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.


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Cornerstone Parent Corner Posts (2017-2018)


Summer Slide

May 18, 2018

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) reports that kids lose significant ground academically when they’re not engaged in summertime educational activities, which can add up over the years, putting some kids at a greater risk of falling behind their peers.  Many refer to this as the “summer slide”.

Here are some tips that you can try over the summer:  (  

* BUILD reading and writing into everyday activities for your children:

  •     Watch TV with the sound off and closed captioning on.
  •     Read directions for how to play a new game.
  •     Have them help with meals by writing up a grocery list, finding things in the grocery store, and reading the recipe aloud for during your cooking time.
  •     Set up a time to read each day (see a previous blog about this below).
  •     Engage in conversations about life.
  •     Listen to books on CD in the car (check some out from the local library).

* Be an ACTIVE citizen:

Kids who participate in community service activities gain not only new skills but self-confidence and self-esteem.  You can do this formally or informally.  It can be as simple as cleaning up garbage from the local park when you visit or helping a neighbor mow the lawn.  If you look around, there is always someone that could use a helping hand or a smile.

* PLAN ahead for the Fall:

Work with the teachers that teach the next grade level that your child will be in, to develop a short list of what your child will have to look forward to when they return to school. Then you could watch related educational TV or movies, read books, or go to local museums that can provide valuable background information on those topics.

While many look forward to summer, it’s important to continue to model the excitement of learning for our children and to continue to plant those seeds of curiosity in their minds.  Even though they are much older now, they still look to adults for such guidance.

This will be my last blog for this school year, and I wish for your summer to be a safe and happy one!  

Constructing Time

April 24, 2018

Time Blindness – when people have difficulty with …What time it is now? … How much time is left? … A poor sense of how quickly time is passing.

Time management involves the “time horizon”: which is how far you can look into the future.  For a child, this can top out at about an hour into the future.  As you get older, this understanding of time increases, planning out
to a few years ahead.

For many preteens, I can imagine that planning ahead, especially in regards to academics, aren’t necessarily a priority in following a timeline that is suitable to the goals.  Many kids can tell you what they want to do in the future, but lack the understanding of how to make that plan a reality.  We often live in short-term goals, and students still need adult support to effectively plan and carry out the steps in order to reach futuristic goals.

Here are some tips to help your child (and perhaps even yourself) manage the time horizon, and decrease time blindness.

1)    Be aware of time consumers -  Set a timer or reminder to tell yourself to stop working on that task.  I personally get so lost in my thoughts when lesson planning (or blogging), that I am unaware of the time passing.  I have to set a timer to tell myself to re-enter the world.  This can also give you the chance to make your child more independent.  With accessibility to timers everywhere (especially phones and apps), they can be used for more than just an alarm clock.  Minimizing distractions also helps.

2)    Consider mixing it up – use different signals or sounds for different tasks.  Hospitals do this to alert them to different situations.  Ringtones are programmable and different sounds can indicate the urgency of the task at hand, making it more difficult to ignore.

3)    Break down tasks – Sometimes, I have to force myself to put down other priorities and I assign myself a time/day to work on the parts of a task.  It’s hard to put aside my current focus for a future focus, and breaking it up helps keep me on track.  This is a life skill, and children need help with this as they move towards becoming independent adults.

4)    Reset your focus time -  It you leave for school/work at 7:00, your mind may not be ready until 7:00, and then you are scrambling to get out of the door.  So, instead set your time to go ahead by 15 minutes to prevent this stressful build up.  This helps reduce the “panic” of getting ready for the day.

5)    Encourage proper bed times –Tired students cannot focus.  Neither can tired adults.  Proper sleep is crucial for learning and overall health.

6)    Schedule in flexibility -  Knowing you can take a break, but yet have a plan, can also help some.  This goes along with several of the tips above.  If I get a task done, I can then stretch; get a drink; check my email; etc.  But, I might need a timer to remind me to get back to work!

7)    Model – You may be very good at time management, but keep in mind that your child may not.  I often say out loud, “Okay we have 15 minutes left to class, let’s work on this…”  It models that you are aware of time, and that there are goals that need to be accomplished, and this is what you/they need to do in that time frame.

I hope these are helpful to you, and I would love to hear about your thoughts and tips that you try!

Info from: and my personal experiences.

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:

  •     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.
  •     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.
  •     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.
  •     Play classical music while they read or work (without lyrics).
  •     Ask your child about what was his/her favorite part of the book that day.
  •     Keep a book or magazines in the car so something is always within reach to read.
  •     Start a book club with peers – serve snacks and soda (or juice).
  •     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.