Academic Struggles in Middle School

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Formerly gifted 8th-grader is now struggling

Sept 2010

What is your advice for helping a student who believes he's lost his ''giftedness?'' My 8th-grader has been called gifted since kindergarten. This is based on standardized test scores (99 percentile every year), grades and personality. Now he's struggling. His standardized test scores are in the 59 percentile and his classmates who had to work so hard over the years have passed him. It's like he zoned out all these years because he knew the material and forgot how to process. How do I help him catch up, regain confidence and view himself as a great kid? P.S. Did he actually lose his giftedness? Thanks for your feedback! Sam

I think it might be worth having your son evaluated. You're right, there might be processing issues. We used a wonderful evaluator, John Aulenta, in Pacific Grove. This is a very long drive (we combined evaluation with Monterey Bay Aquarium) but I bet there are good evaluators closer to home. We just loved how John interracted with our two children and his completed results have been praised by everyone from school psychologists to Lindamood- Bell. These have helped us get accommodations in our schools. Ann

Hi there. I'm sorry for the frustration your child has been feeling. I can't help but think that it is largely due to having the label ''gifted'' applied in the first place. There is a LOT of compelling research by Carol Dweck about mindsets that might be interesting for you to read. She's an educational scholar currently at Stanford and has looked at the difference between teaching a ''fixed mindset:'' you are smart, you can do this; and a ''growth mindset:'' what's important is that you are capable of achieving great things if you really work at it. According to her research, what is happening to your son is not surprising, given the focus on his innate talent. Here's a great article to start with: Assure him that he's not losing his giftedness but that his brain is changing and it's time to look at things in a different way. With any luck you'll be able to turn things around in time for high school. Katherine

On the one hand, not every kid that tested at 99th percentile early on will stay at that level, as other kids whose abilities develop later catch up and must be accounted for in the percentiles. On the other hand, when you have a robust group of test scores over years saying the same thing, and then an abrupt drop, it makes sense to wonder what is going on.

It's important to remember that a test score represents a snapshot in time, and if one is not having a good day, is not well, or lacks motivation, performance can suffer. It is possible this child is depressed, as depression can cause (reversible) cognitive slowing. Or, though unlikely, it is possible there could be a medical cause. For example, hypothyroid symptoms can look like depression and could include a mental ''fogginess.'' It might make sense to have this evaluated by a medical doctor, and if depression is a factor, seek therapy. Ilene

I'm uncomfortable with labeling a child as gifted, as kids develop at different rates and have different strengths. My kids also were tagged as ''gifted'' in elementary school, testing in the 90th percentile in subjects, but they grew up just normal kids - excelling some years, slacking some others, doing well at some things, struggling with others.. We all want our children to feel smart and successful so I'm glad you want your child to feel that way, but I would shy away from labels like gifted. I'd focus on all the positives and offer tutoring help if your child wants extra help. Like to think all children are special and capable of greatness

You might want to read ''A Mind at a Time'' by Mel Levine. Several years ago all of the families in my children's school were encouraged to read it, and I've thought back on the message many times since then as different challenges have emerged with my kids. Basically, the book provides research that supports many kinds of learning approaches, and discusses how different kinds of learning challenges can emerge in later years. Among other examples, it specifically talks about the phenomenon that you describe, a child considered gifted in the early years, who doesn't have to work hard to master the material, and then finds as they get older that they haven't developed the skills they need to master higher level material. In some cases the child has a particular type of learning challenge, and in other cases they need to develop skills to adjust to the more difficult material. In any case, it might give you some ideas for next steps in helping your son. Good luck

As kids get older, academic material and homework get more difficult and kids have to learn that being smart isn't enough. That lesson comes hard for some kids who may have thought that they didn't need to put in dedicated effort for school. Middle school can be the turning point for some kids, high school for others. So now is the time for your son to learn this lesson.

You could explain that perhaps you have all been lax in not emphasizing the importance of good study habits, dedicated homework time, the need to review material, and that this is the year to fix it. You would work with him to review material he forgot from the past, which you can do in a structured way, or use a tutor. So the idea is to create new study patterns that are the foundation of continuing achievement as the work gets harder. That could be enough.

However, try to evaluate the situation more carefully yourself. Are there other issues involved? What about his grades--what subjects did he have difficulty with? Math? Writing? Across the board? What did last year's teachers say about him? Evalute this.

Also what is happening socially? Middle school can be a tough time for some kids. Could this be an influence? Does he play sports and see competition getting tougher? Are cliques excluding certain kids?

Any other clues about areas of weakness or focus, such as: reads fast but doesn't retain it? Is distractible? Too much time playing video games? You suspect he may be using drugs? Run these issues through your mind--does anything pop out? Also consider programs available to help students build good study habits.

Since ''giftedness'' is not really a meaningful word, it's not something a person has or can lose. Kids can be talented in many different ways but usally not in all ways. Drop the word and focus on individual talents your son has. Also, identifying his worth by what his standardized test scores are seems like a bad idea. Focus on concrete achievements. Hopefully your son will use this as a growing year and be ready for high school next fall. anonymous

By way of background - I have a gifted niece who did not ''show'' her giftedness on her report cards and in the classroom. She barely graduated from high school. I have a highly gifted daughter who is headed off to middle school next year. I am a credentialed teacher. I was identified as gifted in the hayday of California where I was given both Spanish and French instruction, science lab and weekly pullouts for kids like myself beginning in early elementary school.

No, your child did not become ''ungifted.'' What we have done in the vast majority of public schools - and indeed it is also done in nearly all private schools - is ''level the playing field.'' In the upper middle class public schools and in private schools it is said they are teaching up a grade or teaching more creatively. We are often told that ''all children are gifted in different areas and different ways.'' While I believe that all children are gifts, not all children are gifted any more than all children read and speak Arabic. The big, fat ugly secret that we do not want to talk about because it makes us feel really uncomfortable is that we can predict with reasonable accuracy the problems your child is having. We have done longitudinal studies spanning three decades.


Think of all of the times your child got those 4s and 5s or Bs and As on the report card, the spelling tests that were aced, the math tests that were 100% before the material was even ''taught'' - my guess is that your child fell into this category. What happens to the brain seems to be that the students have not built the Habits of Mind (there are 16 of them) required to demonstrate rigorous academic work.

Until we actually have deeper thinking required of gifted students in elementary school - not just more of the same, and not just ''teaching up a grade'' but demonstrating knowledge across the disciplines, writing new endings to stories, using math to solve creative and scientific problems, we will continue to see our best minds not be able to demonstrate the rigorous thought and work required to achieve their potential in high school and university. Did your son become ''ungifted'' - Absolutely Not - He's Still as Gifted as Ever

Why won't 7th grader give 100%? Or even 75%...

Feb 2010

We need suggestions on how to motivate our 7th-grade son to take grades seriously. His teachers are worried. He blows off homework and is a class clown whose grades and immaturity will keep him out of his chosen high school (unless we can help to flip the switch on). His standardized test scores are mostly 97th percentile.

He's bright, social and athletic--the kid who could truly excel at anything but never gives it his ''all'' which perplexes teachers and coaches. It's as though something holds him back. He won't participate in anything that could put him legitimately in the spotlight like student council or spelling bee, yet will crack jokes and disrupt the classroom.

We've tried $$$$ organizational tutoring (4 months 3x a week) thinking that hanging out with an MIT student would inspire him (his dream college). After several ''D''s we took away video games (6 months so far), cell phone (1 month), facebook (1 month), cut back on activities (including volunteering) so he does one activity (and can't say he's overscheduled).

His friends come over, he goes to movies, reads, builds electronic inventions, skis... I've told him that throughout life, there are tasks you'll have to do that you don't like--laundry, annual reports, picking up dog poop and homework...

Any suggestions on helping him realize consequences and that attitudes and choices are important? His teachers and former coaches have us genuinely concerned. Sam

You haven't found his ''pain'' point yet. Have you eliminated all television and all computer access except school related? Take all electronic equipment (including phones) out of his room. Put a computer he can use in the dining room or other public room. I would take away all outside activities (no movies, sports, etc.) until his grades measure up and he stops acting out at school. He needs to understand that school work is the highest priority.

If he acts out at school, then send him to his room after dinner for the evening. The only things should be in there should be school related, clothes and his bed. If necessary, take the door off his room. That will get his attention.

Does he have any chores around the house? If not then he is just a consumer. He needs to understand responsibility. Don't warn or threaten to do anything. Just do it and calmly explain that his behavior is the reason for these consequences.

I recommend ''Teen Proofing'' & ''Ending The Homework Hassle'' by John Rosemond. Read the comments on Amazon about these books and see those parents were facing a similar situation. Parent of 7th grader

One approach is to answer your question ''why won't...'' and that may not get you far. I recommend the excellent book Setting Limits How to Raise Responsible Independent Children by Providing Clear Boundaries by Robert J. MacKenzie. There is lots of info about homework and teens and working with teachers. Learning as I go along

It must be very frustrating for you to see your child not working up to potential. On the chance that your gifted child might be afraid to be less than perfect, see the tips in this recent research on the kind of comments that are most motivating:

Praising a kid for effort, not talent, seems the most helpful because effort is a factor under the kid's control, while intelligence isn't. Apparently some gifted kids get so used to doing everything easily, they have a hard time learning how to persist when things start getting hard. Conversely, some failing students become more enthusiastic about learning when they hear that the brain is like a muscle, that grows with challenges. Hope that helps!

Failing 8th grade

April 2009

Hi: Have a nerdy 13.3 yo, also skinny, sensitive, and short, who is having trouble staying on top of 8th grade. Don't know how many F's it takes to repeat 8th grade, but he may be a candidate. He is extremely disorganized and loses completed homework. Oddly enough, he likes all his teachers a lot, enjoys his classes, and has no wish to drop an elective (ex language) to lighten his load. We tried. Spends hrs each day on homework. Seems slow at times, but is definitely not stupid. Has a couple close friends but is amiable with everyone. Loves computer, chess. Despite academic struggles, scores in the 95-99% on state tests, so he does seem to ''get'' the material. Earlier WISC test results were in 140-150 range, with some ceilings. Barely legible handwriting. Has had therapy and counseling off/on for anxiety. School psychologist suggests that his front lobe is not fully developed, puberty not yet in sight, hence the huge struggle with executive skills. Have requested a psycho-educational evaluation. Perhaps repeating 8th grade is not a bad idea and he doesn't seem nearly ready for high school. Anyone else experience this and/or have suggestions on how to help this quirky kid get through life? -Out of Ideas

Dear Parent,

Your son sounds like a great kid in so many ways, has friends, likes his teachers etc. Many very smart people have significant challenges and or (school language deficits or disabilities). It's great your exploring this now if appropriate intervention can make a big difference.Important questions to ask may be; How would a 2nd year doing the same thing in school help? How would your son feel about it? How would it effect his feelings about himself?

His challenges are interfering with his ability to enjoy, master school and the academics there. The educational language is ''interfering with his ability to learn''. He may have one or more problems that can do very well with intervention. The hand writing issue is called dysgraphia, an occupational therapist can really help, he can learn to use a computer which is often much easier More importantly is the issue with executive functions. Does he have a processing problem? One can be very smart and not be able to process the info and then figure out what to do with the info.

Does he understand context and main point?( the gist of a story/movie) He does sound as though he has problems with executive functioning (organization,planning, problem solving...,These challenges often show up in middle school.

Your son is great at tests, that are organized and ask for specific info. 8th grade school work often is asking for a different kind of work (digesting the material, inferences context,etc). I think you are on track in trying to find out what is going on. One option is testing or having someone who knows about executive functioning look over the testing info you have. Dr. Cynthia Peterson is a great pediatric nueropsychologist (510-843- 2005 X 3 and does test youth.

Other options include, a person (who knows these issues) breaking down organization skills and working with your son, and looking for a school program that is smaller, and supports students in learning organization skills and develop executive funtioning. It may help to know where the challenges lay so your family can make a plan for how to handle the challenges.

It is true the brain develops and changes alot in adolescence. It sounds as though you are questioning whether a wait and see approach is the way to go.

I wish you the best. I hope I hear how it is going. Vicki

In response to Failing 8th grade. I have some suggestions. Yes, your son should have a full psycho-educational evaluation. In addition, you should request an occupational therapy evaluation to look at his handwriting issues, and his sensory motor integration and processing issues which may be contributing to disorganization and poor fine motor skills. If he has social issues with friendships, have the speech/language pathologist consult about social communication recommendations as they may be related to poor sensory motor integration and processing as well.

I am a public school and private practice speech/language pathologist with 28 years experience and much experience working in collaboration with an occupational therapist and resource specialist. We see many students with your child's profile who are able to learn strategies for improving attention, focus, organization and communication skills when addressed by a school team (resource specialist, school psychologist, speech/langauge pathologist, occupational therapist, parent and student) Your tax dollars at work. marilyn

Most definitely insist on a psycho-educational evaluation from your school district. A kid this smart should not be failing 8th grade. All kids this age have immature frontal lobes! Have the school psychologist rule out an attention deficit disorder (inattentive type), Asperger's Syndrome, and a learning disability. Good luck! Mom and education professional

I would highly recommend that you have your son medically, and psychiatrically evaluated by private medical personnel as soon as possible. He may be failing because he is struggling with learning in a school setting or something organic is going on with his brain, nervous, and/or endocrine systems. I find it odd if not disturbing that the school psychologist made that comment about his brain development unless there was a full medical workup detailing his brain functions. What are the school psychologists' credentials? Were they making a comment or providing some information for you to follow up on with your doctor?

School will not get any easier, better to figure out what is going on, since failure may only serve to add to your collective burden and limit your son's current and future options.

Medical insurance, or even medicaid will cover some of this if there are anxiety symptoms. They generally won't cover educational issues. Also delayed puberty is a physical development flag to investigate endocrine issues.

Here are some resources I have found helpful:

Dr. Peter Barglow - psychiatrist in Berkeley - he is an MD not a psychologist. He takes insurance but you need to follow your insurance protocol for referrals - start with your pediatrician.

Also Raskob might be a source of information for you

They work with high functioning kids who have a range of disabilities and do not do well in the classroom. This is probably not the place for your son since they only go through Middle school, but they help a lot of people move in a better direction. It is more comprehensive advice than you will get from school services. Remember the public school system wants to keep its costs down, they do the minimum if that. The services you receive from public sources are always improved if you can pinpoint causes and specific needs with an IEP supported by experts.

Make sure you have your referrals approved for payment by your insurance in advance of making appointmens, and that you ask for estimates of costs of services up front and in writing if possible, and inquire about any costs that are not usually covered by insurance. Be careful about signing waivers. In general most insurances have negotiated rates with their providers. If possible see people in private practice vs a hospital if you have a choice, sending encouragement to confront the difficult

As a mother of a dyslexic student, I would say it does sound like a possible learning disability, esp. the part of spending hours on homework (and messy handwriting too?). We requested a psych-ed. evaluation by Berkeley Unified, and they completely snowed us. Outside Neuro Psychologists are now giving us the proper diagnosis and modifications. These students are usually bright, but reading is often very slow, especially a second language. From talking to many other parents in similar situations, BUSD seems to just totally not want to deal with it, or unable/incapable. I would recommend going for a good, recommended outside Neuropsychologist (we are using Dr. Doyle who was recommenede by a psychologist friend of ours). It's not cheap, but totally worth it. Milder cases may be missed until later years. Hardworking with Son

Bright son failing Piedmont Middle School

May 2008

My 12 and a half year old son is failing 6th grade. He hates all the homework in particular. He does not work much in class, and is detached from school. He is a sweet, nice person capable of straigt A's according to his core 6th grade teacher. He can no longer go on the computer (his obsession) nor watch TV. Friends may no longer come over. I am in the process of having him do a full psycho- social battery of tests. How will he get through high school at this rate? He says he is bored to tears, and prefers class will hands-on experiences. I suspect his learning style is not being matched at school (kinesthetic). I don't want him to become turned off. I cannot afford private school. What is there left to do?

I have had my own struggles with a middle schooler and I really wonder if the measures you have taken--no friends can come over, no computer, your punitive approach overall--are hurting and not helping. I know you mean well, but to me it just doesn't seem like a loving approach. Kids have just got to feel that you are on their side and understand them. Isolating him in his room with his homework is just not going to make him rally and become a stellar student. The problem is deeper than that.

Middle school really ramps up the amount and level of difficulty of school work, compared to lower school. Add new hormones into the mix, everyone maturing at different times and that just adds to the situation. Some schools (my son's could be put in this category) just dump the work on the kids. There is little one-on-one time if the kids don't understand the work--just do it, figure it out yourself. It's very stressful. Are you sure that you can't let him try out a small private school, like The Academy in Berkeley?

From what I can tell, and please don't take this the wrong way, the kid's problems often have their source in the parents' problems. That might be something to consider. A therapist we saw said that the higher performing public schools in this area are great at churning out ''cookie cutter'' kids, that easily learn the material put in front of them, do well in some chosen sport, and even kind of look alike. But if you don't fit into the cookie cutter, you're going to have trouble. What do his teachers say? What does your son say? My suggestion is to see a therapist to get some ideas, and if possible, try out a different school if things don't get better. There are alternative schools out there and I don't think they're all $20k a year. Good luck--there are a lot of us out there going through the same things, if that helps. Karen

Sixth grade can be a disastrous experience at PMS, but sometimes it can be salvaged (our record was about 1.5/3). First of all, pay careful attention to your child's core teacher in Piedmont. This can make a huge difference. Some teachers are quite responsive and willing to work with parents of students like your son. Others are extremely difficult to work with. If you want to try to make PMS work, meet with the 7th grade counselor, since the school year is all but over, and insist that they place your son with a core teacher in 7th grade who will work well with a student in his situation (possible teachers--don't know if they are still there or doing 7th grade--Holland, Williams, Carticiello; and insist that he NOT have Gielow (sp?) for science). Also, ask for a student study team meeting at the beginning of the year. This will be a meeting with all of the teachers, you can bring your son's evaluation, even the person who did the evaluation, and ask for ideas on how to get your son engaged. Insist on regular updates on this until his performance improves. In terms of other alternatives, we didn't really find one at that level, but I do know one family who moved their daughter to Willard in Berkeley, where she was much happier. Who would have thought? I would certainly check that one out pretty carefully before making a move. I look back now at my daughter's 3 years at PMS as extremely harmful to her academically, but I never found an alternative. She went to Millenium High, which at the time was a huge relief, although now she is still struggling in college. Good luck. I would be happy for the moderator to share my email address with you, but I'll just sign myself Another Piedmont Parent

My ''kinesthetic'' kid went K-12 in Piedmont schools. The PUSD schools at that time (and prob'ly today, too) tested for learning problems---the ''kinesthetic'' student's results don't reveal much in those tests. Most prob'ly your child won't qualify for accommodations, even though it's clear something is amiss. Piedmont has a lot of assertive, well-educated parents (a lot are lawyers) that have stretched the Special Ed office to the max, to the point they're chronically audited by the State Dept of Education---too many Special Ed kids per school population. Meanwhile, pls attend the PRAISE meetings and talk to as many older kids' moms you can, especially if their kids are ''kinesthetic''---their advice is worth its weight in gold. If your child is ''kinesthetic'' you should've noticed him having difficulties in 5th grade, perhaps w/ History. Reason: a lot of reading. Fifth grade turns up the heat to get the kids ready for Middle School. There will be increasing emphasis on reading for academics---not the ''kinesthetic'' learners' forte. You should contact the Ass't Principal or Principal of the M.S. immediately and make sure they select a 7th Grade Core Teacher well-matched to his learning style. They don't want your son to fail, either, and can help you. The right Core Teacher is important---your son is not trying to fail---he's having a hard time, academically and thus emotionally. He had a lot on his plate this year--be as compassionate as you can with him---nix the draconian discipline (no TV, no computer) when he's the type of person attracted to motion! Limiting it, with homework support from his parents or a tutor, would be the better solution. And channeling more support for his time spent doing things ''kinesthetic'' learners enjoy, like Art, Music, or Sports, where he can experience success and increase his self-esteem, would be good for after-school activities.

Tutors: we tried different tutors, starting in 6th grade, most of the way through high school, selected according to what the crisis was at the time. The PRAISE moms can guide you in this. My ''kinesthetic'' made it through 12th grade, but was increasingly ''dropped'' socially, due to the perception of their peers that they were not successful (''dumb''). There's a lot of social pressure on your boy that you may not be aware of. The PRAISE group, again, can guide you to appropriate psychological/academic tutors, tutors who also help with organization/academics, etc. Also, you may need to seek the type of outsider, expert Assessment testing that costs several thousands of dollars, to locate the learning problems that the PUSD tests don't. These tests will provide the documentation of a learning problem that the Special Ed office needs in order to start the wheels rolling to get your son the support he needs. Again, the PRAISE parents can guide you on this. If you eventually decide to send your boy to a private school, make sure they have excellent sports, art and music--- -the things this type of child will embrace and find gratifying. Good luck. Adore my ''kinesthetic'' learner

How to help underachieving 12-year-old boy

May 2006

I am trying to find resources or advice to help my 12 y.o. son with his current academic track, which is not good. he is currently in the 7th grade at a private school. he is failing one subject, and below grade level in another. while he says that he wants to get good grades and do well in school, he appears to have no interest in his school work. he often rushes through his assignments and then gets very moody and emotional when i ask him about it, or encourage him to spend more time or try to get ahead.

we have tested him for learning disabilities and did not find any. he does have a big problem with organization and seems to get easily overwhelmed. another concern i have is that he does not really have any friendships that extend beyond school, though he does seem to get along fine with his fellow students.

he is a good kid and we have not had behavioral problems with him. we are fortunate enough to have the resources to help him, but i just don't know where to start. i'm really torn up about this and don't want him to feel bad, or get held back, but on the other hand he's got to get with it and try a little harder. it's like a brain tease everyday trying to figure out what the right move is. i am now highly concerned as i know that berkeley high school will definately not be a good choice for him, however, with his current grades i don't know that we will have any other options.

i'd appreciate any feedback or advice that others can offer. -berkeley mom

Your 12-year old son's school and social behavior symptoms sound similar to my son's 6 years ago, when he was diagnosed with depression at 12. It would be wise to have your son evaluated by your primary care physician and/or a child psychologist. Thankfully, your son is at a good age at which to catch and treat emotional issues before they escalate Anonymous

I'm sorry to hear about your 12 year old's struggles. You mentioned that he was assessed for learning differences, but if executive and emotional function were not thoroughly covered as parts of the evaluation you might consider having those areas done in a supplementary fashion. They could shed some light on his organizational and other difficulties. Best wishes & feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss it further. Robert

I have a 17 year old son, where this problem became more noticeable in middle school , and it was crash and burn time at Berkeley High School. Unfortunately, our society has limited channels for different talents. Also, we realized that my husband, hisDad has similar traits. Dad was a ''C'' student through school, and is now a successful businessman. He was a late bloomer. My husband has repeatedly assured me that our son could very well be a ''late bloomer'' that it is not unusual for boys to get it together starting after age 24. 24 seems to be the magical age - after all that's when car insurance rates goes down. There are studies which say that boys' frontal cortex develops more slowly. Who knows for sure?

Having said that - one thing we have done which has helped tremendously is to give my son a supplement - Jarrow's ''Neuro-Optimizer''. YOu can get it at Elephant or Whole Foods. My husband is taking it too - and says he feels a difference - makes it easier to concentrate and focus. We're giving my 17 year old, 150 pounds, with 1 and worked up to 2 a day, rather than the 4, which is the recommended dose. I have also accepted that my son does not multi-task. That he can only remember one thing at a time. That I need to remind him, every single time, to do his chores, which he does when I remind him. And we have to hand him his supplement every day, because he doesn't remember to do it on his own. So, I no longer yell ''Why can't you do this, you're 17'' I just go with the flow. I post notes, I remind. And with the neuro-optimzer, you should see a difference in 2 weeks. (And if you like this product - order it from Beachwood - 1-800-803-5333 - Jarrow is 30% off msrp.) Mother of a boy

Hi, my son was/is in the same boat as yours. I highly recommend these books:

1) raising cain - helps get insight into boys - what is more typical in their development
2) bright minds, poor grades - the best part of the book is putting the responsibility on your kid.

Once we learned to take our own pride out of the situation - the ugly discussions and long lectures stopped. We put it up to him and decided it was his life he was playing with. That doesn't mean we let him decide everything.

The next most valuable thing we've done is create the ''D is for Disappear program) - we list the privileges he loses if he does not meet the expectations we clearly outline (no missing assignments, no D's on progress or report cards, no reports from teachers saying he is talking in class etc.). Ask your school counselor if they can circulate a report to his teachers letting you know when he is missing assignments, current grades etc. every school our son has been in does this (every 2 weeks or so).

Our son DOES have learning disabilities, but not so much that he can't acheive at least a C in all of his classes. It DOES mean he had learned a lot of bad tricks to ''get by'' without getting noticed by the teacher and parents! His expectations were too low and produced poor results. The organizational thing is HUGE so spend time with him everyday and make sure he 1) writes down all his assignments neatly - if no homework he should write - No homework for each subject and 2) he puts all his homework away in the appropriate part of his binder. Underacheiving kids know what to say to you and the teachers and give you a runaround of ''i did it but i lost/forgot it'' or something to blame the teacher (which we the parents want to believe)etc...

The list included things he valued like: parties/events, cell phone, earrings, nice clothes/shoes, CD's to increasing value like playing basketball, taking off his door (extreme and never had to do it yet).

By having it clearly outlined, he had no excuse to say he didn't know what was going to happen and we FOLLOWED THRU when he did come up short.

For two weeks he lost all of his nice clothes and shoes and was left w/ a few pairs of clothes/shoes to rotate thru for two weeks. For a kid focused on social life - it sent the message we were serious and he got down to business. He's 15 now and just brought home his first report card w/out a D.

There will always be two steps forward, one step back - but now he knows what the consequences will be and seems to (finally) be getting the message. It's never over with and we expect an adjustment each year as his classes change and more hormones come around - but the system has worked for us and we highly recommend it. Disappearing works!

Check out Classroom Matters or other ''whole child'' academic services. They help kids get organized in addition to providing tutorial support. You are correct in thinking that Berkeley High would be a terrible choice for your son - - he sounds exactly like the kind of kid who falls through the cracks, or worse, at BHS Very familiar with BHS

12-year-old getting terrible grades - any suggestions?

Feb 2006

any ideas on getting a 12 year old kid really excited about school?!! or, how to get him to realize how important turning homework actually is? i'm having a hard time with my 7th grade son. he is getting terrible grades at a private middle school that has a solid reputation for turning out good students. while his teachers have said that he is capable and able to do the work, and in fact is where he should be with his skills, he just simply forgets to turn the work in.

we have paid $700 for a organization and studies skill tutor and i have implemented a system of checking with him every night to make sure that he has done the work. somehow, however, he managed to either lose or forget to turn in the work he has done. i have told him that i'm worried about him getting to the next grade level and how getting into a good high school is important. it just seems that he's not all that concerned and is not making the connection.

any suggestions? i really would like for him to have alternative options to berkeley high as i think he would just get swallowed up due to the number of students, but at this point, am worried we won't have any other options given the current situation. -worried mom

If you are considering private schools, Orinda Academy might be a good fit for your son. Enrolling grades 7 - 12, it has a homework tracking and accountability system for all students, which somehow depersonalizes the issue and eliminates this issue as a source of friction at home and at school. Late homework earns an ''incomplete''. The ''incomplete'' student must spend their free periods the next day in a mandatory ''quiet'' study hall. Other students, whose homework is complete, elect to spend their ''frees'' in a number of other ways, like in an open-door, more sociable study hall, out on the basketball court, in the lounge, etc. Homework support available in both study halls, to the extent that the monitoring teacher knows the subject. This simple system encourages personal accountability and responsibility, and takes the parents out of the homework loop. Classes are small (12 - 15 students) and an effort is made to respect and accommodate different learning styles. Students may take classes at different grade levels in different subjects. Many enter the program with issues around homework completion, and the system works pretty smoothly to help them take control of the issue for themselves.
Orinda Academy parent

You could have been describing my son a few years ago! He is now a 9th grader and becoming more responsible about his work although he's not where he should be yet. I struggle with how involved to get. He is taking algebra now, though he could have taken it in 8th grade if he had been more responsible in 7th! After talking with his counselor about 10th grade courses, he came home saying he wanted to take geometry in the summer. I was very impressed. Then he found out that he can't because only students with A's in algebra are allowed to do so, and he got a B- in the fall. He was disappointed. It seems for the first time he is really realizing the consequences of his behavior and I am hopeful he will follow through even more now. So I don't really have advice, just to say that you're not alone and also that everything I tried didn't seem to have much impact.

I will add that as a professor, I've seen lots of students who went to college cause it was the thing to do in their social class and they're not engaged/learning. When teaching in community college, I had some students who had messed up in high school who were now ready to learn/work and they were amazing and went on to 4 yr colleges easily. So you don't have to worry that he is harming his future irrevocably.

Not Ready for High School

April 1999

My son struggled through middle school (held back in the 7th grade) and will be promoted to high school this summer because of his age. He missed so much school due to depression and inability to cope with large groups. He is currently in a special resource class and does well in small groups (5-6 kids, plus counseling). But he is so far behind academically that I know he will become frustrated in high school and might give up trying to get an education. What can I do to help him? He is intelligent and loves to read but needs that one-on-one teaching. I tried to get a tutor from the university (kinda-like a male role model) but it didn't work out. I contacted those special tutoring programs like the Sylvan Learning Center and the Learning Center but they are so expensive. What can I do to help him either catch up to his grade level or feel better about himself academically?

A friend of mine has a son who sounds very much like this and he dropped out of Middle School and went into home schooling. He has done much, much better there. He still isn't socially adept but his grades are a lot better and the pressure of fitting in to an impossible fit has been removed. He is in Berkeley but I hear Piedmont also has an excellent home-school high school. Not every peg fits into every hole and that's OK.