Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Student Shares

Our latest article comes from Michael Stern, a student at Menlo School in Atherton, California.

Thank you, Michael
The Challenge Success Team

I recently watched Race To Nowhere, a documentary that illuminates the problems in our education system.

The documentary speaks of students who are sleep-deprived, unhealthy, and largely unhappy. Kids are under pressure to juggle unreasonable demands of academics and extracurriculars. It also talks about a disturbingly high suicide rate. This leads to an environment in which we only care about grades and college admission instead of learning.

These problems epitomize our schools.

To an observer, everything might seem fine, but that’s an illusion. When you experience these problems and see your classmates go through the same thing, it’s easier to understand what’s really going on. If you ask someone how they’re doing, they’ll smile and say “Good” simply because that’s what we’ve been taught to do.

Most students know there is a problem. Look around. Do juniors look happy? Do we look like we love to learn? Have you ever been in a class where there hasn’t been a substantial amount of cheating or cutting corners?
But if we want to make a radical change to tackle this problem, there is a chain of command we have to go through. Students report to teachers, who report to the administration, which reports to the Board, which “reports” to the parents.

The parents at private schools (especially those on the Board) have a greater responsibility because as children, we are vulnerable to accepting what they teach us. Children suffer because of their achievement-driven tenets, as evident in student actions. It makes me wonder whether they’re afraid to change. And perhaps people further down the chain are also afraid. I know I don’t want to lose a chance to get into college.

The problem is stoppable. We can eliminate some requirements for graduation to foster a passion-based learning experience, because by the time students get to senior year, many have already lost a joy of learning they won’t regain. They’re not stupid or lazy; they just aren’t engaged.
Lowering the amount of homework would give students more time to find their passions through extracurriculars. But most of all, we need a mindset that will guide all of our actions in the future. And it starts with the parents. Your children are suffering and are victims of a misguided education system. There is no reason that schooling has to be a competition-- the priority has to be with learning and if this issue was tackled, students would be more receptive than most think.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

New Semester = your new choice to celebrate the work-in-progress you.

Today's offering comes from another good friend of Challenge Success, Maria Pascucci. Maria is the founder and president of and author of the award-winning book Campus Calm University: The College Student’s 10-Step Blueprint to Stop Stressing & Create a Happy, Purposeful Life.

Maria, thank you!
The Challenge Success Team

New Semester = your new choice to celebrate the work-in-progress you.

It’s your brand new semester, so celebrate you by daring to take a chance! Spread yourself outside your comfort zone. Learn what it feels like to not always be good at something from the start. Not a hands-on person? Sign up for an art elective. Paint your way toward being a more confident risk taker. Love poetry? Join a debate team. Challenge yourself to see life through a new lens.

If you’ve been neglecting your health every single semester leading up until now, break the pattern. Commit to getting enough sleep this semester even if it means saying “NO” when faced with the temptation to spread yourself too thin. Commit to stressing less and being grateful more. Grateful for the gift of time that college affords you to learn, explore and build supportive relationships on campus that will serve you forever. Because that’s the real secret about success. Ten years after you’ve graduated from college, whether you left with a 4.0 GPA or a 3.4 will not matter, whether you graduated from a public, private, large, small, elite or non-name-brand college will not have made a difference. But ten years past the day you shed your cap and gown, whether you were able to take chances in college, make mistakes and trust that you can develop the courage to be resilient will make all the difference in the world. And every second you spent inside and outside of the classroom will have been worth it.

Live your vision of a happy, purposeful life,

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"The BLOG about Sports"

Another close friend of ours, and one of our founders, is Jim Lobdell. Jim sent us the following, and we certainly do THANK YOU for it, Jim! You present some very useful thoughts.

Sports Blog

I love sports. Throughout my childhood, I played pick-up games of virtually every ball sport, and then swam and played water polo in high school. In college, I played on two NCAA championship water polo teams, and into adulthood and middle age I’ve competed in basketball tournaments, triathlons, running events, and open water swims.

I know playing sports offers kids an undeniable wealth of benefits, from fitness and fun to life lessons about teamwork, perseverance, and effort. But navigating youth sports today is tricky. With youth sports organizations now offering leagues for 4- and 5-year-olds, travel teams for 9-year-olds, and options for year-round involvement, some families find sports to be “too much of a good thing” and struggle to find a balance as they encounter the “earlier is better” and “more is better” mindset.

Here are five guiding questions that parents can ask to help determine choices about youth sports for their children. Often, families have to reconcile conflicting priorities as they answer these questions (for example, a great sports opportunity may impinge on other family needs, or the needs of the parents are at odds with the desires of the child), which is why dilemmas around youth sports are so prevalent. That said, answering these five questions when faced with these dilemmas helps sort out the issues when making decisions.

1. What are our goals for our child in sports? Here’s a partial list of reasons you might want your child to play sports. Check the ones that matter most to you, and keep these in mind as you make choices about your kids’ sport experience and when you are on the sidelines at games. Most parents don’t rate “winning” as a primary goal, yet their sideline behavior often suggests otherwise.
• Become an accomplished athlete
• Develop teamwork skills
• Earn a college scholarship
• Fitting in
• Gain increased self-confidence
• Have fun
• Improve fitness
• Learn “life lessons” that sports can provide
• Make friends
• Playing a high school varsity sport
• Winning
• Other?

2. What do youth sports experts recommend?
• Keep the focus on fun. That’s the primary reason kids play sports, and when it becomes too serious too soon, they typically leave the sport or burn-out.
• Encourage kids to “just play” more. While organized sports offer great benefits, kids develop athletically and learn a ton from playing kid-sized pick-up games and age-appropriate games like tag.
• Avoid early specialization. Better to play a variety of sports to develop a variety of athletic skills and to avoid burn-out and overuse injuries.
• Allow kids to rest and their bodies to recover. Overuse injuries are increasing at alarming rates, largely due to early specialization and year-round playing.

3. How will the sports experience fit in with our family needs? Youth sports require a time commitment—after school, evenings, and/or weekends—that can impinge on family time. Parents must consider:
• How will joining the sports team/club impact the family’s overall schedule?
• How important is having family dinners together? Unstructured family time in evenings and on weekends? Flexibility for family vacations during summer and over school holidays?
• Does driving to/from practices and games and watching youth sports “count” as family time?
• How will the sports team/club impact siblings?

4. Does the sports team/club align with our values? Parents cede oversight of their child to the coach of the team. Especially as kids get involved in more time-intensive sports at later ages, parents need to “screen” the sports team or club. In doing so, parents must determine:
• Do the values of the coach and the sports team/club align with ours?
• Do we feel comfortable entrusting our child with this coach?
• Does the time and financial commitment the team/club requires feel reasonable given our family needs and resources?
• Does our initial experience and observation match what we were told when we were selecting the team/club?
• Who is benefiting most from the commitment required by the club: the athlete, coach, or club?

5. How is our child responding to the sports experience? This question needs to be revisited regularly as a child is involved in the sport. Especially as kids get older and involved in more intensive sports, it is incumbent upon parents to “check in” with kids. This is done for the child’s well-being and to make sure the child’s desires—and not the parents’ needs—are driving the experience. Parents can monitor this by asking:
• Is our child asking to join the team?
• Is our child getting his/her gear ready and bugging us not to be late for practice? (Keep in mind the Disneyland comparison—no parent has to drag a child there.)
• Is our child voluntarily “bending our ear” about their experiences?
• Is our child fired up when they talk about the sport?
• What does our child’s body language reveal when you mention the coach’s name?
• When left to their own devices on their own time, does our child play the sport?
• Is the sport helping or hindering their sleep, eating, and/or study habits?
• Is our child asking to ratchet up the commitment and seriousness?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How to Help our Pressured Kids (from Rick Ackerly)

Our good friend, nationally recognized educator Rick Ackerly has shared this with us at Challenge Success, and I share it with you. You can lean more about Rick at his web site Thank you, Rick!

How to Help Our Pressured Kids?

One day, Helen, age 3, was scooping sand into a bucket with a cup. Her teacher came by and (good constructivist teacher that she is) said, “So, Helen, how many cups do you think it will take to fill up your bucket?” Helen looked calmly up from her work and said in a friendly way: “Miss Alicia, why don’t you go teach those two kids over there?”

Helen is unique, of course, and yet most three-year-olds reveal Helen’s deep commitment to self-direction. Powered by a sense of autonomy that comes from a successful passage through the “terrible two’s,” they take initiative and launch themselves to the doors of kindergarten full of industriousness, ready to show the world—and themselves—what they can do. (Thank you, Erik Erikson). Then, however, they open those doors and school begins to interfere with their education.

Good elementary teachers know that their students are brimming with capability—almost six years of life has gone into most of those kindergartners. But grade upon grade their teachers, accountable for covering a curriculum, begin doing things to them. Increasingly it is understood that these things are unnatural acts. (You’re not supposed to like this; just do it; it’s good for you.) It is our job to make a success out of you.

Parents and teachers collude in the project of engineering the children’s success. But parents don’t take to this folly naturally. Most parents know what success looks like. Every year I ask the parents who want their children to come to our kindergarten this question: “Let’s say your daughter comes here and nine years from now as you approach graduation you are thrilled with the education she received. What will you be patting us on the back for?”

For seven years I have gotten the same three answers. They all say some version of “She still loves learning,” or “She still loves to go to school.” (99%). 75% say something like: “She is good at getting along with others.” Two-thirds say: “She is comfortable in her own skin,” or “She knows her strengths and weaknesses.” So parents and teachers all want what Helen wants; i.e. for Helen to keep being Helen and to get better and better at directing herself through the world as a self-possessed, socially competent, life-long learner.

Why then, are so many of our young people in distress? Why do they self-destruct? Why do they drop out? They do it when school is not designed with children in mind—children as they are—children whose capabilities are greater and far more complex than our curriculum assumes.

What if teachers were held accountable for maximizing industry, enthusiasm for learning, increasing social competence and self-discovery in the context of a curriculum?

We don’t need to change the curriculum. We don’t need to rewrite the standards. We all know what sixth graders need. We need to change the culture of our schools so that they are learning communities rather than achievement mills. We (all educators) need to recite as a mantra, “Go teach those kids over there.”

How to help our pressured kids? Remember that the difference between pressure and challenge is who chose what. In most cases young people will strive to achieve more than we aspire for them. “Bring it on. Show me the mountain and let me decide how to climb it. It’s not that I don’t need you. I need you very much. I just need you to stop trying to engineer my success. Be there for me in success and failure, and let me fail.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Welcome to the Challenge Success Blog

Today, a young person's success is too often measured by easily-observed symbols: trophies, grades, test scores, and acceptance into prestigious schools. Expectations once reserved for a small group of exceptional students are now expected of many.

Students are experiencing unacceptably high levels of anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, suicide, poor physical health, and disengagement from learning. Unrealistic achievement pressure contributes to these problems.

Educators, mental health professionals, and business leaders agree that the pursuit of a narrow vision of success often leaves young people lacking the skills most needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world--adaptability, interpersonal and collaborative skills, and the ingenuity and creativity to solve complex problems.

You can learn more about this at our web site, And watch this blog. We will be posting informative, insightful, and hopefully helpful material for everyone.