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Editorial - Seven ideas to add to your back-to-school shopping list

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With the first day of school less than a week away for most Douglas County students, now is a good time to set some academic goals for the future.

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Instead of focusing solely on getting good grades - or in some instances, just passing on to the next grade level - parents and their children should also think a little more long-term, especially if the students are in the mid to upper grade levels.

In other words, there's more to think about than As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Fs.

ACT, an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides a broad array of research about education and workforce development, offers the following seven ideas that parents should add to their back-to-school list:

•Encourage your student to take rigorous courses. ACT recommends that students take a core curriculum of at least four years of English; three years of mathematics including challenging classes in algebra I, geometry and algebra II; three years of science, including rigorous courses in biology, chemistry and physics; and three years of social studies.

•Register your junior for the ACT. Before the exam, encourage your teenager to get a good night's sleep and eat a healthy breakfast. ACT's next national test date is October 24, 2009. For more information about test dates, registration deadlines, and fee waivers, visit www.actstudent.org.

•Cultivate a relationship with your student's counselor. And have your student do the same. A high school counselor wears many hats including academic advisor, scheduler, cheerleader, college application expert, and advocate, among others. Explore academic and career options. The following sites are starting points for your teen to begin thinking about interests, abilities, and occupations after K -12: ACT's World-of-Work Map at www.actstudent.org/wwm; a Map of College Majors at www.actstudent.org/career/majors.html; and www.collegeandcareerready.org.

•Begin discussing college early and often. ACT research clearly shows that making sure students are on target academically by 8th grade is critical to their future success. What can you, as a parent, do to be an advocate for your child? A good starting place - even if you attended college - is to visit ACT's Helping Your Child Become a First-Generation Student at www.act.org/path/

parent/college/firstgeneration.

•Establish rules and methods for success. Schoolwork comes first should be the primary message. In order to study and complete assignments, help your student find a quiet space, free of distractions. Post a calendar in the area so your teenager can track upcoming assignments.

•Start learning about the FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Student Aid). This free application will be available on January 1, but why wait until then? For many students, the FAFSA is a critical part of paying for college. Get a head start by compiling the appropriate paperwork. Visit www.fafsa.ed.gov as soon as possible for deadlines and a complete list of information.

•Help your high school student track college deadlines. Applying to college takes time and work. And the application process is filled with deadlines. The earlier you establish a system with your teenager, the easier it will be when deadlines loom. Missing deadlines can easily slow down the college admissions process.

For more information about preparing for college, visit www.actparent.org or www.actstudent.org.

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