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The 'Labor' of Raising a Whiz Kid (Part II)

Eagle Rock mother Jeannine Jaramillo shares yet more parenting secrets that enabled her to raise an amazing child who went off to Harvard last week.

On Labor Day Monday, Eagle Rock mom Jeannine Jaramillo shared her insights on raising academically focused and happy children. (If you missed it, you can read the first part of our interview here). Her son Alejandro started his freshman year at Harvard just last week, after having graduated from and gotten into every college to which he applied. Jaramillo shares more parenting secrets in this concluding part of her interview with Eagle Rock Patch:

PATCH: Given that your son Alejandro was valedictorian of his Eagle Rock High School class, captain of the track, soccer and cross-country team, Associated Student Body commissioner, and a French horn player in the student orchestra, did you ever worry about him burning out?

Jeannine Jaramillo: I am constantly worried about him being overwhelmed or stressed out. It’s hard as a parent to balance out protecting our children and letting them reach beyond what they think their limits are. It was difficult watching him at times—he was doing so many things and not sleeping enough. 

And the most important part is that as hard as he tried, things didn’t always work out as he wanted. I had to let go—let him do it his way and try to feel a little better—because if he did run into problems or crash and burn at least we were there to help pick up the pieces and he would learn. 

Throughout high school I probably asked him to get some sleep more than any other thing I asked. We did have a rule: once he started driving, if he didn’t sleep enough, he couldn’t drive. That only happened a couple of times. I think high school teachers and counselors are smarter at this than many of us parents.

They are good to talk to about letting go as your kids grow up. I was there to listen to him if he would talk (teenagers mostly talk to each other) and of course, feed him well. I listened to his essays as he wrote them and rewrote them and eventually finalized them. 

PATCH: What advice do you have for parents who want to support and nurture their children to become stellar students—ones who stand out and achieve at the highest levels?

Jeannine Jaramillo: I tried to figure out what they liked. What they had a passion for. It can be anything—animals, music, being outside. Once I started noticing things they liked, I tried to expose them to more and then see where it would lead. 

Eagle Rock Elementary and Eagle Rock High School helped. There was access at the Elementary to music and trips to museums and performances. It doesn’t have to be with a school—all the museums have free days—but my kids were always happier to go if it was with some of their friends.

When they were very small, it was the zoo, the gardens, and some museums. Later, we took them to plays (as teenagers they liked political satire). And cooking—our kids love good food. We once tried to cook our way around the world. We’d make different kid-friendly foods from different countries.

If they are so disposed and are interested in college, expose them to college early, junior high school time. Most colleges have orientation and tours and it is an eye-opener to go on a few early. If you can take one of their peers with them, do it. And let them be in charge. 

If I stood back and let my children lead, they learned more and it was more interesting. We took the same tour, but they were in front and we were at the back of the crowd. And of course the High School has lists of summer programs—some close, some a week or longer [camps] at colleges. Many, many programs have financial need-based scholarships.

Alejandro attended two summer programs at UCLA for three weeks each, in the summer before sixth grade and the summer before seventh grade. The counselors were great at dealing with homesickness—and the kids were all ready to make friends. It was a good introduction to college. He stayed in a dorm, attended seminar-like classes, ate at the dining hall, walked around the campus and had a positive introduction to what college would be like.

PATCH: How did you encourage kids to persevere when things got tough?

Jeannine Jaramillo: One rule we have is to do things because you love them—and the rest will come. There’s a difference in stopping something because it’s difficult than it is because they [children] were truly not interested. If they liked it and then didn’t want to do it when it became more difficult, I asked them to continue for a set amount of time more before they quit. That usually got them through the difficult part to where they could see progress and then their interest blossomed again. 

Alejandro chose Biology, French Horn, Soccer, Track and anything else he’s done. He is actually a great swimmer, but he would have had to give up Concert Band to join swim team. He loved music, so he stayed with Concert Band.

One thing that Alejandro and I disagree on is why he applied to become a White House Page during junior year. Mr. [Stephen] Williams, his college counselor, recommended him to apply. Alejandro had a lot of commitments for junior year, so he wasn’t sure he was going to apply. Mr. Williams told us [Alejandro's parents] that it would be a great opportunity. 

I asked Alejandro to really think about it. He interpreted that to mean I was telling him to apply. It was not until more than a year later that I found out that he thought I made him go. He told me it was good, though—the best thing he’d done so far.  Apparently, my children think that if I say, “think about it,” it really means “do it.” I’m much more careful about what I say to them now.

PATCH: What advice do you have for parents who want to nurture grounded, respectful and creative children?

Jeannine Jaramillo: My daughter says that I stressed that academics are not everything. It’s important, but there are so many other things that matter. I think I also treat them the way I want to be treated. I have a rather quiet voice, so I cannot yell, but I have been known to stand and talk until I bore even myself in order to waste their time if they have wasted mine. And, once for each child, I went on strike and they got to do everything for themselves. They are both really competent and they could, but I am a better cook and they do like good food.

PATCH: In which ways has Eagle Rock offered your children an environment in which to thrive? 

Jeannine Jaramillo: Eagle Rock has been wonderful to raise kids in. Alejandro took art and piano classes at the during elementary school. He tried out karate and T ball at . He went to where he had some great teachers, starting with Mrs. Carrie Morita, his kindergarten teacher who is retiring this year. He says she taught him to do his homework everyday and to always do his own homework. 

Eagle Rock High School has courses to challenge any student. Our school can always use improvement, but that’s part of our job. The teachers and counselors are approachable. It can be a difficult school with so many students, but that is also one of its strengths. The college drop out rate is close to 50 percent. That number varies by school, but it is still a high number. 

Eagle Rock High School forces kids to try to find their way. It can be difficult for a student to find their way at college when up until then everything has been pretty straight forward and organized for them. 

Eagle Rock as a neighborhood is also very diverse, economically and culturally. I like exposing my children to differences; it’s easier to learn compassion, respect and to work with different people when you have been friends with “different” people. I grew up with all the stereotypes, but here, my children only see their friends.

Allison September 09, 2011 at 07:48 PM
If your child is interested in academic summer camps, check out this ERHS link: http://www.erhs.la/academics/college/camps/

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