In Our View: Learning is a Journey

On eve of another school year, take time to carefully map out this rewarding trip

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Today marks the end of summer for students in Vancouver and Evergreen schools, the final day before the morning bell calls them back to the education that will help shape their lives. We're confident that many of those students are spending part of the day reading the newspaper and pondering this thoughtful editorial, because we're sure that's how we spent our final day of summer oh so many years ago. Then again, our memories might be a little hazy.

While students in Clark County's two largest school districts return to class on Wednesday, Camas will answer the bell today, and still others embarked on the new school year last week. Yet regardless of when schools open their doors, the launch of a new year is unavoidable — and whether students view it like adults do death and taxes or whether they approach it as an opportunity will play a large role in their success during the 2014-15 school year.

Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia has studied the attitudes of elementary school students, concluding that a broad base of subjects at a young age is important for keeping students interested and for infusing a lasting enjoyment of education. "We need a broad curriculum in elementary school to maximize the chances that students will find school engaging and rewarding," he wrote for The Washington Post in 2010.

Keeping students engaged requires a multi-pronged approach. It begins at home, as parents are the most important factor in creating an atmosphere in which learning is valued. So allow us to offer some advice for parents, who likely view the start of the school year with a mixture of sadness and relief:

• Pay attention to your child's sleep habits and nutrition. Adequate rest and proper eating are crucial for maximizing a student's attention span and the energy they have to devote to studies.

• Take advantage of the hours after school. Homework should be the first priority, taking precedence over watching TV or playing video games. Not only will students do a better job on homework in the afternoon, but they will develop the habit of prioritizing duties over desires.

• Stay involved. While parents these days are busier than ever, showing an interest in your child's schoolwork can impress upon them the importance of education. Most schools these days offer online progress reports and easy access to teachers through email, enhancing parents' ability to remain aware of what is happening in the classroom.

Parents can forge the foundation for a successful educational experience, but teachers and students are obligated to build upon that. While teachers have had a summer to recuperate from the last school year, most of them have spent much of that time preparing lesson plans and creating a welcoming classroom environment. Parents should appreciate and respect these efforts, understanding that the attitude they demonstrate toward teachers will infect their students — either positively or negatively.

Perhaps most important, school should be viewed as a journey. There will be struggles and pitfalls and disappointments along the way, but those, too, are part of the educational process.

In the end, what happens this year in Clark County classrooms will impact each of us. Tomorrow's civic leaders and engineers and nurses and construction workers are sitting in those classrooms, and the lessons they learn will determine the type of communities we live in down the road. With that in mind, we hope that all students, parents, and teachers enjoy a fruitful school year.