Supporting Youth in the Middle and High School Years
Educational Resources and Support in the Home
Research has consistently shown that children who succeed in school generally have a
supportive home environment. A home environment that supports learning includes
caregivers that provide both a stimulating and engaging environment that fosters
learning and demonstrate through words and actions that learning is important and
valued in the family. A nurturing caregiver that values and supports a child’s learning
and education has been shown to be a more important indicator of school success than
socio-economic conditions of the family. In many cases, even the effects of trauma can
be overcome with the right balance of unconditional nurturing, learning support and a
stimulating environment. Depending on the age of the child, there are specific
strategies that caregivers can use to provide a stimulating and supportive learning
environment in the home. Following are suggestions for how to provide learning rich
environments and to support learning and school achievement divided by age ranges.
Child needs support in the Middle and High School Years
All children in the State of Illinois must legally attend school from 7 through 16 years of
age. This is referred to as compulsory education. Thus, children, at these ages, who are absent from school, for other than medical reasons, are considered truant. Unless
determined otherwise by the DCFS guardian, all children in care and custody must be
enrolled in school from the age of 5 years until they graduate with a high school diploma,
Certificate of IEP Completion, or until age 21, whichever comes sooner.
All persons in the State of Illinois may attend school until age 21. If the school district,
however, determines that the youth, at age 19, will not earn enough credits to graduate
at age 21, the district does not have to provide further education for him/her. If a child
has a disability that adversely affects his/her education, or medical conditions that
require accommodations in school, the child must be referred for a special education
evaluation or 504 evaluation respectively.
The middle and high school years, ages 12 to 19, are critical periods in which youth
struggle with independence and identity issues. As youth develop physically, mentally,
socially and spiritually, adults can continue to provide guidance while letting go of some
of the control needed in earlier years. Changes associated with puberty are common
during this time. At age 14, girls are at the tail end of the period of puberty (which
generally lasts about 2 years) while boys are often in the middle. This is important to
note since changes in their bodies at this time not only affect physical development but
emotional and social development as well. Rapid physical growth and change results in
awkwardness, an extraordinary appetite and the need for plenty of sleep. Adult
caregivers and caseworkers must resist the impulse to label these changes as laziness
or greed because youth are vulnerable to internalizing the labels we place on them.
Going through school is difficult during middle and high school. To make this easier, the
caregiver/caseworker team should consider the information on common characteristics
of youth in this age group, and pay attention to the school law and team responsibilities
to help youth’s successfully complete high school.
Every child’s academic success depends largely on the child’s own cognitive abilities,
the amount of student effort, and the amount and quality of instruction received in
school. Foster children are especially at risk for academic problems because cognitive
functioning can be affected by the emotional trauma caused by abuse or neglect.
Frequent school transfers, brought on by changing foster home placements, also affect
the amount and quality of instruction many foster children receive.
While these factors are important, research has shown that certain supports provided by
the family can be equally important in influencing positive learning outcomes for
students. A supportive family can often bridge the gap caused by child trauma or
disruptions in school instruction.
Once children are placed in the appropriate grade and the services and supports for
which they are eligible are in place, their success is often dependent upon the working
relationship of their caregivers, caseworkers, teachers and other school personnel.
Critical for children’s school success, is the educationally supportive foster home. This
includes a literacy laden home.
The Literacy Laden Home
The “literacy laden” home of a middle or high school aged youth has many of the
following items: age appropriate fiction and nonfiction books, a dictionary or other
reference books, newspapers, magazines, paper and writing tools such as pencils, pens
and possibly a typewriter or computer. Adults serve as role models for youth so it is
important for youth to see adults reading and writing for fun as well as to get things
done; for example, directions. Recipes, grocery lists, etc. When written materials are
not available in the home an excellent resource is the local library, which has books for
children of all ages.
Caregivers can enhance a youth’s literacy by providing time to spend with reading materials as well as reading aloud to youngsters on a regular basis. Discussing
literature newspaper and/or magazine articles with youth can make the reading more
meaningful. Finding magazines that have topics of interest for the youth can have a
positive impact on literacy; for example, Sports Illustrated, Seventeen, etc. Youth should
also be encouraged to write in a journal whether it be pictures that describe their day or
paragraphs about what they are thinking. One strategy for youth to link reading with
their daily life is to encourage them to read a book that is also a movie, then see the
movie and discuss the difference and what they like about each. Some suggestions for
promoting literacy for middle and high school children are:
? Maintain a “literacy-laden” home with books appropriate for adults, and the
reading levels of the youth in residence, newspapers, magazines, a dictionary,
and all materials critical for accomplishing school tasks.
? Determine and provide the necessary supports for youths’ needs for uniforms,
books, instruments, laboratory equipment, athletic gear, field trip spending
? Provide time for family and support personal reading by the child, as well as by
others in the family.
? Assure that age-related toys, games, and equipment are available in the home,
that children have an opportunity to use them creatively and appropriately, and
that they learn to be responsible for their care and maintenance.
? Provide a computer or access to a computer for learning, studying, research and
completion of assignments. The computer has become an essential learning tool
in today’s schools. Access to computers becomes even more critical in high
school. If a home computer is not available, students can use computers at most
Finding Age Appropriate Books, Toys and Games
It is important when selecting books, toys and games to choose ones that are
appropriate to the age and development of the child. Age appropriate means that the
toy, book or game is appropriate for the age, interests, skills and abilities of the child.
Many toys, games or books are labeled with the age range they are intended for. Keep
in mind that all children develop at their own unique pace and so it is more important to
choose materials that are suitable to a child’s abilities and strengths rather than simply
choosing based on age range. The following table illustrates materials that are suitable
for children from 11 to 18 years and are excellent choices to stimulate learning and
Suggested Book List Suggested Games and Supplemental
Materials for Literacy
Middle and High School
Middle and High School
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Music Board Games Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt Dictionary Outburst Jr. The Last of the Mohicans by James Crossword Puzzles Monopoly Fennimore Cooper Wordsearch Scrabble The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank Magnetic Poetry Boggle Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Calendar Freedman
Atlas or Globe Software The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton Ideas: The Hate Crime by Phyllis Karas Journal Oregon Trail White Fang by Jack London Pens and Pencils W here in the A Family Apart (Orphan Train No. 1) by World Joan Lower Nixon
Paper is Carmen San Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Diego? Animal Farm by George Orwell Scratch Pads Story Book Weaver Hatchet by Gary Paulson Post-it Notes Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawles
Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli This is a brief list of items, which can be The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien found in stores, rummage sales or thrift Bad Girls by Cynthia Voigt shops.
Caregiver needs support to enhance the home learning environment
Research shows that parent education programs that are aimed at teaching mothers to
improve the quality of cognitive and verbal stimulation in the home are successful in
improving a child’s intellectual development. There are 4 main models for parent
education programs: 1) the home-based model 2) the parent-led group model 3) the
professional-led group model and 4) combination models. The most effective parent
education programs involve both caregiver(s) and children. Parent-led group models
predominate the school age years, but many school districts offer professional—led groups as well. The first place to look for information on parent education programs is
your local school district office. They will likely have programs of their own or be able to
refer you to available programs. The National Parent Information Network also is a
resource to locate parent education programs in your area.
? National Parent Information Network (NPIN Illinois) helps parents find the
answers to questions about raising and educating their children. Responds to
direct questions about child development, care, and education from Illinois
parents and those who work with parents via a toll-free phone line (800-583-
4135), email (email@example.com), fax (217-333-3767), and mail. They also
help link parents directly to local programs, services, and community agencies to
support them in their roles as primary caregivers of their children and as major
contributors to their children’s growth, development, and learning.
Caregivers who lack basic reading, math, writing or language skills
While caregiver support and a literacy laden home are key factors in improving school
performance, this can be difficult for caregivers who themselves are illiterate or lack
basic math, writing or language skills. Much of the support caregivers need to provide
students (help with homework, reading to the child, monitoring grades, etc.) requires
basic reading and math proficiency. One of the primary interventions is to help the
caregiver to enroll in an adult literacy or adult basic education program. While some
caregivers may be reluctant to participate in adult education classes, or be
overwhelmed by the thought of all they need to learn, keep in mind that, especially in
the early primary school years, they can learn reading, writing and math skills right
along with their child. Research shows that when adults in the home participate in
education for self-improvement, it communicates to children in the home that education
is a valued, important and necessary life-long pursuit.
When a caregiver participates in adult education the obvious benefit is that the
caregiver will learn the reading, writing and math skills so they can support the child’s
education. A less obvious benefit is that when caregivers participate in education
opportunities it communicates to the child that learning is important and a valued activity
for all members of the family. Even when caregivers struggle with their own lessons,
and ultimately succeed, it demonstrates that although learning is not always easy, it is
possible if you try hard enough. Caregiver expectation has been shown to be a primary
factor in encouraging school success. When caregivers participate in education
themselves, it demonstrates that the expectation for life-long learning applies to
everyone in the family. Children whose caregiver(s) participate in education generally
have a more positive attitude about learning and about school, which can make the
difference between school success and school failure.
To find literacy and adult education programs in your area, call the Illinois Adult
Learning Hotline, 1-800-321-9511, a statewide referral system that links prospective
students or volunteer tutors to local literacy and adult education programs. If you have
Internet access, you can also search a list of programs and find literacy information at
the Illinois Literacy Web site: http://literacy.kent.edu/~illinois/.
In addition to adult education, there are other helpful strategies that caregivers can use
to help children succeed in school. Other basic intervention strategies for caregivers
who lack basic reading, writing and math skills are:
? Older children and relatives can assist by reading with and to the children, and
working on the homework with them. This is reinforcing to the older children, as
well as helpful to the younger ones.
? Caregivers can learn to "eyeball" homework, e.g., look to see that the answer
"fits" the space allotted in a workbook, or that a written report is long enough. If
the answers are one word long and there is a lot of empty space, it is probably
wrong. If there is a lot of writing crammed into a short space, it is probably
? Children can read the answers, written work, etc., aloud to the caregiver, so that
they can decide whether it not it makes sense.
? Homework time should be set aside each evening, TV turned off, and adults in
the home remain quiet, available to encourage even if they cannot "help." This
way, the children get the idea that it is important to everyone for them to do this
? Caregivers should be encouraged to make use of local tutoring resources, etc.,
to help with the homework assignments if necessary. Your local school district,
the local library and community colleges are good places to help you find
Helping children with homework
One of the primary ways that caregivers can promote student achievement is to support
the student in completing homework. Research shows that homework is effective in
helping students to master facts and concepts introduced in the classroom. Homework
allows students of lower ability to achieve marks equal to students of higher ability
through increased study at home. Homework has also been shown to promote
independent learning and to improve achievement test scores. Homework also
provides an important opportunity for constructive family interaction.
For many children, supporting homework is simply a matter of establishing a structured
daily homework routine that includes a consistent homework time that is free from
distractions and a well-lit, quiet place to study. The following hints may be helpful to
establishing a successful family routine that supports the completion of homework:
? Establish a consistent homework time
? Provide a quiet, well-lit place to study
? Establish a daily family reading time
? Eat family meals at the same time each school day
? Establish a consistent bed time on school days
The purpose of homework is to provide the child practice with study skills and to master
subject matter with a goal of independent work. When helping children with homework,
it is important that the caregiver does not interfere with the child completing the work as
independently as possible. However you help your child with homework, don't lose
sight of whose assignment it really is. Editing, rewriting, and changing answers may
enhance the quality of the work, but not the learning experience. Though your child will
be happier with the higher grades, he will become a less confident learner. Keep in
mind that while we all want success for our children, the ultimate goal is independence.
? Provide Direction — But Not Directions
Before they've even glanced at the directions, kids often will show parents a
worksheet and say, "I don't get it." In these cases, rather than reading the
directions to yourself and then explaining them, ask your child to read the
directions aloud to you. This strategy enables kids to hear the directions, which is
often all that's needed to make the assignment clear.
? Offer Guidance and Support When Needed
If your child is one who needs individual support and attention both at school and
at home, tackle the assignments one at a time. Go over the directions and
materials with your child, making sure he is clear about what needs to be done.
Talk about what needs to be completed — even if it is only a portion of the
assignment—and then disappear. As always, the goal is to nurture and help your
child believe in her ability to be successful.
? Create a Homework Toolbox
All you need is an inexpensive plastic container with a lid that's a couple of
inches deep and big enough to hold 8-1/2" x 11" sheets of paper. These are easy
to find in the cooking or storage sections of large discount or drug stores.
Together with your child, fill the box with standard supplies — paper, pencils, an
eraser, a sharpener, a ruler, markers, a highlighter, a glue stick, crayons, a
protractor, and any other homework tool that your child needs to complete
assignments. Then declare this "anti-walking" toolbox a permanent part of the
Helping children with disabilities with homework
Even though homework has many potential benefits, for many caregivers and children
homework time is a stressful time. Children who are struggling in school may also
struggle with homework and may need extra caregiver assistance until they master new
concepts. Children who have difficulty taking direction from adults due to behavioral
challenges or children who struggle to stay on task because of ADD/ADHD may require
a higher level of caregiver support for homework. Following are some ideas that other
caregivers have found helpful and posted on the “Homework Central” Web site. If you
have Internet access, the following link to Homework Central is full of help for students
to do homework:
Sample interventions that other caregivers have used to successfully support children
with disabilities are:
? Develop a homework contract:
Determine what prevents homework from getting done (e.g., delay tactics such
as arguing with caregivers or being easily distracted by phone, TV, video games,
or siblings). Brainstorm strategies with your child that will help stop the delay
tactics and distractions. Draw up a contract with your child that implements the
agreed-upon strategy(ies). Award points each time the strategy is used. Don’t
forget to give a reward for so many points earned. Teach your child how to use
this contract as a self-evaluation tool. Some examples include:
A. Assignment notebook will be checked before beginning homework.
B. All homework and school materials are to be placed in a backpack at the
end of the homework session in readiness for the next day of school.
C. Homework will not be done in front of the TV or with loud music playing.
D. No phone calls or breaks will be taken during allotted homework time.
E. Homework time will be used for studying even if the student has no
There are many possible strategies that could make up a homework contract.
The important thing is that the strategies and rewards are individualized to the
child, and that the child agrees to execute the contract.
? Develop a homework completion chart:
Use a chart to record whether or not homework is completed. List all subjects on
one side of the paper and all the days of the week on the other. Write an "X" in
the box for all completed assignments. Leave the box blank if the homework is
not done or if it’s incomplete. Write "NA" in the box if no homework was assigned.
You can reward your child to help motivate her to complete her homework.
Rewards--and what it takes to earn them--should be predetermined.
? Solicit your child's teacher for solutions:
Interview the child’s teacher to determine how she learns best in school and any
learning challenges. Ask what interventions the teacher finds to be successful in
the classroom. Get agreement with the teacher on a plan to help your student
resolve the homework problems.
? The Homework Waiver:
The homework waiver is a certificate, agreed upon by the child’s teacher and
caregiver, which excuses a child from doing homework. The waiver can be for
one assignment in one subject or for all homework given on a particular day. The
student is given one or two homework waivers per semester. When homework is
overwhelming, then he can opt to use one.
? The pinch hitter:
Another adult, older sibling or paid tutor steps in when you come to odds over
homework with your child. This is especially useful for supporting children with
emotional disorders, who may have difficulty taking direction or remaining on task.
Foster Parent/Caregiver needs help supporting the child in school
Foster parents have the responsibility to advocate for the education of children in their
? Monitoring academic progress
? Attending parent/teacher conferences
? Assisting with homework
? Encouraging/supporting participation in extracurricular activities
? Foster parents carry all the rights and responsibilities of parents regarding
special education services
Though foster parents/caregivers need to support children in school, some caregivers
will need support from the caseworker and others. Some foster parents, for example,
might not have had good educational experiences themselves, and might be
uncomfortable approaching school personnel. Caregivers may be intimidated by school
personnel because they view them as better educated than themselves or as having the
only valid expertise related to educating the child. Some strategies to support
caregivers in their role include:
? The caseworker and caregiver should work together as a team to support the
education of the child. Caseworkers should support foster parents/caregivers at
school meetings until they feel comfortable going alone.
? Caregivers should be helped to understand that they have valuable information
about the child to contribute based on their parental role. Many caregivers will
need support to share information about their child(ren) with school personnel. In
these cases, it may help to assist the caregiver to put recommendations or input
in writing to share at meetings.
? DCFS Volunteer Educational Advocates can be assigned to assist with meetings
at school for children in special education.
Caregivers should be supported to learn the terminology of schools and the procedures
necessary to work with them. All foster parents have the opportunity to participate in
the DCFS Educational Advocacy Training, and must complete this training prior to re-
licensure. Foster parents should be encouraged to complete this training as soon as
possible in order to fulfill their role as educational advocate for children placed in their