||When my oldest stepson went to college last year, it was the first time I felt “in the loop” educationally with my stepchildren. We talked over the dinner table about his classes and what life away from home would be like. Our first parents’ club newsletter with dorm move-in advice and university booster news arrived right away. I can’t say that communicating with my other stepchildren’s schools has been as easy or stress-free. My husband’s ex-wife chronically neglects to share report cards with him, and he’s resorted to bribery and other maneuvers to obtain them. Last year we finally landed on the school mailing list and got information directly. Thirty percent of America’s children are growing up in stepfamilies today – and they all have families facing the same challenge – how to stay connected and support their child’s academic growth. With back to school season upon us, here’s a few tips to help stepfamilies take the stress out of school communication: Tip #1 – Surf the school website and enter calendar dates on your personal date book. School websites and phone-in calendars make it easier for households sharing a child between them to stay connected. They also help you contact teachers, preview events and learn about upcoming programs. Bookmark the site and visit it often. Explore the site with your child and spouse. You can cruise the sports schedules, jot down parent teacher night, and note the opening time for the school play. Talk to your child about upcoming school events and their desires for your involvement. Sometimes kids don’t want the commotion of their entire blended family of 3-4 adults and step-siblings parading in. Tip #2 – Agree to share information with the “other household.” The two parents should discuss how permission slips, report cards and textbooks should be handled. Agree to notify each other with a phone call or email message about key school events and activities, so neither household is left out of the loop. If relations with the other parent are strained or hostile, do your best to keep the conversation focused on the well-being of the child, not the control of adults over information. Stepparents, you may mean well, but this is often a negotiation best left to bio-parents – after the terms are worked out – you can be supportive of the peace and follow-up. If you have an ex-spouse who refuses to share information, you can visit the school and view your child’s records because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. If you have to resort to this tactic – make an appointment, show up on time and be courteous to the school staff. Tip #3 – Harvest (and sow) contact information at parent teacher night. Visit all of your child’s teachers. Note key assignments and deadlines. Ask for the teacher’s contact information. Carefully store the teacher’s contact information with your notes and follow-up during the year with questions about your child’s academics. Give cards with your name, your spouse’s name, your address, phone number and email address to each teacher. Invite the teacher to contact you directly. Ask to be listed on the school’s records. Frequently, I am asked if it is appropriate for a stepparent to attend back to school night and meet their stepchild’s teachers. Typically, this question stems from a family situation where an ex-wife views the stepmother as a competitor for her maternal role. Frequently, the stepmother is filling in for a dad who is away on business, or accompanying the dad, and she is legitimately concerned about the children’s well-being and their academic success. If your stepchildren are at an age where you assist them with homework, it can be helpful for stepparents to attend. Tip #4 – Help your child or stepchild stay excited about learning. Find out what supplies are needed, and make sure your child has them. This is no time to quibble and argue with the “other household” about who pays for glue and buys scissors. With schools emphasizing cooperative learning and teamwork, group projects are the norm nowadays. Make sure your child can get together with his/her classmates and has the materials needed to complete the project.
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