District event helps parents’ choices for their kids

In an effort to help parents overcome the challenge of making the right decision for their children, the Walnut Valley Unified School District hosted the third annual Parent Symposium last month at Walnut High School.

Keynote speaker and children’s emotional health leading expert Maureen Healy opened the three-hour program with the presentation, “Raising Emotionally Healthy Children.”

“What is emotional health?” Healy asked.  “It includes identifying emotions…expressing them constructively vs. destructively, using self-control, responding vs. reacting and making smarter choices even when challenged.”

Healy zoned in on “the skill of emotional balance”: dividing reactions into off-balance (dramatic outbursts), healthy balance (learning to respond appropriately) and optimum balance (responding appropriately).

“I think a lot of people ignore or repress emotions, like holding a beach ball underwater,” she said. “Eventually, when your arms get tired, it will come up. Accept all emotions.”

Healy recommended using parent-child strategies to limit outbursts while shaping appropriate decisions and responding rather than reacting. In her professional experience, one strategy is to wait 24 hours before discussing a provocative subject, such as a fight at school.

“In the presence of someone calm, it’s easy to return to that state,” Healy said. “Children are always picking up on how the world works.”

She also said that emotional development should lead to being responsive, having a strong character, making constructive choices and other aspects, all of which can help in leading an emotionally healthy life.

“Emotional health is a skill of balance,” Healy said. “But life throws us off-balance, so it is really about learning about how to come back to the center and cultivating a balanced mindset.”

In the second session, Pitzer College alumna and two-time recipient of the Fulbright Grant  Nicole Pilar spoke of the evolving college admissions field and its implications for current teenagers.

“There really is no formula,” Pilar said. “There really isn’t a checkmark.”

Pilar explained that the rise of the Common App has led to more applications being sent out, increasing the competition at highly selective colleges.

“All highly selective schools are a reach now for everyone,” Pilar said.  “There are no guarantees.”

She said that her most successful applicants delve deep into a few, select interests.  Some students whom she had assisted were very outgoing and willing to work to find opportunities in their favored field, whether it was medicine or linguistics.

“[High-caliber colleges] schools are building a community,” Pilar said.  “They are building a class, and they want to have a diverse perspective.” 

She also cautioned teenagers to add enough detail to their essays in order to instill a feeling of a true person but not exaggerate actions that can seem fake.

“One of my favorite things to do with students is look at where Fortune 500 CEOs went as undergraduates,” Pilar said. “Attending a reach school does not equate to success or happiness.”

She said that larger, more prestigious universities may actually offer less opportunities.

“I have a close friend at the University of California Santa Barbara who teaches a class of 300 students who fight for two paid research opportunities,” Pilar said.

Pilar finished by saying that college admissions are less akin to an application, but more akin to a match made between students and schools.  She advised students to visit schools to explore their majors, research opportunities, specialized programs and location to find the best match.

“Your entire academic life has been determined by your zip code,” Pilar concluded.  “College takes the top off of that. Look for the fit.”