Are Your Employees Worried about a High Schooler’s Academics While Out of School? An Educator Weighs in with Advice.

Dad helping high schooler with academics at home

One of a series of Expert Q&As for Your People

Ever since schools began shuttering, working parents have been trying to figure out their new roles as work-at-home employees…and teachers. For those with high schoolers, the stakes seem especially high. Stories like this and this outline the worries for seniors waiting for April 1 decisions.   

But there are worries for underclassmen as well. What are the rules for quarantined high-school students, especially with college applications on the horizon? 

I sat down with College Coach Vice President Elizabeth Heaton to ask that very question. As a former admissions officer who now helps students with college admissions, she provided extensive commentary for this year’s seniors to US. News. For us, she talked about academics for Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, and what parents should – and shouldn’t – worry about.

Lisa Oppenheimer: First up, how worried should parents be about schoolwork during this time?

Elizabeth Heaton: Here’s the good news. In many districts, nothing done during this time will be graded.  So if we never return to class this school year, grades will be based on work done through the last day in school (of course, you’ll have to confirm that with your district). 

LO: That’s good-ish news. Still, we want our kids to do some work. How do we motivate them? 

EH: There’s no precedent for this. And I think parents need to be realistic and probably separate motivation from doing. Kids don’t have to be motivated to do the work – they just have to get it done. As a parent, I have set the expectation that my son will do the work. I let him establish the schedule, which is something I recommend since kids need to have some control. I just made sure all necessary subjects were covered. We check in early in the day on the plan, and then near the end to see what has been completed. If he falls short, no video games until it’s done. If it’s still not done, no phone, no TV, etc. Is he motivated? I have no idea. But he’s getting things done and he’s not losing any privileges, so there’s that.

LO: What are some things that should be on the schedule?  

EH: That depends. Online classes through your school will drive most it for a lot of people. But not every school has gotten up to speed. My school system hasn’t released anything. If your school hasn’t, I’d suggest getting your kids to read. Anything. We know that kids who read do much better on standardized tests. So this is a great time to start reading for pleasure – something a lot of kids say they don’t have time for during their normal schedules. If your kid isn’t a reader, help them find books they want to read that and make reading part of their daily assignments. Do a search and you’ll find many services that charge a small subscription for free and low-cost books; some even make it easy by separating books by genre and sending recommendations.  

LO: What else can they do on the standardized-test front?

EH: This is a great time to try a diagnostic test – full-length practice SAT and ACT. Take one of each and compare scores. The practice can help figure out which is a better fit. And again, if you want your kids to prepare, I can’t stress this enough: encourage them to read.  I wouldn’t pay to start intensive training at this point because that’s best when you’re preparing for an actual test, and those are being canceled right now. 

LO: What about academics?

EH: One of the things about having free time is that you can explore new skills and interests. And there are literally tons of ways to do that. Sites like Khan Academy and Coursera have free classes in everything – English, history, math, coding. My son is working on his French with DuoLingo. Sites like that are great because they gamify language learning, which makes it really appealing to kids. 

LO: Parents are understandably worried about how this will affect college admissions. Rising juniors and seniors have been working toward their college-admissions moment for a lifetime. How is this going to affect them? How are colleges going to look at this period? 

EH: Without grades for this semester, it does likely mean that the first part of next year will be REALLY important for juniors. But honestly, that’s always been true. As for colleges, this challenge is universal for students across the country; it’s not just one geographic area. And I believe colleges will do their best to meet students where they are. Given that many, many juniors likely hadn’t even taken an ACT or SAT yet, it’s possible that we will see more colleges willing to forgo testing this year if College Board and ACT are unable to make more dates for testing available (and/or if dates continue to be cancelled). We’ve seen a few schools already announce that they will be test optional for 2020/2021. I think we will see more as this evolves. I also think the testing companies will move heaven and earth to get more dates on the calendar in the fall to preserve their existence.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

April 9, 2020

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.