Once again the summer has flown by and all sorts of “Back to School” advertisements on the television serve as a reminder that, ready or not, school will soon be back in session. That’s right, those carefree days of riding and showing will quickly be replaced with the struggle to balance academics and horse shows. Although my junior days were spent with a quarter horse at local weekend shows far away from the “A” circuit, I consider myself an expert at coordinating hectic horse show schedules with demanding academic obligations.
My name is Gina Marie Mondel and I work as a private tutor, specializing in educating students that compete on the horse show “A” circuit. As many know, riding at such a level requires competitors to travel extensively, with many of the shows interfering with the school calendar. So, just how do junior competitors maintain a good grade point average and also ride often enough to be in the ribbons at the top shows in the country? The best way to alleviate the dilemma of horse shows during the school year is to seek the guidance of a private tutor.
Communicating With the School
The first area that a tutor can prove helpful to a student, and parent, is in establishing strong cooperation from the school, in preparation of the student missing class. All schools are structured by guidelines and policies that are instituted to ensure educational proficiency. The attendance policy is an example, and a very good one as it is often the main concern of the school. Students are required to attend class for a certain number of days throughout the school year in order to graduate to the next grade. This number varies from state to state. The New Jersey Board of Education enforces that a student attend school 171 days out of the 181 day academic calendar. Serious illness and death of a family member are, of course, exceptions to this policy….however, horse shows are not!
Most school boards are not going to accept horse shows as justification for a vast majority of a student’s absences from school. And, to be honest, why should they? Chances are that the school does not understand the concept of “horse showing.” But with the help of a tutor, the school can gain an appreciation for the student riding at such a prestigious level of competition. Providing the school with an understanding of the circuit and the tremendous opportunities that hose shows provide the youth of America will allow the school to view frequent absences more leniently. To further gain the cooperation of the school, the tutor can discuss the academic regimen that the student will follow while away at competitions. It is very important that the institution is assured that the expected level of educational performance will be maintained while the student is at horse shows and not in class. Hiring a tutor to mediate and facilitate the student’s academics demonstrates to the school that the student and parents are taking the child’s educational situation seriously, thus resulting in more cooperation from the school itself.
Without the cooperation of the school, the student may not be extended the courtesies that will allow him or her to miss several days of school in order to participate in horse competitions. To maintain cooperation and further accomplish a successful and productive relationship with the school during the student’s leave of absence, communication is of the utmost importance. Unlike the student, or parent in most cases, a tutor is able to be available at all times to speak to a teacher or guidance counselor. It is essential that constant contact be kept with the student’s school to ensure that the student remains current with all assignments. A tutor, who has experience dealing with schools in an organized and professional manner, will be able to operate as a delegate, obtaining information and instruction from various teachers and formulating a program that will allow the student to complete all that is expected by both the school and parent.
However, maintaining efficient communication with the school is easier said than done. It is crucial to realize that it is not a teacher’s first priority to cater to a student that is not in the classroom. Many teachers have hectic schedules and a student that frequently misses class can serve as a burden. Hence, a teacher should not be expected to endure the additional task of keeping such a student informed about assignments and exams. It is the duty of the tutor, in a friendly fashion as not to upset any teacher and jeopardize cooperation, to stay current with all assignments, tests, papers and projects.
Now, this feat takes great effort and is certainly not for the inexperienced tutor. Many teachers are difficult to contact; remember they are busy people. They don’t always regularly check their email and many don’t want to be bothered by someone’s tutor. So many times a teacher may promise that requested assignments are being sent “as soon as possible,” but the work does not get sent out for days. Although these scenarios are extremely frustrating, a tutor cannot lose her charm or respect when dealing with teachers. After all, it is the teachers who are grading the completed work and assigning a final grade to the student. A child that misses class often is already at risk of leaving a negative impression with the teacher. A worthwhile tutor will work to establish a good rapport with all teachers and deliver on the promise that all academic responsibilities will be taken seriously by the student. This tactic will eliminate any suspicions on the part of the teacher that the student will not be working to his or her scholastic potential. Keep in mind that as long as the student is completing excellent, above-average work and it is clear that, academically, the student is progressing, the teachers will be pleased and at ease.
Motivating the Student to Work
In order to maximize a student’s academic potential, all assignments and exams must be completed on time and returned to the school in an organized fashion. It is easy for mailed or faxed work to be misplaced by the school, so it is crucial that the tutor make certain that this process is efficient. Though, before any assignments are sent back to the school, they first must be completed. Horse shows are full of distractions and offer a plethora of excuses to not sit down and do schoolwork. Students must be motivated to work. In addition to distractions, horse shows add stress to the student’s life and they often need help focusing on schoolwork. A tutor can be extremely helpful in these situations.
Please allow me to digress to an example: One afternoon during the Florida circuit, I was tutoring the ever-delightful Sophie. She had just completed a typical day of horse showing for a junior rider, running around the show grounds, competing in Equitation, Hunter, and also Jumper divisions. As one might imagine, Sophie was a very tired young lady. So there we were discussing Song of Solomon, and I was commenting on the author’s use of biblical names and there was Sophie…..asleep. Although I understood her fatigue, I had an obligation to make certain she remained current with all assignments. Simply waking her up would not ensure she would suddenly become a productive part of our discussion. After nudging her awake, I incorporated some humor into our discussion and related the context of our conversation to instances in her life. Also, from then on, every time we met for a tutoring session, I asked Sophie for examples from her busy show day that could relate to the topic of our literature discussions. By adding a personal connection to the academic material and presenting it in some sort of entertaining way, a tutor is able to capture the attention of the student and…well….keep her awake!
With riding, showing, schoolwork, socializing, and sleep on an equestrian’s agenda, there is little time to waste at horse shows. It is essential that a student learns time management. Regardless of the competition, there needs to be sufficient time dedicated to schoolwork as well as riding. As an “A” circuit competitor, I realize the demands of trainers and I respect every student’s riding obligations. After all, the child is at the horse show for the purpose of riding and competing. However, as a tutor, I am aware that academic commitments cannot be ignored, as grades are serious, especially for collegiate consideration. In such instances, the battle of academic responsibilities versus traveling to horse shows can become quite difficult. Once again, a tutor can come to the rescue. Proper time management ensures that neither riding time nor scholastic requirements will be compromised. With the day structured efficiently, there can be ample time for riding, schoolwork, and maybe even some socializing. Riding and academic responsibilities will vary from show to show and a student should be prepared to have an overwhelming amount of work to meet both commitments at once.
Take for example, my student, Leigh’s, experience at the Washington International Horse Show during the fall series of competitions. Not only did Leigh have the pressure of showing two horses in the children’s jumper divisions, she also had several assignments and 4 tests to complete before the end of the weekend. Now Leigh, understandably so, was under a great deal of stress and was discouraged by the workload that her teachers piled on her. As her tutor, I had to organize her schoolwork around her riding and sleep schedule, taking into consideration that indoor shows have very rigid schooling opportunities; Leigh’s schooling time was 4-5 AM. Despite the volume of work that had to be completed, it was very important that the academic agenda be executed smoothly, to eliminate any additional stress that may have affected her performance, on course. Though it took a great deal of time management, Leigh not only completed all her tests and assignments, but was Champion and Reserve Champion in her division! That instance serves as a prime example of a harmonious and successful balance of academics and horse showing.
Students and Parents are Already Overwhelmed
As such an academic and riding victory can exemplify, a tutor can be very beneficial at horse shows. Although a student or parent may feel that he or she can fulfill the role of a tutor, it is important not to overlook or underestimate the academic responsibilities that must be assumed while away at a competition. With all the riding obligations that come with showing on the circuit, a student can easily become over-challenged when solely liable for schoolwork. Even students who have a strong “A” average may have difficulty understanding new material not explained by a teacher, and much of this material is relevant to lessons learned at a later date. The information covered in class may be emphasized by the teacher, foreshadowing questions on a future exam, but merely skimmed over by a student who does not realize the importance of a concept. Comprehension of valuable information can be difficult to achieve when a student is plagued by the stress of a competition, especially during the high-caliber horse show schedule in the fall and winter. And no matter how a great a friend a fellow student may be, it is never a smart idea to rely on peers to interpret and/or take notes for a competitor who is away at a show. Teachers and school officials will be more comfortable knowing that a tutor, rather than the student, has been assigned to manage and teach the educational curriculum in absence of the teacher.
While parents can easily serve as competent tutors, it is not always a good idea for a parent to bare the academic burden for the child. Parents also have a long list of responsibilities while at a show. They, too, can be seen running from ring to ring, schlepping hunt coats, riding gear, and sometimes even another child. Additionally, parents have their own juggling act of family or work-related responsibilities while away from home. And parents, have you ever tried to give your child a piece of advice about his or her riding? I highly doubt that tip was received well. Usually advice on schoolwork is met with the same glaring stare. A tutor is able to be a neutral third party, and have an unbiased relationship with a student.
This same neutral position is also important in communicating with the school. Often times, the school is more cooperative about working with a tutor because she represents an unbiased party.
No matter how smart or talented a junior competitor may be, it is always a struggle to incorporate a schedule full of academic responsibilities with the commitment of showing full-time on the circuit. However, by utilizing the services offered by a private tutor, much of the stress related with this conflict of horse shows that interfere with the school calendar can be alleviated.