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Achieve a Successful School Year

Capital Region Educators Provide Ideas on How Families Can Achieve a Successful School Year by Focusing on Balance and Goal Setting


(Schenectady, NY September 15, 2015) – Families and educators are preparing for the excitement and challenges that come with the upcoming school year. As students move into their new grade, it can be an overwhelming time due to increased work, as well as extracurricular activities that start up again. Brown School in Schenectady, NY is mindful about how these changes can affect students and their families. To better meet the needs of the children, they’ve developed a goal setting program that also works to help families achieve overall balance. These are ideas anyone can implement to keep work and life more manageable. Head of Brown School Patti Vitale said, “It’s important for families and educators to work together on setting achievable goals. Some of these may tie directly into academics while others should be affiliated with activities outside of school. Focusing on the whole child is key to seeing improvements throughout the year.”

Eighth grade student, Olivia McLeron, thinks a lot about goals and how to reach them. “You need to stick with it. That might sound obvious, but I think that it’s incredibly important to carry out the goal you set. Not only do you feel great after you complete it, but by staying with and finishing something you set out to do, you are creating incredibly good habits for the future,” she said.

Brown School started a program that can be helpful to all, whether they attend the school or not. It’s coined IGNITE and stands for Individualized Goals Nurtured in a Team Environment. Students, with the assistance of their parents, teachers and peers, identify goals they’d like to work on. They map out a plan with the support of those around them, check in frequently to discuss their progress toward their goal, and pivot their plans as needed. “IGNITE started because we wanted to create a better way to deliver our mission. We didn’t feel that we were being true to our core by simply serving students who had a specific area of need. Everyone has needs; some may be academic, some social and some physical. We wanted to create a process to help each child strive to be their best,” said Vitale. They hired additional educators to assist with this endeavor. Nina Benway, a speech-language pathologist and a teacher of the gifted and talented was brought on to serve as the director of IGNITE (student support and enrichment, including goal setting). They also hired a reading specialist to work with children who have dyslexia.

Benway suggests when students choose goals they select ones that are SMART. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. “Students should choose a goal that is meaningful for them! The skills related to setting and achieving goals is something that students can practice while doing something they really enjoy. Students can then take the skills and use them in any area they need: for example, practicing an instrument or studying for a test,” she said. Benway believes meaningful success in academics involves having an overall balance regarding “life skills”.

Whatever the goals may be, Vitale and Benway both believe it’s important to focus on quality of life and balance. Vitale said, “This is a difficult area for most students and parents.  Quality family life is hard to come by. Parents, who want the best for their kids, are not sure how to help them. They themselves have difficulty managing time and their workload. Now you have stressed parents trying to help their stressed kids. It’s like a fireball. We want to be mindful in our approach to education. One simple change we made was no assigned homework during vacation. We always encourage reading, but reports and such are never assigned on vacation. We encourage families to help their children select extra curricular activities that will not be too overwhelming. Sometimes choices need to be made because, frankly, kids and adults simply can’t do it all.”

Goal setting helps students as they grow through the years and into adulthood. Benway said, “Skills like goal-directed perseverance, organization, and time management – the “executive functions” – are requisite skills for success in college and a career, but these skills don’t typically develop fully until early adulthood. When you combine that with the fact that most schools don’t focus on teaching these skills, it leaves many students of all ability levels lost in the classroom. Executive functioning training, as we do through IGNITE, gives students a head start on strengthening these skills. It helps students to ‘think’ about the way they think, and to examine how their strengths and interests will influence college and career preferences.”

Students, their educators, their family members and their friends can work together on developing goals and strategies to create balanced lives as they enter the upcoming school year. McLeron said support from your support circle is vitally important. “Anything they can do to support you helps. It is very important and helpful to have people in your life to remind you of your goals. Everyone has times where they just don’t feel like doing anything. It’s great to have somebody to help you remember to do the goal and to support you through it. Sometimes, you need them to help you study for that test you want to get a good grade on, or help you train for that big run,” she said.


About Brown School:

Brown School, a non-sectarian independent school in Schenectady, New York, has an absolute charter by the New York State Board of Regents, is accredited by the New York State Association of Independent Schools and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools. School policy is determined by the Board of Trustees and implemented by the head of school and Brown School staff members.