Psych Services: The missing ingredient in success and the education process

Lisa Garmezy

HPD families usually include marvelous parents. No group is perfect, but officers generally do well at steering their children to positive peer groups, encouraging physical activity and teaching morality. Good job, everyone.

But—school success can challenge you and your kids. Greg Riede, the long-ago director of HPD Psychological Services, theorized that many police officers have undiagnosed Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder themselves. Hence the choice of a career that doesn’t require eight hours a day at a desk.

ADHD does run in families, so some of your kids – like some of you – are wired differently. The Psychological Services office sends out report after report about ADHD to schools and pediatricians. Yes, it’s free, and yes, adults can get tested too.

In addition, many of you achieved career goals and financial security without a lot of education. Even for those who earned degrees, it was character, more than academic achievement, that put you where you are. Officers need sound judgment and strong values. So, school may seem not to matter.

In the future, job-seekers without degrees won’t fare so well. A generation ago, 72 percent of U.S. jobs could be had with only a high school degree. In 2020, that percentage will be cut in half. Other than military service, the positions available without college may not be desirable.

Learning must be more than a necessary evil for your children. The toddler who struggles to dress or feed himself, insisting, “Me do it!” delights in learning. Why does that excitement disappear?


Tales from Sunnyside


I spent a year working for HISD in schools on the south side of town back in 1983 at the start of a seven-year break from HPD. Academic motivation was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. I checked on kids exposed to rape, murder, parental drug abuse, not enough food in the refrigerator, and every other possible horror.

I flipped through old notes and read, “She thinks brother set the curtain on fire because of voices.” A fourth grader told me, “Mom has a mean husband—I’ve been a nasty boy.” And a ninth grader rambled on in a scary essay, “Acting in violent ways is also bad because you could screw with the wrong person and get your head and toes blasted off” by enemies he described with unprintable racial slurs.

You’ve seen these kids on the street, but it was like taking the ice bucket challenge for me—a sudden and shocking run-in with deep poverty and desperation.

I found myself wondering what would have happened to my happy, successful kids if with all the same abilities, they were delivered as infants to a home with zero advantages. No Sunday school, no checking homework and no soccer games with cheering parents.

Their thankfully brief “got booze, got fireworks, let’s blow something up” phase might have lasted.

We meet our kids’ basic needs, and then some; other households can’t keep kids safe. Our children go to clean, mostly nonviolent schools that can prepare them to get ahead. We load them down with supplies, strive to keep them organized, and fight the good fight against electronic distractions that compete with homework. But conscientious parents caught up in the busyness of life can forget to communicate that learning—not just grades—matters.


Setting Up for Success


The National Association of School Psychologists has ideas on how to get the message across. Some include:


  • Talk to your child about what he or she is learning. Know what “unit” she’s on and show enthusiasm. Ask about school sometimes just because you’re interested in your kid’s life, without judging.
  • Balance praise and punishment: too much punishment is discouraging.
  • Set an example of enjoying learning. Talk to your child about your interests.
  • Learn together, watching a Ken Burns documentary or using a library book to figure out magic tricks. Visit libraries or museums as a family—or go learn something at a boat show, gun show or cooking demonstration. For young kids, your time and attention is precious, if not rare: if you’re interested, they’ll be interested.
  • The more kids like going to school, the better they do. That means they actually need to socialize with kids from school and participate in school activities.
  • Have realistic expectations. Reward effort, not just good grades.


One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as a parent came from HPD Sgt. Reneata Ferguson, who told me, working mom to working mom, to be at the school every minute I possibly could. She was 100 percent right: actions speak much louder than words.


Searching for a Strategy


I remember counseling an angry young man who was about to graduate although he could hardly read. “Don’t let HISD put you out without teaching you,” I told him. Maybe the desire to defy a system that would casually cheat him of an education would push him toward literacy.

The key to involving your child more fully in learning may escape you. If stress, ADHD, learning disabilities, or previous failures are making school a frustrating experience for everyone, you don’t have to tackle the problem alone. Your child’s teachers and counselors, and the HPD Psychological Services office are there to help.

Be sure that with all you give the children in your life, you give them the gift of valuing education. They will sorely need it in our changing world.



For more information on this topic, managing homework, and ADHD, visit Select “Families and Educators” under the “Resources & Publications” tab.