolescence, suggesting that changes were not simply genetic. They recommended that children with dyslexia be given audiobooks of their verbal IQs don’t deteriorate with age.

A study published last year of Swedish teenagers linked a drop in IQ between ages 13 and 18 with a higher risk of developing a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia as an adult.

Just as teens’ brain development appears to make them highly sensitive to learning new skills, science is beginning to reveal just how vulnerable teens are to learning the wrong things.

Learning is a process of repeatedly exposing the brain to something that stimulates the production of dopamine, which strengthens connections in the brain’s reward center and helps form new memories. Addiction, therefore, is simply a form of ‘overlearning’ by the brain, Jensen says. That process can be controlled by the prefrontal cortex, but since teens are so primed for learning and have less of an ability to access the prefrontal cortex, they’re also more susceptible to addictions.

What’s more, substance abuse can interfere with brain development in ways that can make teens more vulnerable to mental illness or even lower their IQ. Researchers have shown that students with higher levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine, in their bodies perform worse on cognitive tests. Smoking also seems to be related to less active prefrontal cortexes in teens and appears to damage parts of the brain that produce serotonin, and lower levels of serotonin are linked to depression.

Other studies have linked smoking in teams to alcohol abuse, which itself has a devastating effect on both memory and intelligence. And it turns out smoking pot may be far worse for the team brain than previously thought. Recent studies have linked regular marijuana use and adolescents to smaller brain volume and more damage to white matter. Smoking daily before the age of 17 has been shown to reduce verbal IQ and increase the risk of depression. This can be a particular problem for teens with ADHD, who researchers have found are far more likely to abuse both cigarettes and marijuana than other teenagers.

For teens who get a thrill from binge drinking and getting high, the consequences may be dire – and possibly, permanent.

Alcohol, for instance, can affect the developing brain teen brain in myriad negative ways: causing potentially permanent damage to the hippocampus, which helps the brain form long-term memories, a critical aspect of learning. American researchers have also found that teens who start drinking before the age of 15 were four times more likely to become alcoholics later in life than those who held off until age 21.

That research comes with a warning for parents who think that as long as their teenagers drink at home under supervision, they’ll be safe from the temptation to abuse alcohol. Studies have found that the more teens a drink at home, the more they will drink elsewhere and the higher their chances are of becoming an alcoholic.

It’s not just drugs and alcohol that can cause long lasting damage to the teen brain. Chronic stress is also proving to permanently alter brain development, increasing the size of the amygdala, which governs the emotions, and reducing the size of the hippocampus. The end result may be a brain that is hardwired for anxiety, depression and learning disabilities.

As well, studies a video game addicts have shown their brains develop differently: excessive gaming appears to enlarge areas responsible for memory and visual spatial skills, but shrink areas of the brain responsible for speech, memory, emotions, and areas responsible for inhibiting impulsive behavior.

In an era marked by an ideological tug-of-war over how best to raise our teenagers, what’s a parent to do with this new science of the teenage brain? More rules? Or in intervening too much, do parents risk raising teens whose brains never learn how to become an adult?

In the Teenage Brain, Jensen puts herself squarely in the camp of the highly involved parent. She encourages parents to proof read their teen’s homework, help them make lists to prioritize their assignments, watch them as they do school work to see if they’re getting distracted and to not be afraid of ‘sounding like a broken record’ by reminding teens over and over again about the dangers that could befall them.

She encourages parents to ‘be your teens frontal lobe’s’ and to ‘try to think for your teenage sons and daughters until their own brains are ready to take over the job’. Jensen argues that it is a parents’ job to protect their teens from their own often short-sighted behavior, while allowing them enough room for ”safe failures”.

“Your kid doesn’t see the fact that if they fail all of their classes in the 11th grade they won’t be going to the kind of colleges they want to go to, or go to college at all”, she says. “That’s why you’re a parent. That’s why they ‘re not off living by themselves. There is a point at which I think you have a moral responsibility to intervene”.

In the quagmire of parental advice, it’s no surprise that the counter argument to the neuroscience approach to parenting is robust, and passionate. Psychologist Robert Epstein, author of the Case Against Adolescents: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, believes that adolescent rebellion has little to do with brain development and lots to do with how society treats teenagers. He argues scientists have it backward: teens don’t act out because they have immature brains struggling to navigate an adult world, but because they have adult brains railing against a society that treats them like children.

“Put yourself in their shoes”, says Epstein. “Why they’re stealing your stuff and why their room is a mess is because they have very limited ways in which they can demonstrate their power and their independence and some of them will demonstrate it in destructive in self-destructive ways”.

Epstein has six children, including two teens and two adult children. He began changing his views on teen behavior when he caught his second oldest son, Justin, then 14, stealing his truck. Epstein hauled him down to the police station to scare him straight. “But inside my head I realize: wait a minute, he’s never gotten into an accident, he’s never got a ticket, obviously he knows how to drive”, he says. Why isn’t he allowed to drive? He now parents his middle children differently than he did his eldest, leaving most of the decisions, from whether they’re allowed to have dessert, to what courses they should take in school, entirely up to them. I tell them “you decide”, two words he says have completely transformed his relationship with his teenagers. His 16-year-old son now comes home from school and immediately starts doing chores without being asked.

Jensen agrees that the age limits society has placed on adolescents regarding the ability to drive, join the military, vote or drink alcohol have little to do with brain development science and are entirely random. She believes that we have to understand what teens are developmentally capable of, and gradually introduce things in steps.

Other research is challenging the notion that teens have a less mature and less connected prefrontal cortex and are therefore inherently more impulsive than adults.

At Temple University, Steinberg has used a car racing video game to show that when teens are alone they perform as well as adults on tasks involving a trade off of risk and reward. But when other teens are in the room watching, adolescents tend to make far riskier decisions. Adults show no difference if other adults watch them, suggesting that teen risk taking is likely social.

B.J Casey, Cornell University, found that teens could be less impulsive if they were offered rewards. The greater the reward, the longer teens took to make a decision, suggesting that parents trying to control a hot headed teen might want to offer rewards for good decisions rather than punishing bad ones.

According to Jensen and others, we could get so much more out of our teenagers – and who they become later in life, in many cases – If we took a different approach to this critical window of time.

Tamsin McMahon (Jan. 12, 2015)

Homework Struggles?

3WtyNdU Imgur 300x200 Homework Struggles?Success is a team sport, with students and parents both taking an active role.  Sometimes though, homework makes parents and their student feel like they are members of rival teams!

Homework doesn’t have to be a game with winners and losers. Identifying specific struggles that a student might have with homework is a great first step to teaming up for success.

As with any good team, it really helps to understand what motivates your teammate. Understanding how your teen approaches homework might be the best clue as to how to encourage them and draw out their best performance. At Shelterwood, we have found that teens typically fall into four very different approaches.

The Motivated Student: This student has an internal drive to achieve, and independently pursues academic excellence. Resourcing this student with time, space to make decisions, and regular encouragement can help him maximize his full potential.

The Motivated, Accommodated Student: This student wants to do well, but may have struggles in one or more subjects. She receives help in school, and is striving to achieve even with limitations. We have found that frequently reminding this student of the full arc of her improvements can be very helpful. It is important not to do this in an empty vague way, but to instead truly celebrate success with real specific affirmations and rewards. If this student falls into the trap of simply looking at day-to-day successes and failures, goals become may become foggy, frustration will set in and progress often becomes stalled. Tutoring and peer study groups are often a valuable resource for this student as she struggles to maintain motivation for difficult subjects.

The Procrastinating Student: This struggle might be the most confusing to parents and often creates a tremendous amount of frustration within the family. When students wait until the last second to do projects and daily work, it is often difficult to determine when they are falling behind until progress reports are sent home. This student is his own worst enemy, and though he may not struggle with the material, he digs himself into a hole. Issues arise when parents aren’t aware that their student has been procrastinating until the last minute, and this erodes trust. Asking the student homework related questions daily, communicating with teachers, and helping with scheduling assists this student greatly. But be careful with oversight; it is easy to fall into the trap of taking on too much. Instead of allowing the teen to defer responsibility, begin to discuss the fear that is behind the procrastination. Often the desire to see a teen maximize his abilities hinders parents’ ability to see procrastination as anything beyond laziness, falsely believing that his effort and ability to complete assignments is completely under his control. Instead, these parents need to open their hearts to the idea that maybe fear and self-doubt, not laziness, might be paralyzing his progress.

The Combative/Resisting Student: At Shelterwood, we have found that students that have become agitated and upset by the very mention of homework are often troubled by a deeper dynamic. There are many possible reasons that a student is combative when it comes to homework: struggles with content, frustration over lack of study skills, power struggles, undiagnosed learning disabilities, emotional struggles. Instead of engaging in the battle, empathy and loving engagement is really the only solution for parents. Setting aside the homework and focusing on the individual will help parents get to the bottom of things and eventually help their teen. Professional assessment may be needed to see if there are diagnosable issues at play. Resistant angry teens can be a real challenge and often push parents into expressing their own anger. The tension might dissipate if the parents can distance themselves from their teen, but it might leave them feeling like victims and walled up in their own homes. It is always better to not take a teen’s opposition personally, but to instead recognize that the teen is actually in a critical place and in desperate need of help.

Homework doesn’t have to be a battle, and parents can take control of the situation by knowing where their student’s strengths and weaknesses are, what their motivations are, and how to best communicate with them. Like a cruise liner, it takes time to steer the ship in a different direction, but take heart. It is doable!

Chad Smith

Academic Dean, Shelterwood

How to find Success in School

Three things parents can do in January for a better May

student computer 300x205 How to find Success in SchoolJanuary spells the beginning of a new semester for most teens, but maybe things didn’t turn out so well the previous term. Now is the time to plan for success in school.

Too often kids who struggle or perform poorly in school are victims of their own poor habits. January is a great time to set them up for successfully completing the school year that is coming in May! Here are a few things parents can do to help:

1. Get to know the lay of the land. A new semester means a new schedule and perhaps a couple of new teachers. Contact the teachers to introduce yourself and ask questions like: (take out all dashes here and in between the questions) How much time per week can he expect to spend on homework for your course? Are there any large projects coming up during the semester?  How often do you update your grades online? Then sit down with your student and discuss what you find out!

2. Chart a course. Sunday evening, sit down with your student to discuss school. Talk to your teen about the weekly family schedule including the sports and activities done during the week, and the expected homework load. For example, if you expect that your student is going to average one hour of homework per night, when will that hour happen on Tuesday night? Figuring this out will help both of you start healthy time management patterns.

3. Celebrate positive results and make a game plan for those times when you miss the target. You may find out during your Sunday evening sit-down that an Algebra test is coming up on Wednesday. Bring this up in conversation Monday and Tuesday nights, and then ask how he did on Wednesday. This engagement brings accountability, both to your teen and to you as the parent. Celebrate success! If your student did well, praise him! If the test didn’t go so well, process what went wrong.  Challenge your child to speak with his teacher and ask follow up questions, and then encourage him to commit to improvement. The key is to show your teen the skill-set of owning his success so he can take the guidance you give him and begin to apply it without your help.

Communication is key.  Parents who discuss goals, material from class, and time management with their teens will give struggling students more confidence in the classroom. These conversations are more effective when they start in January, instead of in early May when it’s too late.

Chad Smith

Academic Dean