Two daughters and a dozen college visits later, an island parent offers her insight

Although I am sure it is not the norm, my oldest child, Emily, was prone to procrastination. She knew she would be going to college but she did not want to talk about it, think about it or do any of the things necessary to choose a college; perhaps she thought it would just magically happen. I strongly encouraged her to sign up for a college coach (best program ever!) but she still did not seem very excited about the whole process and was more than a little resistant toward my attempts to engage her. As a last resort, in the summer before her senior year, I forced her to go on a college admissions tour.

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The tour was at Colby College. As a high school student I attended basketball camp at Colby, but thinking they were all pretty much the same, I assumed Colby would be just another college.  On our visit, I was completely blown away by all Coby had to offer. The tour was far more than looking at the facilities. The student guide gave us scads of information about life in general at Colby- I still remember that they have 54 intramural and club sports (including quidditch) in addition to their varsity sports; they have a woodworking shop available to students and alumni for life and one of the dining rooms fries up homemade doughnuts every Saturday morning. It was the little details that made my daughter’s eyes light up for the first time as she anticipated going to college.

We continued our touring with a late summer trip to Dartmouth, Middlebury, and the University of Vermont. Emily and her friend Ann took copious notes at each place and thoroughly compared and contrasted them in the back seat of my minivan. My younger daughter Allison, about to enter her first year of high school, tagged along taking in much more than I expected (and has been thoroughly excited about the prospect of going to college ever since). In the fall, we made a last minute trip to tour Bates, Bowdoin, and Harvard. Every tour was beneficial. At Bates the parents and students toured separately allowing both students and parents a chance to ask sensitive questions without the others around. (Bates also has the most immaculate laundry rooms I have ever seen and 10 soundproof practice rooms with grand pianos.) College students led the tours and were very knowledgeable and incredibly honest about college life.

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Looking back, three years, two daughters and a dozen college visits later, there are a number of things I discovered that stand out to me from our touring:

  1. Your child may not know for sure if they want to go to a particular college that they are visiting but they usually know right away if they do not…and that is important information to have.
  2. Each college that you visit will emphasize why they are different- what they offer that no one else does. You probably will not find this information on their website. Most small liberal arts colleges have a similar list of majors and most state universities offer similar areas of study but they are certainly not all the same.
  3. Go to the admissions talk– you may think that if you have heard one you have heard them all (I did) but no, there have been valuable nuggets of information in every admissions talk I have attended. The talks usually focus on admissions and financial information for their particular institution including helpful tips on what admissions personnel are looking for that you might not hear anywhere else but, they also include general information that will help with admissions at any college.
  4. Your child will not spend four years in a bubble so look around at the town the college is in/near; believe or not, college town has been an important factor with all four college bound students that I have toured with.
  5. Do not wait until they are seniors. Take your children early; visiting as sophomores or juniors gives them time and incentive to fulfill all the admissions requirements of the colleges they like most.

College visits inspired in my girls both an excitement and an anticipation for attending. They were able to see themselves there playing rugby, singing in an a Capella group or reading under the pines. I think it alleviated a lot of the fears and hesitations, maybe even the procrastination, associated with the unknown. Spending time on different types of campuses, and learning the myriad of opportunities available at college, helped them discover what was important to them- even if it brought them no closer to knowing what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. Finally, visiting colleges with my daughters helped to quell some of the many fears I had about leaving my little girl all alone in a community of strangers.

– Heather Cormier

In Preparation for Student’s Future, Parents are Primary Force

Prior to coming to DISES, I taught at the vocational school in Ellsworth. One of the goals of that school was preparing high school students for the work force, military service or a post secondary education, including vocational training or college. After many years in education and the private sector, my thinking has evolved into the belief that we must start earlier than the high school level in prepping children for their post secondary lives. While I do not think we should start sorting students into specific careers, we can do many things to prepare them for a career or further education. 

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Students at the middle level should have knowledge of the wide variety of options for their future, both work and education. Students should already be practicing a good work ethic, including coming to school on time, completing tasks in a timely manner, or how to collaborate and cooperate. They should learn that their current actions can follow them for the rest of their lives. Currently being done at the middle level, they should also learn about healthy and safe choices in social media, personal health, and social settings. Parents are the greatest influence in their child’s life and should talk to their children about all of these issues, the sooner the better. Schools can be partners in this process, but parents are the primary force.

– Michael Benjamin, Parent and DISES Principal

Top Ten Tips for Writing a College Essay

   One part of the college application that can cause a lot of stress is the essay.  Students may struggle with the essay and parents might not feel equipped to help them.  Fortunately, there is help!

Check out the following tips from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  Also, be sure to explore their student and parent resources here.

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Top Ten Tips

Start early. The more time you have, the less stress you’ll have. You’ll have plenty of time to give the essay your best effort.

Be yourself. Take a moment to think about what interests you, what you love to talk about, what makes you sit up and take notice if it’s mentioned in class or on TV. Then write about it. One of the biggest mistakes students make is “writing what they think others want to hear, rather than about an issue, event, or person that really had significance for them,” says an admission and financial aid official at a New York college. An essay like that is not just boring to write, it’s boring to read.

Be honest. You’re running late (see #1), you can’t think of what to write, and someone e-mails you a heartwarming story. With just a tweak here and there, it could be a great essay, you think. It’s what you would have written if you’d just had enough time. Don’t be fooled! College admission officers have read hundreds, even thousands of essays. They are masters at discovering any form of plagiarism. Adapting an e-mail story, buying an essay from some Internet site, getting someone else to write your essay, admission people have seen it all. Don’t risk your college career by taking the easy way out.

Take a risk. On the other hand, some risks can pay off. Don’t settle for the essay that everyone else is writing. Imagine an admission officer up late, reading the fiftieth essay of the day, yours. Do you want that person to nod off because he or she has already read ten essays on that topic? “The danger lies not in writing bad essays but in writing common essays, the one that admission officers are going to read dozens of,” says an associate director at a Pennsylvania high school. “My advice? Ask your friends what they are writing, and then don’t write about that!”

Keep in focus. This is your chance to tell admission officers exactly why they should admit you. Unfortunately, some students try to list every single reason, their stellar academic record, their athletic prowess, their community service, all in a page or two. When that happens, the essay looks like a grocery list. Even though the Common Application main essay has a suggested minimum of 650 words, with no limit, every admission officer has a big stack to read every day; he or she expects to spend only a couple of minutes on the essay. If you go over 700 words, you are straining their patience, which no one should want to do. Instead, read the essay question carefully and jot down a few ideas. Then choose the one that looks like the most fun to write about. Stick to that main theme throughout the essay. You don’t have to list all your achievements, that’s what the rest of the application is for. Use the essay in a creative way to help the admission officers get to know you as a person.

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Write and rewrite. Don’t try to write a masterpiece on your first try. It’s not possible, and all that pressure is likely to give you writer’s block. For your first draft, write anything that comes to mind about your topic. Don’t worry too much about grammar or spelling. Just get it down on paper (or computer screen). Then let it “rest” for a few hours or a few days. When you come back to the draft, look for ways to make it more focused and better written. Some people are “fat” writers: they write long, wordy first drafts that need to be shortened later. Others are “skinny” writers: they write short and simple first drafts and then need to add details or examples to “flesh out” the skeleton. Either way, don’t be afraid to make major changes at this stage. Are there details that don’t really relate to the topic? Cut them. Do you need another example? Put it in.

Here are two other things to try, suggested by one college counselor:

  • Remove the introductory and concluding paragraphs, and then see if your essay seems stronger. These paragraphs are often the most likely to have unnecessary detail.
  • Go through the essay and cut out every “very” and every “many.” Words like these are vague, and your writing is often stronger without them.

Get a second opinion. Even best-selling novelists ask other people to read their manuscripts before they’re sent to the publisher. When you’ve rewritten the essay to your satisfaction, find someone who can give you advice on how to make it even better. Choose a person you respect and who knows something about writing, a favorite English teacher, a parent, or a friend who writes for the school paper. Ask them to tell you what they like best about your essay, and what you can do to improve it. Criticism of your writing can be tough to hear, but try to listen with an open mind. You don’t have to make every change suggested, after all, it’s your essay and no one else’s, but you should seriously consider each suggestion.

Proofread. Finally, you’re ready to send your essay. Not so fast! Read it over one more time, looking for those little errors that can creep in as you write or edit. If you’re using a computer, also run a spell check. Sometimes, it can be difficult to catch minor typos—you’ve read the essay so many times that you see what should be there rather than what is there. To make sure you catch everything, try reading your essay out loud or having someone else read it out loud to you. Another strategy is to read the essay backward, from the last sentence to the first. That makes it just unfamiliar enough for errors to stand out.

Be accurate. Applying online may feel like you’re sending email, but you’re not. An Oregon director of admission warns against using informal email language, incorrect capitalization or abbreviations such as BTW or “thanx,” which are not appropriate to a formal document. Make sure your online essay represents the best of you.  ​

Don’t expect too much from an essay. The application essay is important, but it’s not the only thing that is considered. “Can [the essay] make a difference in getting the ‘thin versus thick’ envelope? Absolutely,” says the New York director. “But that is the exception rather than the rule.” That’s because admission officers look at the whole package, your academics, extracurricular activities, standardized tests, and other factors. A great essay rarely makes up for a weak academic record. On the other hand, a mediocre essay won’t necessarily consign your application to the “deny” list. So make your essay as well-written as you can, but don’t put so much pressure on yourself that the rest of the application fades in importance.

– Kimberly Hutchinson, Project Launch

DISHS Offers Support for Parents and Students During College Application Process

    Blustery wind, falling leaves, wood smoke, and pumpkins- the fall season is upon us!  If your child is planning to attend college after high school, it is also the season of college applications.  Many parents and students struggle with this often-challenging process.  There can be many questions and concerns about how to best fill out college applications.  There can also be stress about doing it “right” so that your child will have a better chance of being accepted at their first-choice colleges. Fortunately, there is help!

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The following support is available for Deer Isle-Stonington High School (DISHS) students and parents:

1- Does your child have a college coach?  This is a program that matches high school students with community members specifically for the purpose of college planning and help with the application and scholarship process.  College coaches work one-on-one with the students and can help with any parts of the application, no matter how big or small.  College coaches can be particularly helpful with the essay.  In order for your child to be matched with a college coach, a permission slip needs to be signed by you and returned to the Guidance Office.  Permission slips are available in the Guidance Office.

2- Is your child signed up for Project Launch?  This is a program that begins in the senior year of high school and continues throughout the college years.  Students are matched with a college “Guru” (a past graduate of DISHS with college success of their own).  The Guru is available to help students navigate the college application process and make a successful transition from high school to college.  The sooner your child gets matched with a Guru, the better!  If you are interested in learning more about Project Launch or having your child sign-up, please contact Director Kimberly Hutchinson at 348-6123 or through the Guidance Office.

3- Help with college applications is available a few times a week during focused study.  Students need to sign up for this.  Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. Siebert and Kimberly Hutchinson are available to help during this time.

Kimberly Hutchinson, Project Launch

Cameras

“Where is your jacket (sweatshirt)?”  “What happened to the pants (jewelry) you wore to school this morning?”  “He/she did what—did you tell your teacher?”  Are these familiar questions in your household?  Cameras in our school could address common issues, including these.

Our town uses cameras to their advantage,  they are standard practice for businesses, and they add another layer of safety and security,  even being helpful exposing abuse in nursing homes.  They’re now preferred by many parents where camera-ready day care is offered for their little ones.  My niece looks up her 2-year-old daughter to see what she’s doing any time she wants, including from her computer at work.

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Our school staff could lower administrative time addressing behavior and missing items while bringing the focus back to learning.  We could help eliminate the handicap of “he said/she said” and “Why can’t you stop this bullying/targeting?”, making communication between parents and the school more pro-active and goal-based.  Issues with visiting teams could be more accurately addressed.  Videos of memorable events could be made available for parents who cannot attend special functions and classroom presentations.

Cameras are impartial; they don’t lie; they have no agenda.  A picture is worth a thousand words.

They cost $$, you say; it’s not in the budget.  We could appeal for donations; we could have fund-raisers.  Anyone whose child has already been a victim would likely be supportive.  We could start with camera coverage in public areas, including:

·        Hallways, especially locker/cubby areas

·        Stairways

·        The gym and auditorium

·        The playground

What do you think?

– A Deer Isle-Stonington Parent 

The Road Ahead

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I couldn’t be more proud of my son. It’s seems surprisingly fast, but next year he will be entering high school and beginning a new chapter in his life. One of my three children, he was always a good student in elementary school. Actually, a great student. According to his grades, he has been doing everything he needed to succeed. It’s not uncommon for him to make the honor roll, and as a parent this has helped quiet any fears I had about his eventual transition to high school.

It seems that a child who makes the honor roll is prepared academically for high school and meeting the needed requirements, but I soon found that the fine print of standardized tests say otherwise. The requirements for a smooth transition from elementary school to high school came as a surprise to me and has me concerned for my children’s future. As a parent, there is always more I can be doing for my children. Yet, I feel the importance of these tests was not communicated effectively between multiple parties, in turn creating avoidable confusion.

My son is thinking about his education, his future, his dreams, and his goals. I don’t want to imagine that the beginning of his high school experience, and the beginning of his transition to becoming an adult, starts with him “not being prepared”. Looking ahead, I see the fine print of requirements growing. There seem to be more options and avenues for students to pursue in high school, but it seems complicated how these options meet the requirements for transition, and later, for graduation.

I’m ready and willing to work hard with my children to navigate their educational careers, but there is needed information that doesn’t seem to be common knowledge between administrators, teachers, parents, students, and the community as a whole. I’m willing to work hard because I know I am not the only parent with these hopes and fears for their child’s education. As an island parent, I’d like to see more effective communication, ensuring that needed information can better become common knowledge and reflect the common stake that we all hold in the education of our children.


A Deer Isle-Stonington Parent 

Choosing The “Right” Education For My Children

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As a mother of a four and two year old (and expecting number three), I have had to make some difficult decisions and realizations about education possibilities. I grew up on the island and went through most of the school system, so I know how limiting it can be for some. Having experienced boarding school and college out of the state of Maine, I knew that I wanted my kids to have more opportunities than what is offered here.

 Knowing the limitations, I enrolled my daughter (the four year old) in the pre-K program at The Bay School in Blue Hill, as well as in a local daycare. Growing up on the island, and then moving away for a while, I know how hard it can be to live here and not be accepted as another islander. Having her in an island daycare allowed her to make friends here and start connections. But, I wanted more/different experiences for her, which is where The Bay School came in. I like outside of the box, hands on, and physical experiences. I believe that being exposed to different things growing up opens your mind, builds dreams, and allows you to handle situations outside of your comfort zone better.

 After her being at The Bay School for a year, my husband and I had to make the impending decision of where to send her to kindergarten. The factors of money, commuting and what is best for our daughter were our three biggest weighing options. I have gone back and forth between The Bay School and the island elementary school more times than I can remember. I am afraid of my daughter being ostracized from the island people if she is sent to The Bay School. But, is it worth sending her to the island school just so she can have friends here because this is where we live? Are education and experience worth more than people connections? Is the twice a day commute worth it? Should we pay money instead of sending her to school for “free”? Which school would she be happier at? Will it make a difference in the long run? These are many of the questions my husband and I tossed back and forth.

 We finally decided that the experiences, and different viewpoint of educating would be really good for her at The Bay School. Our final decision has been reinforced by how our daughter comes home from the pre-K program happily singing songs, talking about the wonderful food the kids helped cook and she actually tried. Who knows if this is something that will benefit her later in life, or if we will even continue with it after kindergarten. It is a year by year decision, and only time will tell.

– Lydia MacDonald

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Hey Mom, Can I Get a Facebook Account?

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Actually, my child first asked for Instagram. Uh oh.  I knew Facebook and Twitter, but wasn’t sure how Instagram worked and I had no idea whether it was OK for a young teen.  I was flooded with questions and anxieties.  How was I going to decide which social media was appropriate?  How would I protect my children from cyberbullying?  How would I make sure they weren’t being an online bully?  And what about that guy who was recently arrested on charges of sexual assault against a Hancock county minor?  Didn’t he meet her through Facebook?  What if my child posted something that would get him in trouble at school – or, worse, raise a red flag later when she applied for jobs.  But if I didn’t allow Instagram, wouldn’t my child be isolated from peers and unprepared for navigating social media as an adult?

I admit, it was tempting to put all of these issues aside and let my child simply sign up.  “Everyone else is already on,” I heard.  Google to the rescue. It didn’t take me long to type in “Is Instagram OK for a 13 year old?” and find plenty of information and a variety of opinions. We ended up going with Facebook instead, but only after reviewing and signing a social media contract that spelled out our expectations (see links below).  It took some negotiating to come up with a workable agreement, and I’m probably not as on top of regularly checking the accounts and content as I should be…. but it’s a start.  While our teenagers think we are on the overprotective side, they have been content with our current guidelines.

Here are a few of the guidelines we kept in our agreement:

  • Parents have open access to kids’ accounts.  (They have to share passwords and logins)
  • Privacy settings are checked to ensure only friends see posts and photos.
  • They are only allowed to “friend” people they know in real life.
  • They need parental permission to accept a friend request from anyone over 18.
  • And three big rules for content:

1)   Don’t post anything you would not want your parent or the school principal to see.

2)   Don’t post anything on social media you would not say to someone’s face.

3)   No cyberbullying.  Period.

I’m sure our family will keep revisiting these decisions as our kids get older and new forms of social media emerge.  And we’ll learn from the voices of other parents.

How are you managing social media with your kids? Have you found any useful tools or strategies?  Comments and conversation are welcome!

Parent of a Deer Isle-Stonington Student

Looking for more information on contracts for teens? This article is helpful and offers some advice.

Also, here is a link to a SOCIAL MEDIA CONTRACT FOR PARENTS AND TEENS