“Be sure to tell us about sex and drugs,” advised Jerry Witkovsky, originator of the Grandparent Connection program, now in its fifth year at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, IL. But first, new principal Kathy Anderson kicked off the Freshman Connection program for forty or so grandparents who filled the faculty cafeteria for this special event just for them.
Dan Chamberlain, Special Education Department Chair and the coordinator for this year’s program served as MC. Additional speakers included Brian Verisario, who talked about the 100+ clubs and 30+ sports teams available at the school. Brian’s advice to freshman, “Find the one thing you love…the thing that makes you want to be part of the group.”
Joe Taylor, head of Instructional Technology, talked about Chromebooks for students (each student is given one at Deerfield High School” and how the “no cell phone” policy is changing. “In the past cellphones were not allowed in class, but now students can simply snap a picture of teacher outline rather than writing every word, allowing them to listen more. The policy for each class is determined by the teacher.” Later in the program, after a question about cyber-bullying, Joe pointed out that it was smart to allow cell phone use for school purpose, in school, pointing out that if cyber-bullying takes place on-line, outside of school, the school legally has no recourse. But, if phones are allowed, and things take place during the school day, school’s then have the right to intervene. Joe also talked about other online support for learning, such as “quizlet.com” that allows students to use flashcards to study for tests. He also recommended a couple of books about kids and technology, including “Screenwise” by Deborah Heitner and “It’s Complicated” by Danah Boyd, about the online lives of kids and the social lives of networked teens, respectively.
The highlight was to hear directly from three students, now sophomores who talked about their experience of being freshmen at the school. “I was most concerned about the social aspect,” said one of the students who is not on Student Council, the Tennis Team, and five more activities. “Activities were a great way to meet with other students,” she said. “I was concerned about academics,” said another student. She was grateful for so many opportunities to reach out and get help, from counselors to organized help from older students.
The grandparents had lots of questions, from college preparation to sports, and in particular, how do you learn a sport if you don’t make the team, and you are new to the sport? “Freshman sports are almost all “no-cut” teams, most coaches offer training that is open to all prior to a tryout and they practice most sports in gym as well,” Dan assured them. Grandparents also wanted to understand where their grandchildren were intellectually, socially and emotionally at this pivotal stage of their development.
And back to that original question, about sex and drugs (which had the two speakers chanting sex and drugs and rock n’roll…presumably they are not often asked to talk about these subjects in a professional setting). “I asked on purpose,” said Jerry. “I wanted the other grandparents to know this was going on.” And the response was serious business. “Students take a sexuality class in 7th and 8th grade, and they are sexually active in high school,” Dan advised. And, unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse is a problem. “Don’t leave your prescription drugs in cabinets or where they are accessible to your grandchildren. Kids will find them and use them themselves or sell them to their friends.”
The program began at 4:00 pm, and at 5:30 grandparents were still eager to learn more. “Please come and attend school events, and visit the school website to find out what students are reading, which activities are coming up.”
For Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Taylor, the Freshman Connection Kick-off is just a start. “We have to send out the invitation on Monday,” they were overheard planning after the meeting. The Senior Grandparent Day, with over 300 Grandparents expected to attend, is coming up soon in November. “The grandparents shadow their grandchild to classes, they eat lunch together, everyone loves it!”
Does your grandchild’s school have a Grandparent Program? Ask your grandchildren and adult children! Invitations to these kinds of events go out via the students and their parents, who then alert the grandparents. Be sure to let your family know you are interested. You may also check your grandchild’s school website, or call the school and give them your email address (learn how to set up a free gmail account here if you don’t have email) so they can contact you directly. Learn more on how to set up a grandparent program at TheGrandestLove.com.