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How to Motivate a...

How to Motivate a Fourth Grader

My son is ten years old and three weeks away from the end of fourth grade. He’s missed twenty-four days of school this year, mostly for stomach aches, and a strep throat in the beginning of the school year. The rest were con jobs; he’d come to me in the morning and complain of a headache, or that he’d thrown up and I, believing my son couldn’t possibly lie to my face, let him stay home.

The last time I called him in sick to the school nurse, I received a lecture about the amount of time my son has missed. It was condescending and threatening at the same time. “You know,” the nurse said, “we take parents to court if their kids miss too much school”. I reminded her that I was also an RN, for twenty-five years as a matter of fact, and when my son says he’s sick, I believe him. “And,” I added, “he’s a straight A student. What does that say about the school?” She had no answer. I left it at that.

I had a talk with my son. He’s bored in school. He gets picked on because he gets A’s. I see his grades, follow them throughout the school year on our district’s “Power School” computer program, where parents can see their child’s grades. He has a 106 average in music and 105 average in art. The rest of his grades are 96 to 99. I wrote an email to his teacher and told her that if I’m ever threatened with court again, my attorney will file a complaint of a “hostile school atmosphere.” I mentioned the punches, shoves, pencil stabs. Things my son wouldn’t tell his teacher because then he would be labeled a tattle-tale.

So, last week, he woke me up at 11 a.m. (my husband, who works nights, gets him ready for school in the morning and I take care of dinner, homework, shower, and bedtime). My husband apparently fell asleep on the couch and my son didn’t think to wake him up. He also didn’t think to get dressed and walk the half block to the school bus. I made my husband get up and take him to school, even though it was after twelve noon and it technically was considered an unexcused absence. Then Wednesday, he did it again and it was 1 p.m. by the time I got my husband awake to discuss how we were going to handle this.

My son is scheduled to go to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama in August. Camp is paid for, as well as his plane ticket down there. I ordered a card with $100 on it for him to use in the gift shop. We are planning on driving to Alabama to see his graduation and drive him home. Our hotel for the night before is paid for. I ordered a flight suit for $80 from Space Camp. We sat him down and said, along with two weeks without video games, if he missed another day of school before the end of the year, we would cancel Space Camp and he would have to repay us the money we will lose by cancelling. This amounts to about $600. He won’t get allowance for the next decade. We also told him we would take away his XBox 360 and PS2 permanently. I’m not sure what got through to him that evening but I think the amount of money he’d have to repay hit him the hardest. He’s very careful with his money; I keep an account on my computer and then deduct whatever money he spends. This keeps him from going around to the corner store and buying candy and soda.

We’ll see if this works. If not, we’re in for a long, hot summer with a bored kid. I told him I’d enroll him in enrichment classes. More school. What a frightening thought to the straight-A student who doesn’t like school.

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