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Parents and student built success from troubled freshman year

Marinscope Community Newspapers
Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 10:00 PM PDT
By Dawn Stranne
Special to the Advance

For many parents, high school graduation means a huge sigh of relief. At some point, they may have wondered if their student would ever be able to conquer the obstacles, pressures and struggles. It's not easy navigating one's way through the challenges of school and teenage years to a positive outcome for most kids or their parents.

A true-life success story like the one by Sabrina Roblin, who works at the Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, and her son Matt Stang, a graduating senior from Novato High, gets an A+ and sets an example for other parents and students who want to find their way from "uh-oh" to "bravo". Here's their inspiring story:

Matt Stang did pretty well in school up until he hit 9th grade at Novato High.

"That's when things really started to get hard for him," said Roblin "I was called into the school office because he was acting out, had a power struggle with a teacher and started getting Cs and Ds. Matt was angry and frustrated a lot with the school system and the way learning is designed--he felt that it was a waste of his time. So, he just disconnected with school...except for water polo. He loved being on the water polo team."

But, one day, the water polo coach Rob Crow delivered bad news to Matt before a game.

"He told me that I couldn't suit up because I wasn't eligible," said Matt. (To play sports in Novato schools, students have to maintain a C average.) "That really sucked. Water polo was the only thing that made school better."

At home, things weren't going any easier for Matt and his mom.

"I was constantly nagging on my son," said Roblin. "Pick up your shoes. Put them in to the closet. Have you done your homework yet? I realized that I was like a broken record, and I never reached out and just came home and gave him a hug. It was easy to get caught up in the things that weren't working."

Roblin knew there was a problem, but wasn't sure of the cause. Her education and coworkers at the Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael became valuable assets for her relentless search.

"I became really curious, which is one of the tools we use at CTI," said Roblin. "I really listened to what he was saying rather than judging him or blaming him. And I just started reading and talking to every expert I could."

She consulted a psychologist and read books on behavior. At work, she enlisted advice from one of the Coaches Training Institute's founders, Henry Kimsey-House.

"After spending time with my son, Henry told me I needed to set boundaries with him and make sure that he is respectful to everyone around him," said Roblin. "His observations and insights about the situation were so helpful and he really got me thinking about things I could do."

Rather than blame the circumstances, the school or her son, Roblin decided to take responsibility for building a support network with her coworkers, a nutritionist, a tutor, Matt's water polo coach, the vice principal at school and a hired coach to help her with her own personal issues around the problem.

"I kept hearing 'set your intentions for what you want and go for it, find all the resources you need and don't give up and also believe in your son, believe in yourself, believe in what's possible and make it happen.' You know, that's not easy, but I knew it was right for me."

So, she decided that instead of nagging, it was time to let Matt know about all the things she loved about him and why she was so proud of him. "I also told him that I loved his sense of humor, that I loved his passion for water polo, that I thought he had great friends. Sometimes we parents forget about those things, and that's what they are yearning to hear," she said.

Another critical move toward success happened when Roblin, Matt and his dad agreed upon a written contract, which set clear boundaries with specific consequences and rewards. They all signed the agreement, which was enforced at both parents' homes.

"My parents wanted something written so I couldn't get out of they could say, hey, your signature is right here," said Matt. "The contract says that if my grades go under a C, I don't get to watch TV, play video games or play water polo. If they stayed bad, I would be grounded. I made sure those really bad consequences never happened."

The contract also stated that if Matt's grades went up, his parents would put extra cash in Matt's bank account at the end of each semester.

Things really came together for Matt in this, his senior year. He was chosen as captain of the water polo team. He doesn't need a tutor now. He always comes home on time and is never over on his cell phone minutes. His GPA has risen from a 1.9 as a freshman to a 3.2 as a senior and the teachers' notes on his last report card say he's an eager learner.

Today, Matt has a level of respect around commitments and agreements, according to Roblin. And, Matt has gained confidence in himself. "Matt knows that he's been in a hard place and been able to turn it around," said Roblin. "He knows now that he can count on himself and that he has leadership skills. He understands the importance of listening and connecting with people, because of the modeling and the experience that he's had through everything that's happened. They're invaluable skills. And, I feel like I can trust him to make good decisions, even if he gets into tough situations."

Sabrina Roblin will give a free one-and-a-half-hour seminar about contracts between parents and kids and Co-Active parenting skills on Tuesday, June 24 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael. To reserve a seat, call 415-526-1611 or email

Source: Novato Advance Newspaper