Every parent knows that they are a vital part of their child’s education.  It doesn’t matter if they attend an online or a brick and mortar school. Still, new USPA parents often ask how they will be involved in the learning process.  The good news is that there are many ways that parents can impact their child’s academic success at USPA (and none of them require that you brush up on your calculus)!  

This article outlines some of the insights and strategies that will help you build positive relationships with teachers and learning coaches and also suggests ideas for how to connect to your child’s learning in productive ways.  Without a doubt, some of these observations are simply sensible approaches that that can be applied to any learning environment, but they have been compiled from our experience of working specifically with USPA student-athletes.

First, I always tell new parents that the format of online courses doesn’t change the importance of a parent’s role, but the flexibility of the program usually impacts family dynamics.  This often comes as a surprise.  When a student-athlete transitions to USPA, particularly students with very complex schedules, parents are often surprised that school doesn’t only take place at a bedroom desk. (In fact, it’s a good idea if it doesn’t!) For student-athletes, school often occurs in the back seat of a car, on a plane, rinkside or courtside, in a boathouse, ski lodge, or hotel room.  I always tell students that (if it works with their sport) that snagging 30 or 45 minutes between lessons or workouts and integrating their learning with their training can work for many student-athletes.  This often means taking your laptop with you.

The online learning landscape also brings a shift for parents from negotiating absences and picking up worksheets to working with a new support network of teachers, tutors, learning coaches, and school administrators — who often live in different time zones.  Seemingly overnight, video conferencing tools that allow screen sharing and writing on virtual white boards and communication apps with counterintuitive names like “slack” become commonplace.   I have found that this shift also provides time for thoughtful conversations about time management, accountability, and self advocacy that don’t always happen one-on-one in “traditional” high schools.  

There is no formula or perfect path that works for all families when it comes to supporting student-athletes. What works for one family may be different from one works for another.  At USPA, our role is to work with you to construct a program, in partnership with you, that works for yours.  The following list of suggestions are based on our experience of working with many families.  These families come from a variety of countries and have students in different age groups who participate in a wide range of sports.  Not all of these suggestions will apply to your child, but chances are a few of them will help you navigate this journey and find an academic rhythm that works for your family.  Whether the student-athlete under your roof is in sixth or twelfth grade, surfs or skis, is a seasoned online student or is just getting started, we hope you’ll find a few items to tuck into your parent backpack below.

Routines and Goals Matter

  • Student-athletes need good routines not just any routine— the ones that help them set the tone for their day.  Their day may start with an hour of reading, a stretch or run, yoga or meditation, or 15 minutes on duolingo.com. Whatever they do, a good morning routine can take the stress out of the start of the day and help them put their best foot forward. (Eating popcorn every night and binging on Netflix is a routine if you do it regularly — but it’s not a good routine.)   Benjamin Franklin famously began each day by asking himself the question: “What good shall I do today?” Need inspiration?  Routines of the not-so-famous can be found at mymorningroutine.com.
  • Just as important as a morning routine is an evening routine as it sets the tone for the next day.  I sometimes suggest that students write down their most important tasks for the next day the previous night.  It can also be a good time to reflect on a long day.
  • Let them know that keeping their meetings with their learning coach is also part of their routine and responsibility.  We know that everyone has a busy schedule and rescheduling is always ok — but simply not showing up is not being accountable.  Let them know that you expect them to be respectful of meeting times.
  • Equally important is goal setting.  Every USPA student is asked to keep a “goals notebook.”  In this book, they can capture their expectations and the learning they want to accomplish each week.  I usually ask students to start a new page each Sunday evening.  By the end of a timeframe such as six months, they have a tangible example of how much they have accomplished.

Stay Involved

  • Your role as a parent at USPA is to help them be successful in their program in a way that is consistent with your family’s values and home environment.   You make the choices that work for your family when it comes to setting expectations, communicating with teachers, and arranging extra curricular activities.   At the same time, know that you have the support of USPA teachers and staff.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to us.  Calling, messaging, and emailing our team is what we expect you to do.
  • Another thing that students really need to know is that you value the work they are doing.  Without the tangible evidence of textbooks and knapsacks lying around, it is sometimes easy to forget how much work is being done.  The digital “out-of-sight and out-of-mind” nature of online learning can make it easy to forget to ask about their work.  What book are you reading?  What topic are you going to write about for your persuasive essay?  Use your parent account to log in and see their progress in real time.
  • Depending on the grade, it is also a good idea to periodically review completed work.  While automated weekly reports are helpful to ensure that work is on track, nothing replaces a conversation with your son or daughter or reaching out to their course teacher or learning coach to touch base.  
  • You are the link that helps us support them.  Be their advocate and teach them to be their own advocate. Are they are sick or do they have a long term injury?  Encourage them to reach out to their learning coach and teachers and let them know.  
  • Do they “seem” to be working all the time but are behind pace?  Is there a major competition or upcoming travel where they might not have a great wireless connection? Do you feel they have an academic question but aren’t reaching out as much as they might?  Chat with your son or daughter’s learning coach at least once a month (even if it is a quick email).  Ask about their pace and progress and what they can do to improve?  By showing an interest, you will boost their confidence.  
  • Connect with the school over social media, contribute to the school magazine, or attend a virtual parent coffee and meet other parents.

The First Semester Sets the Stage

  • The first semester, and especially the first month, set the stage.  Students and families who put in a significant effort early on to find a routine that fits their training schedule often find the transition to online learning easier.
  • Increasingly, I see students, especially middle school students, who need extra help and time adapting to an online program.  Attending regular meetings, staying on pace, establishing relationships with teachers, learning when to take break, figuring out where to work, are important to sort out early on.  Younger students are often a little nervous about reaching out to their teachers at first.  You can help them by attending some of these initial calls.

Relationships Matter

  • Encourage your student to develop a solid relationships with at least two teachers early on.  Your learning coach will do this as well, but you can help by asking them about these new academic relationships.  Build from there until they are working with all of their teachers on a regular basis.
  • Help your student self advocate and be an effective communicator with their teacher and learning coach.  Being an online student means taking the initiative to actively engage with the material, meet with your teacher, take notes, respond to feedback, be aware of grading rubrics, anticipate dates when major papers and exams occur and ensure everything meshes with a race or competition schedule.
  • Remind your son or daughter that they can connect with other students via the USPA Network of Athletes using our messaging tool or by attending all school meetings. New students are often paired with a peer mentor so they have an opportunity to meet another student-athlete as soon as they begin.  We can help facilitate student introductions at any point in their USPA career.

Final Thoughts

  • Flexible anytime/anywhere learning doesn’t mean there aren’t short or long term plans.  Whether it’s a goals notebook, a planner, an LMS-based organizer, a sheet of paper stuck next to their computer or to the fridge every day — have a (good) plan. We will help them come up with something that works for them but younger students make need reminders.
  • When students get behind, they tend to panic and rush through their work.  If you see they are going into “check the box” mode, be in touch with us so we can help put together an achievable plan.  Quality over quantity is always the goal.  
  • It’s also important to take time to disconnect.  Resist the temptation to do school 4 hours a day on vacation.  If you can, work ahead and leave the laptop home.  As with sports, student-athletes need time to mentally recharge too.
  • Resist the temptation to maximize course deadlines when it’s not necessary or because you want to help your student get back “on track.” Work fills the time allowed.
  • The right work space isn’t always the same work space. Working alone in their room day in and day out gets boring, especially for young students.  Students who are struggling should not work in isolation.  It’s far too easy to portray an “everything’s fine” appearance when a student needs help.  Have them work at the kitchen table, in your office, or on the back porch.  Mix it up.
  • Students need the right equipment.  A laptop makes it easier to write papers and usually has better audio/video capabilities to support language courses and video conferencing sessions. Also, they will need a single subject notebook for each class or commit to taking notes using an online tool.  Have a note taking strategy.
  • Let us know when they are traveling, especially internationally, so we can adjust schedules and help them get ahead before a major trip or competition.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list.  I hope it has highlighted that some of the challenges you may initially encounter and the opportunities you embrace are shared by others.  At USPA, we know that transitioning to an online program can feel like a leap of faith. We are always here to help you.  No question is too hard, too simple, or too crazy.  Helping student-athletes reach their personal goals in a way that is integrated with their talents and passions allows them to use the world as their classroom and to define for themselves what it means to “go to school.”  As a parent, you are helping them challenge themselves to become better self-directed learners and providing additional opportunities for them to excel athletically.

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