Considering Childhood Experiences in Relation to Student Success

Serendipity? Synchronicity? What is it when one is suddenly struck by the thought that a normal event is no longer normal but special or when one pays more attention to what might ordinarily be considered insignificant and then pulls all of these pieces together as a “sign” of something to be learned or discovered?

When our grandson turned ten in May this year, I saw it as a milestone year and began to reflect on my own tenth year. I became so intrigued by what I remembered about that year in my life that I asked a friend to interview me for NPR’s StoryCorps so my memories of that milestone year in my own life would at least be recorded for posterity.

It seems these lessons of adolescence are all around me. Despite not being a particular fan of the first Bill Bryson book my son leant me, I’m now halfway through The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid-A Memoir and enjoying reading about Bryson’s view of the world as an adolescent.

As a member of Gettysburg College’s Board of Trustees, I like to ensure Iam familiar with the students’ curriculum, so I also am also reading their common book for this year, The Other Wes Moore. This story hits close to home about how the family circumstances of children can have a lasting impact on them as adults.

During this same time period, I saw Boyhood, the movie that took 12 years to make because it follows an actual boy as he develops through the various stages from a small boy to a college student. I found it enlightening because it helped me understand something our son said to me once when I was scolding him for making excuses for grades that I thought were not up to par. He said, “Mom, you have no idea what my life is like, so don’t make judgments about what are excuses and what are not excuses.”

And, the last “sign” before sitting down to write is the August 8, 2014 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, titled “How the ‘Long Shadow’ of Family Background Helps Determine Which Children Succeed” by Beckie Supiano. Researchers followed 800 children from first grade to their late 20s and came to some conclusions about “how family background can impede a young person’s ability to get ahead.”

All of these “signs” are culminating in an “aha moment” for me. A college student’s family background in regard to childhood experiences is the other diversity that ought to be considered when educators are creating support programs to help students succeed. Childhood experiences go deeper and could possibly have more impact on students’ motivation and ability than any other characteristic that has historically been considered in designing support programs.

For me, whether these “signs” are a result of serendipity or synchronicity or something else, I am convinced that childhood experiences are variables that must be considered when success for all students is the goal.

One response to “Considering Childhood Experiences in Relation to Student Success

  1. Ah, Gwen. This brought me to tears thinking about how fortunate my son has been and how sad I am that all children do not have the same opportunities. We were in Santa Cruz last week in the midst of our California College Tour when Mike and his buddy John went to see Boyhood instead of going on the old wooden roller coaster (my choice). They claim it is one of their top 3 films ever- especially since it shows their lives on the big screen. Mike, off a People to People trip to Europe, a NY Film Academy program in L.A., and experiences with the very wealthy and famous; chose to start the first day of senior year (classes only from 10:30-2:30) by getting up at 6am to run, going to school early to finalize his schedule, buying art supplies for a personal project, working on that until classes started, then school followed by working on a peony farm for several hours. So how can we provide the parenting support and culture to create these self-directed young adults? On a macro level, there needs to be economic opportunity. On a micro-level, we need to help others learn to provide for their economic well-being. It goes back to Maslow and if the foundation isn’t there – security and basic needs – the rest falls apart. Is it political will? Or do we take work with whomever is in front of us. It is both.

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