The Cornerstone: Setting Foundations for Your Middle Schooler

by Lisa Burlison


Cornerstone - “a stone representing the nominal starting place in the construction of a monumental building …” (

Welcome to The Cornerstone.  You, the parents and guardians, are the beginning of the foundation that supports us, the school, in helping your child to grow and learn. We hope you find these articles interesting and beneficial as you continue to set the foundation for your child at home.


Setting Foundations to Build Up Reading Stamina

April 9, 2018

I don’t know if I am just weird, but … I LOVE the smell of books.  I have always been an avid reader, and books transport me to a safe world.  I would live in the library if I could – comfy chairs, quiet, a warm drink; with my feet up, and the world disappearing around me.  However, I am sure you know both kids and adults where reading just “isn’t their thing”.

With exams coming up in the Spring, I am reminded of the importance of making sure my students have endurance in reading, and that they have opportunities to read in a calm environment uninterrupted.  This can give them a sense of structure when they know they will have some quiet, down time; where they can lose themselves into a book of choice to get rid of stress; or perhaps to know they can have time to read required pages for homework.  I am sure you are very familiar with the demands and distractions the world outside of school can place on people.  It can be hard to find those quiet uninterrupted responsibility-free and distraction-free zones at home.

I am writing here to share what I feel are benefits, from my personal opinions as well as from research:


  • The more you read, the more vocabulary you can learn.  The more you learn, the better your comprehension.
  • Motivation and self-directed learning is critical to promote more reading (by letting students have choice in what they read, for example).
  • Reading has a significant correlation with success in school and the workplace.

Tips to try at home:

  1. Make a commitment and stick to it.  Scheduled time to read tells your child that this is a given part of time at home. Reading for blocks of time improves stamina – start with 10 minutes and then slowly increase.
  2. Allow students to make their own book choices with helpful guidance.  You are the expert on your child, and this can also allow you to guide them towards books of interest.
  3. Create an area for reading at home that is comfortable and quiet, free from distraction as much as possible.  Also, if you can, read when your child reads.  Your modeling will support their endurance.
  4. Play classical music while they read or work (without lyrics).
  5. Ask your child about what was his/her favorite part of the book that day.
  6. Keep a book or magazines in the car so something is always within reach to read.
  7. Start a book club with peers – serve snacks and soda (or juice).
  8. Ask for your child’s input – Where/how do they want to carve out time for reading?  Let them set the expectations with you reinforcing them.

Please feel free to contact myself or your child’s English teacher for more suggestions on how to best support your reader at home!   


Resources:, Global Educator Institute, personal experience


Test-Taking Strategies

March, 25, 2018

The NYS ELA and Math exams will take place in April and May.  We want to share test-taking strategies that may help students relax and focus during their exams.  We hope you will reinforce these strategies with your children.  

R - Read the question carefully.  Then reread the passage or the problem.

E - Examine every answer choice before you choose your answer.

L - Label your answer.  Look for proof in the passage and underline it.

A - Always check your work!

X - X-out answers you know are wrong.  


Support for Structure

February 8, 2018

Do you find that your child has trouble with focus, anxiety, stress, organization, remembering steps, etc.?  We want Middle School students to be more organized and independent, and while we encourage and teach this, these supports can benefit your child at home as well.  Most students still need structure and support, with practice and positive reinforcement, of both behavior and expectations.  I remember I used to say, “You should know better at this age”, and while that may be true in some cases, it chastises the child for behavior that they may not be able to control or that they lack the skills or development for.  A better way might be to say – “I see this is often difficult for you, what can I do to help you be better prepared in this situation?”

There are many tips that can benefit ALL that struggle with focus, organization, and in learning to become more independent.  Try one, some, or all of these and give it some time to work.  And, hopefully you will see a difference in your child and in your own frustration levels.  Please note that you may need to model and explain many times in order for it to become intrinsically done by your child.  Changing habits can be difficult, so perseverance and consistency is key!!!

Tips to try at home:

  • Follow the mantra “Everything has a home.”
  • Set a weekly/monthly time to do a mini-declutter of possessions (including folders/binders, backpacks, and bedrooms).
  • Group Tasks:  For example: Write a list of what needs to be done at home.  Set a timer or signal that is used to complete a group/list of activities instead of trying to remember everything that has to be done by memory.
  • Do the Spin – Spin around before going out the door to scan that you have everything you need (slowly) and make sure you have not left anything behind.
  • Break Up Tasks – Do homework in short bursts – 15 minutes at a time.  After 15 minutes, get up, stretch, or get a drink of water.  This can rejuvenate the brain for better focus and endurance to complete the task.

Resources: My personal life and experiences, and “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Function Disorder”, by Rebecca Branstetter.