Op-Ed

How my middle school son learned to not give up

Valerie Martin
Valerie Martin

Perseverance is a skill that most of us have learned at one point or another. Usually, it’s been a hard life lesson - we failed at something but we had to try again. Maybe it was a job we lost or a class we failed in college. It’s a skill that, as parents, we want to foster in our kids.

But at the same time, no one wants to see their child fail. So how can we help teach them to persevere? Last year was a turning point for my youngest son. He’s an inquisitive and curious kid, but school hasn’t always come easy for him, and we struggled to find the right fit to help him be successful.

His school, Royal Springs Middle School, had just implemented a personalized learning curriculum called Summit Learning. The program uses a mix of project-based learning, mentoring from teachers and development of lifelong skills to help students own their education. The program sounded ideal for my son, and I was excited about the amazing teachers who would be leading it.

Using this approach was a new challenge for my son. For the first time, he was presented with choices about projects and topics to learn about, and he was introduced to the important life skill of time management.

Before enrolling at Royal Springs, if my son didn’t pass a test, he would have to move on with the rest of the class--even though he hadn’t yet mastered the content. Because of this, he developed gaps in his learning. With Summit Learning, my son can learn and take assessments at his own pace. Instead of all of the students taking tests at once, my son can choose when he’s ready.

However, he can’t move on until he’s passed - which he found frustrating at first. Gradually, he learned that he couldn’t give up once he didn’t pass. He had to revisit the material with his teacher, work harder, reflect on what he didn’t understand, and figure out how he could be successful on his next attempt. It was amazing to watch him learn to dig in and persevere, especially in areas where he would have just given up in the past.

There was a moment, a few months into the school year, when my son realized this new program was not just about grades, but focused on fully mastering the curriculum. There was no option to quit. With that realization, things changed. He began focusing on how he could succeed - he started asking for help, working closely with his teachers, and learning how to manage his time.

Over the past school year, I saw my son grow tremendously in his ability to take ownership of his education. He was challenged in ways that he never had been before - and he rose to the occasion. By the end of the year, not only was he passing tests with fewer attempts, but he was also able to help his classmates. He would make time in class to work with students who were struggling on the same material that he’d just passed a test on. Being a younger sibling, he’s not often the one who gets to give help, so it was empowering for him to be able to help other students.

More than just becoming a stronger student, my son has learned to not give up. He’s motivated to keep trying and to find ways to be successful. As a parent, I know how valuable these skills are going to be for him in high school, through college, and beyond. I’m watching my son learn how to be a lifetime learner, and I am thrilled.

Valerie Martin is a clinical physical therapist in an outpatient rehabilitation hospital. She graduated from the University of Kentucky Physical Therapy Program with a Master’s in Physical Therapy in 2001 and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2009. She and her husband have 3 children who are in the 11th, 8th and 4th grade.

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