Primer for Parents: Ten Things We Wish We Knew After Drop-Off Day

By Kate Upson, P’09,’13; New Canaan, CT

1. Home for the Holidays – Exhausted, Hungry, and “Independent.” Expect one tired teenager with a ton of laundry to return for Thanksgiving break.  Do not take it personally if your kid arrives home, greets the family pet, eats, takes a long nap, has dinner, and then settles in for a fourteen-hour night’s sleep. He or she may alternately surprise you with an expanded palate (crazy about couscous, Shepherd’s Pie) and confound you by asking, “When’s dinner?” at 5:45 p.m. and finishing said meal in eight minutes. There’s also a transition as your “independent” child re-enters and re-adjusts to the rhythm of family life. When they say, “I know when to go to bed, Mom,” smile and take it in stride. We know better. 

2. Grade Expectations: They’re thrilled to be home but waiting to exhale until the email from Ms. Kocot arrives on Wednesday announcing that grades and comments are posted on DAinfo. (Parents receive a separate email from Mr. Warsaw.) Pause before you click on the hyperlink. Depending on your family dynamics, most kids want to check their grades first and then share with you.  It’s equally important to keep first-term grades in perspective and focus on the extensive teacher comments, which provide a detailed road map for each student to improve and excel in course work. And should they need extra support, it’s readily available.

3. The Academic Assistance Squad: All students, at different times, can benefit from support beyond extra help from their teacher. Fortunately, there are both peer tutors for subject work and resources available to help DA students develop and practice a variety of strategies for working smarter, not harder. These range from actively removing distractions (cell phones, Facebook) to techniques for reading and annotating textbooks. Two faculty members−Mr. Nilsson and Mrs. Schloat−are available to work on study strategies and happy to meet with students during free periods.  Additionally, peer tutors are available through Mrs. Schloat, student head tutors, and the Peer Tutor Moodle Site, to which students all have access.  Students should also keep an eye open for study skills sessions just before exam weeks.

4. The Advisor Connection: Should you have any concerns, you have an instant ally in your child’s faculty advisor. You will be receiving a lengthy advisor’s report in December focusing on your child’s academic, extracurricular, and social activities based on comments from teachers, coaches, and time spent together. And when there are rough patches – illness, injury, an emotional setback, a failed quiz, or just a slump – a caring adult is there to help her or him through it.  To quote one veteran advisor/DA parent: “If you are not certain your child has recovered from a difficult day after your phone call, a quick call to the faculty advisor or resident to look in on your child will be worth the long distance charge. Most often the child is off and running with friends while you are still at home worrying.”

5. Gearing Up for a DA Winter: For tips on how to help your student stay healthy and happy this term, we enlisted the expertise of DA’s Kristin Loftus (see Winter Term Rx). For advice on what to pack, just think boots and layers (and leave the flip flops at home). Warm, waterproof boots with gripping soles are a necessity for trekking through snow and ice.  Ditto weather-resistant outerwear with a hood. In the winter term, for boys, a sweater may replace a sport coat when worn with a collared dress shirt and a tie; or they can wear a turtleneck with a sport coat.  For girls, no need to dress to impress – just to stay warm.  Two visible layers at the neckline still goes, however, a crew-neck sweater can be worn alone.  Length of skirt rule still applies even if tights are worn. And while the kids may scoff at hats and gloves, pack them anyway. Send along ski equipment for Sunday ski outings and skates for open skate at the rink. And lastly, the girls will want to pack a dress (fancier than class dress) and their dancing shoes for “Semi” on Dec. 3rd (see Ain’t Misbehavin’).

6. Book That Seat: Map out travel logistics now for the winter vacation, Long Winter Weekend and spring break. Be sure to consult the academic and assessment calendars before booking flights.  Detailed information on charter bus service to Bradley Airport, Darien, CT., New York City, Boston, and Logan Airport is available on the school website. The kids receive emails and reminders to sign-up for the bus in advance.

7. Let There Be Light: A little light goes a long way during the darkest days of winter. Sending an extra lamp and brighter light bulbs is helpful. Students who feel a session in front of UV lamp would be beneficial for that extra dose of Vitamin D should go to the Health Center. Dr. Hagamen can prescribe it for treatments in the Health Center or even loan it out for use in the dorm. (And it is a safer, healthier alternative to a trip to a nearby tanning salon.)  The Health Center has other suggestions for students who feel they are really experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Also, most of dorms have heating systems that produce a very dry heat.  Supplying a humidifier might be a good idea (although reminders about refilling, regular filter changes and cleaning, and unplugging will probably be needed). The Health Center also has humidifiers available for loan.

8. The Joy of Random Packages: We polled a gaggle of junior girls about small things that brightened their day and the response was: “random packages” and food.  “I just love getting that email from Shipping and Receiving that I have a package – any package, even with just little things,” said one. Simple pleasures – cozy socks, a magazine, even a lip balm – are welcome.  And for the boys and girls, food is always welcome.

9. Plan a Parent Weekend: There is no official weekend for parents in the winter term, but, if possible, try and schedule one of your own in the bleak days of January or February. It gives both you and your child a date to look forward to. It’s fun to see the kids interact with their friends at a boys or girls hockey game in The Barn, cheering on the swimmers and divers, or taking in a hoops contest. They are very happy to stock up on food at the Big Y and go grab a personalized pizza at Magpie, pulled pork and ribs at Bub’s BBQ, sizzling steak and shrimp at Goten, or the tasty pad thai at Thai Blue Ginger. It’s also a good opportunity to make sure they’re getting enough sleep and reinforce the benefits of wearing a hat when running from the gym, pool, or rink with wet hair in eighteen-degree weather.

10. Saying Good-Bye (Again): It’s easy to bid them farewell after Thanksgiving, knowing they will be home in eighteen days for an even longer break. It’s more heart-wrenching in January, as you have all gotten back into a relaxed family groove and you think (again) how much you will miss them.  And then they turn and excitedly say, “I can’t wait to get back to school and see everyone.” Which really is just what you want to hear.

With contributions from Amie Creagh, Julie Cullen, Katy Flato, Suzanne Huebsch, Lori Gonye, Diana Kocot, Kristin Loftus, Liz Logie, Peter Nilsson, Kate Rolland, Betsy Swindell, and Karen Wood.


The Fall 2011 Issue of The Link | A Conversation with Peter Warsaw, Academic Dean

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