The New York Times, always a good source of articles about education, today includes an article which is particularly noteworthy to GCP readers. “Learning To Play the Game to Get into College”, found here, chronicles Boston high school senior Nathaly Lopera’s impressive efforts to get extra help with school and the college prep process. Among the resources she finds and uses is a free program called “Let’s Get Ready”, which helps students fill out college applications, write essays, practice interviews and prepare for the SAT. This is a moving story of how drive and tenacity can make so much difference in a student’s academic journey.

While this is an inspirational article for all readers, it raises several issues which GCP parents should especially focus upon with respect to our sons:

1) The Importance of Asking for Help: A key component of Nathaly Lopera’s success thus far is her willingness to recognize when she needs help and to ask for it. We cannot emphasize this enough for our boys. Some students tend to feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and are hesitant to let their teachers know that they aren’t understanding the material. Ms. Lopera, who is generally excelling in school, routinely seeks help with academic and social issues from the teachers and counselors there. It is our responsibility as parents to help our sons understand that asking for help is a sign of strength, and remind them that getting help to conquer difficult material builds life skills that have value far beyond any classroom. More on this in issue 3 below.

2) Grades Aren’t the Only Things That Matter: According to the article, Nathaly is getting a college recommendation from a teacher who gave her a C in a math class, because that teacher will talk about the incredible work ethic Nathaly demonstrated after doing poorly in several units in the class. The teacher explained “You know, I didn’t care about the final grade…Nathaly showed me a work ethic that will make her successful in college and life, that’s what matters.” We have high expectations that our sons will get good grades, and we naturally focus on whether they are doing so. But along the way we also have to help them understand that grades, be they very good ones, or terrible ones, are not the sole means of measuring their progress and worth as students and human beings. Emphasizing that they put forth their best efforts (their input), rather than focusing exclusively on their grades (the outcome), gives them tools to face challenges in and outside of the classroom.

3) Factor in The “Boy” Factor: The article includes a sobering statistic about the “Let’s Get Ready” college prep program: More than 70% of the programs’ students are girls. Not surprising, when you consider that boys, especially boys of color, are becoming an endangered species on college campuses across the nation. For whatever reasons, boys generally tend not to be as focused on and willing to pursue academic help as girls can be. (You may call this a gross generalization if you’d like, but parents who have both boys and girls know there to be truth to this.) But it doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than shake our heads and wonder “What’s wrong with that boy?” when our sons don’t independently seek the help they need, let’s take the extra time and energy to direct them towards ways to find it. Coddle them? Do the work for them? Absolutely not. But we should not shy away from acknowledging that they need all the help they can get from us, as well as from their schools, and focus on giving it to them. We’ve got to do all we can to make sure our boys are learning to play the game to succeed in school and in life.