Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Back to school: Tips for getting the most out of the school year

—Cari Davis, Signpost

Your kids have finally gone back to driving someone else crazy; their teachers. Besides the slow-down of traffic in the mornings, the school year can bring other frustrations and fears to many parents and children. Here are some helpful ways for you and your child to get the most out of the school year.

Communicate, communicate, communicate…

Efficient communication with your child’s teachers and administrators can make everyone’s life easier, and should be done early and often. Introduce yourself at the beginning of the year and find out how your child’s teacher would prefer to communicate. Even if your child’s performance and behavior are where you want them to be, open up the lines of communication. This can prevent a small issue from becoming a big problem.

In a world of Blackberries, Facebook, and Instant Messaging, email can often be the most efficient option. Some schools even have online gradebook systems where parents have access to their child’s grades, and the teacher and parent can correspond. Keep in mind the teacher’s time is best spent in front the classroom and not answering emails, so make messages concise. If you need more discussion, make an appointment to come in.

If communicating via phone calls, remember the teacher is in class most of the day and may only have a small window of time to return your call and speak with you. For a longer session on the phone, make plans to connect at a certain time when you can both be available. 

Many schools use planners (often called agendas or communicators) where you can also write to your child’s teacher. Put your notes in the same place each time. Consistency early on will help students get into good habits and minimize the disconnect.

If you plan on visiting your child’s teacher, be sure to make an appointment and check in with the office. It’s important that you are punctual, and do not go over your allotted time. You may even want to bring an agenda, or at least have a mental note of the things you would like to discuss.

Share with the teacher some of your consequences, (negative and positive) for your child’s performance and behavior. He/she can help reinforce those. Your child benefits when you are all on the same page.

When there is a problem…

Every parent wants to believe their child, but remember there are two sides to every story. Get both sides before reacting in an emotional manner. A child’s perception of reality can be very different from an adult’s.

Go to the teacher first; it is his/her classroom and he/she will understand your concerns better than the principal. If you feel you need the principal’s support, request that he/she be there for the parent conference. 

No matter what the problem is, stay focused on the solution. This is what makes parent conferences helpful and effective. You are all on the same team and are there to help the student. Revisit the problem frequently and share what is working and what is not. 

Bring your child to the conference; they can wait outside if you need them to leave the room for any length of time.  Discuss the fact that the student, parents, and the teacher/school, all have responsibilities in the solution.   Follow through with your responsibilities and help your child follow through with his/hers. Most importantly, remember that your child is witnessing how responsible adults resolve differences.

At home…

Ask your child daily what went on in school. Try to do this in way that does not evoke one-word responses. For example, rather than, “how was school?” “Fine.” Try something like, “What did you learn in Math today?” This will help dig up distant memories of the assignment and homework. “Nothing” is not an acceptable answer.

A homework and study routine is crucial. The kitchen table while you are making dinner is perfect because you can monitor without reading over your child’s shoulder.  Share your routine with your child’s teacher. You can help by just knowing what’s going on, even if you do not know the Pythagorean theorem. Moreover, it is not necessarily the content as much as the concept of regular study habits.

Stay organized. Backpacks can become black holes during the school year, so help your child find an organization system that works for him/her. You can take things out and leave them at home, but it is best not to throw anything away until you are absolutely sure it is safe to do so.

Provide consequences, negative and positive, for your child’s performance and behavior. Do not promise anything you will not follow through with, and give your child some freedom to decide on the incentives.

Be sure to praise the small miracles, too, like reading for an extra ten minutes or a two-point increase on a test. Success creates success, no matter how big or small the gain.

Be patient. Although we would all like the “perfect teacher” every year, part of the educational process is learning to deal with the hand you are dealt. We do not get to pick our parents, teachers, or bosses. Show your child that sometimes you cannot change people, but you can always change the way you deal with them.


Diminish: A home-grown puzzle

As you have probably noticed, the Signpost has featured a puzzle called Diminish for the past few months (puzzle 5 is to your left). Here’s something you may not know. It was created by Placitas resident Dr. Michael Milone, a research psychologist best-known for his work in education as an assessment specialist.

The puzzle appears to be a word search puzzle with a ten-by-ten grid of letters. There is one huge difference between Diminish and other word search puzzles: it has no clues. It was published last month in book form for the education market by Arena Press, a division of Academic Therapy Publications (ATP).

“The puzzle is elegant in its simplicity,” says Jim Arena, president of Academic Therapy. “The letters on the grid are distributed in the same frequency they are in written English. You find whatever words you can in the grid. As you use letters to make a word, you cross them out. The number of letters on the grid is diminished, which is the inspiration for the name. There are multiple solutions, so different people will solve it in different ways. This versatility is important in the classroom because students with different abilities can succeed at the puzzle.”

As Milone explains, “The puzzle was an outgrowth of work we were doing on ATP’s High Noon Vocabulary series. When I tried out the puzzles on children and adults, they enjoyed them so much that I proposed the book idea to Jim. We introduced the concept at the annual convention of the International Reading Association in Phoenix, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.”

The puzzle has several features that make it exceptionally versatile in the classroom. The Diminish puzzles, which are intended to be duplicated for classroom use, can be solved by students with various ability levels, and in a sense, each puzzle is recyclable. The same student will solve the puzzle differently when given multiple opportunities. A Diminish puzzle can be solved by one person, like a crossword puzzle, or by multiple players, like a board game. “It can even be completed in languages other than English,” adds Dr. Milone. “The same puzzle can be solved in any language that uses the Roman alphabet. We have developed language-specific puzzle collections in Spanish, Italian, French, and German, and we will be looking for partners to publish these versions. The letter distributions in these languages are a little different than in English.”

Even the way that the winner is decided can vary. The winner might be the person who uses the most letters, finds the most words, creates the longest word, or achieves a combination of these elements. Diminish can be played with a time limit or until as many letters as possible are used. “In many respects,” says Jim Arena, “it’s a teacher’s dream come true. Diminish is fun, promotes word recognition, involves strategic planning, and lets students of different abilities compete with one another or work independently. Anyone who has a basic knowledge of written English can solve a Diminish puzzle, so it works in general education, special education, and rehabilitation.”

The rules in Diminish are more flexible than in some other games. A “word” can be a traditional word, a name, a place, or even a popular abbreviation or acronym. Users are encouraged to find words in other languages, which gives English Language Learners whose home language is Spanish an unprecedented opportunity to succeed. At the website, there are resources for students whose first language is Spanish. The resources help students learn English, and in many cases, improve their Spanish reading skills as well. The same resources can help English-speaking students learn Spanish. Comparable resources in Italian, French, and German will be posted in the future.

According to Jim Arena, the company is actively looking for publishing collaborations for the puzzle. “We believe that Diminish has potential as a trade book, a board game, an electronic game, and a television game show. We are excited about the possibilities that Diminish offers, especially because of the thinking skills it promotes. We expect that it will develop a following that compares with crossword or Sudoku puzzles as well as classic board games.”

Diminish, the 128-page book, is available for $12.50 from Academic Therapy Publications (, its distributors, bookstores, and






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