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Character Education For Today’s Youth
Sending your kids off into the world has never been more daunting. Colleges are increasingly competitive, and an undergraduate degree is no longer the golden ticket to a step-stone job. Schools and employers seek well-rounded applicants who really stand out among their peers.
The good news is that tomorrow’s successful adults are today’s confident children. Parents can prepare their kids for the path ahead by exposing them to activities and opportunities that engage them, enrich their lives, and teach them to think critically and be self-reliant.
We’ve gathered some suggestions, from tutoring and arts programs to volunteer work, with additional offerings in the special profiles linked below.
The Stats Aren’t Everything
Top marks do matter. According to the admissions office at UC San Diego, among last year’s entering class, the mean high-school GPA was 4.08, and the average SAT Reasoning scores were 639, 684, and 657, respectively, for Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. But numbers aren’t the only factor.
“We consider a combination of academic and personal characteristics and achievements,” explains Mae Brown, UC San Diego’s head of admissions. “In addition to grades and test scores, we consider special talents/achievements and awards, leadership, community service, and participation in education preparation programs.”
In other words, education should be a top priority, but don’t discount the value of extracurricular activities.
Find The Spark
Ever fallen into a rut at work? Kids can experience a similar sinking feeling, whether from learning disabilities or lack of challenge. Or maybe school just doesn’t seem cool — and no, mom and dad, lecturing them on the merits of learning won’t help with that.
Instead, figure out ways to make it more fun, like Club Xcite (www.exciteway.com), a program that pairs college-age role models with kids and teens for one-on-one tutoring and mentoring in various academic, athletic, and social activities.
“We even have a mentor right now who’s restoring a classic car with their mentee,” says founder Stefan Hochfilzer. “It’s a very personalized approach. Everyone has different interests and needs.”
Club Xcite also offers enrichment programs at area schools, including Rancho Santa Fe’s Nativity School, in subjects ranging from architecture to cheerleading.
With a little digging, parents can unearth activities that appeal to nearly any niche interest. For example, Saura Naderi, a young female engineer, volunteers her time hosting workshops at UC San Diego’s Calit2 (www.themylabprogram.com) to get girls excited about science and engineering. This coming summer, she’ll help a group design high-tech hats for opening day at the Del Mar Race Track.
“There’s a girl who wants to have birds chirp when she claps,” says Naderi. “It’s a fairly simple circuit, but she’s going to learn so much about electronics and problem-solving in order to build this hat.”
The Creativity Factor
Art inspires out-of-the-box thinking, says Reesey Shaw, director of Encinitas’ Lux Art Institute (www.luxartinstitute.org), which offers various activities for youth ranging from meet-the-artist tours to hands-on summer camps.
“The future of the world lies in right-brained activity,” claims Shaw. “It’s creativity and ingenuity that make Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Bill Gates’ Microsoft and those kind of inventions.”
So even if you don’t have a budding Renoir on your hands, getting your kids involved in the arts — from museum trips to drama and dance classes — will instill in them invaluable skills for the future.
Raising A Trailblazer
You can invest your money in the finest education and enrichment programs, but if you don’t teach your children critical life skills, they’re not going to succeed. USD gives essential tips in its “How to Raise a Trailblazer” workshops (www.sandiego.edu) for parents and kids.
The first step for parents: Power down your inner helicopter. Hovering doesn’t help, says director Jodi Waterhouse. “We teach parents how to empower their children to become independent thinkers,” she explains. “How do you have a critical conversation with your child and teach them to create their own opportunities?”
In the kids’ workshop, participants build a project and answer to an accountability partner. “We teach kids how to surround themselves with the appropriate advisors, to network, and to set strategic goals.”
When they get to college and the work world beyond, they’ll already be a few steps ahead.
To Help People At All Times
Scouting is one of the most comprehensive activities available to boys and girls, offering instruction in everything from online safety to outdoor survival skills. The organizations also teach sensitivity and respect, and introduce kids to positive role models. And after a day in co-ed classes, Scouts offer a pressure-free zone.
“Our research shows that girls thrive in an all-girl environment,” explains Jo Dee Jacob, the CEO of Girl Scouts of San Diego (www.sdgirlscouts.org). “They’ll try things with each other that they won’t try with boys around. It’s a safe, nurturing environment. We’ve had nearly 100 years of success with this.”
Service, of course, is a key component of the Scouts, but kids can seek out additional volunteering opportunities throughout San Diego.
“Volunteering builds five essential touchstones,” says Kids Korps co-founder Joani Wafer, whose book, Teaching Kids to Care, “teaches them interdependence, deduction skills, perspective, gratitude, and inspiration.” (www.kidskorps.org)
“Character education” should start early on, adds Wafer. “You start your kids in school at age five. Why not volunteering? It builds self-esteem and confidence and teaches them leadership skills.”
For young men only, Teen Volunteers in Action (www.tvia.org) shares many of the same goals as Kids Korps, but has a more rigorous membership process. “We only take so many boys and they’re required to fulfill a certain number of events every year to maintain their good standing,” explains TVIA president Susan Lyon.
“It becomes a really logical transition point. Instead of the parent being in charge of their lives, they’re in charge of their lives.”
And that, in a nutshell, is what everyone wants for their kids. ANNAMARIA STEPHENS