Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Supporting the Whole Student

Here is a guest post from Dr. Lisanne Pluth, PhD, on supporting the whole student and college readiness beyond academics!

Supporting the whole student is phenomenally important in this day of social media and increased social fragmentation. College life is much more than academic work; it requires a student to be personally accountable for finances, everyday living, dorm room supplies, and navigating a complicated and often physically dangerous social arena.

Increasingly across college campus blogs there are stories about lonely freshman students who can cope with the academics but can’t seem to cope with the life that marks their paths into college. Many of these new college kids will drop out of college and worse. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA) suicide is the second highest cause of death among college students. In addition, according to the most recent ACHA surveys, our college students are having trouble with a variety of College Life issues. For example 19.1% of them reported problems with anxiety, 12.4% reported problems with Internet use/computer gaming, 19.4% had sleep difficulties and 27.5% reported problems with stress. Without social support and an emphasis on the development of the whole student at the high school level students are often not ready to take on the complicated tasks of college. Parents, educators, students and universities need to start addressing this national issue.

A young woman I have the privilege of knowing from Iran captured the essence of the importance of nurturing the whole student the other day while venting her frustrations to me about her American boyfriend. She said, “He is like a baby, his parents do everything for him. They buy his car insurance; when he needs a sweater his mother just goes and buys one for him. He thinks of nothing besides playing Lacrosse,” She paused and her forehead wrinkled, then she went on looking at the fingers in her lap as if they held the answers. “I’ve lost a lot of respect for him, here he is a grown man and really his life, the life here, is so easy. Even though I’m younger than he is and I’m from Iran, where as a girl we know nothing, I feel like the adult in the relationship…”

What could I say? This girl had managed in a very few short sentences to prove that we had let this young man down. The “we” being: our society, our educational system and even the young man’s well-intentioned parents. The boy in question is already 23 years old but mentally he is much younger and he still hasn’t taken responsibility for himself in most areas of his life. In contrast, his Iranian girlfriend against all odds has grabbed her future. Her strength and courage is amazing. She doesn’t even know if she will ever be able to go back home. She is going through school in a foreign language and living in a foreign culture. At the same time she lives with the daily burden of not knowing whether her younger brother or someone else in her family might be killed. Against all odds she is coping and succeeding very well.

Supporting and teaching the whole student needs to be a community effort. This isn’t about the failure of educators, parents or students. It’s about all of us. There needs to be a qualitative shift in education that prepares students for College Life and not just college classes. In turn college curricula need to provide further emphasize on the development of the whole person rather than teaching antiquated subjects in institutions that are still organized like 17th century religious colleges. We aren’t preparing college students and we aren’t preparing our society for a bright future.

Some new programs such as Jumpstart and Everfi and have added additional programs on financial literacy in an effort to increase individual responsibility and accountability among our young people. A good beginning, these programs still don’t deal with the whole student. We need to embrace common core standards that will help our young people grow up into accountable, responsible, thoughtful, and happy adults. The definition of these core values and standards cannot be dictated and teachers cannot be expected to carry this burden. Whole student standards mean rethinking the definition of “ education” and how it is implemented in our society.
Dr. Lisanne Pluth, PhD works as a Broadcast Manager for Resident Hall Linens. Her experience also includes teaching at both the University of Kansas and the University of San Diego.

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