Music classes, such as William Fleming High School’s marching band (above), are popular electives for students.

Choosing electives for middle school and high school students is sort of like going to a restaurant with a smorgasbord of 40 sumptuous dishes in front of you, then being handed a really tiny plate and told you only get one trip to the buffet.

In other words, there’s no way to fit everything you want to take into your class schedule.

The list of elective classes that students can take is incredibly long and varied. Aerospace, art, pottery, choir, foreign languages, guitar and even journalism — yes journalism! — are among dozens of non-required options for students. But they only have two class periods set aside for electives. How do you choose?

A couple of years ago I wrote a column about how it seemed that the class choices children made when they were 11 years old mapped out their future school path — not to mention their entire life’s trajectory — forever. If you don’t take orchestra class as a sixth-grader, you’ll never play violin. Choose choir over art, and you’ll never be a painter. Spanish instead of French, and you’ll never see Paris.

Sure, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but the fact remains that the list of classes is long and the opportunities for squeezing them in are few. Parents are often in the dark about what courses their children are even considering. (At least, this parent is.) My child comes home, tells me she signed up for classes, which included Intro to Napping and Making Jewelry From Cheerios 101, and, boom, that’s it. That’s the rest of her life, which, I will admit, is remarkably like her father’s life, but still. Weren’t there better options?

And just let me say God bless whoever took the time to put together the “Program of Studies” booklet for Roanoke schools, but the thing is impenetrable for a doofus like me. I have read William Faulkner novels that were easier to follow. Between sections about standard diplomas vs. modified standard diplomas, advanced placement, core beliefs, NCAA requirements and one chapter titled Early College Scholars Program and Virginia Virtual Advanced Placement School, all I want to know is should my daughter take another year of Spanish or switch to auto mechanics?

The answer to all of this, obviously, is to communicate with your child’s school about what’s available. Parents need to talk to school counselors. That’s why they’re there. They can help guide not only the student, but the parents, too, when it comes to choosing courses wisely. Also, some schools offer ways to take additional electives. Roanoke high school students can take a third elective class in place of physical education, thanks to a program called Y-Fit. Students from the 10th grade and up can take Y-Fit during the summer, which counts as a P.E. class. That opens up one extra class period for an elective.

The point of all of this is to note that students might have to look outside of schools for opportunities to learn and participate in activities that they don’t have time to do in school.

So, if your child can’t act in the spring theater production because sports practices conflict with rehearsals, sign her up for acting classes on the weekend. Mill Mountain Theatre and Roanoke Children’s Theatre both offer programs that give children the chance to perform. The classes are usually short-term, so students aren’t saddled with lengthy time commitments, and they can try different disciplines, from musicals to dramas. Summer schedules and camps will be posted soon.

If your child doesn’t have time for band or choir during school, try music lessons. Music stores such as Kelley’s Music and Fret Mill Music Co. in Roanoke offer instruction on a variety of instruments. Roanoke Valley Music Teachers Association ( lists many piano teachers in the valley and beyond.

Recreational sports are a good way to get on the field if your child doesn’t make or have time for the school team, which usually requires daily practices and games. Rec sports are fun and competitive, but often are a little more laid-back than a school team. Spring sports sign-ups will be happening soon, so contact your local recreation department or neighborhood organization.

The Grandin Theatre has a film program for students. The Jefferson Center sponsors the Music Lab. The Floyd Country Store leads the Handmade Music School. Opportunities are out there.

So, if your child doesn’t get into that writing program or music class, explore what’s out there outside of school. There’s always time for a course correction.

Cellphone rules

The Jan. 6 Dadline about setting up cellphone contracts for kids that dictate the rules for using phones drew a good response. Reader Lauren Chaney wrote that her family has such a contract, and she highlighted two specific rules that are non-negotiable. “No cell phones (or any other similar technology) in the bedroom at night for the kiddos,” she wrote in an email. “Every night we make our kids put the devices in our room for safe keeping and charging.”

The other rule: “The lock code on the devices have to be shared with us. Sorry for your so called ‘privacy,’ kiddos. Cell phone/app/Google search history privacy is non-existent for the wee ones.”

Judy Toney of Moneta said that cellphones were not around when her children were young, but the family did have a contract for their daughter when she began driving. The contract was a real written document that codified rules dealing with curfew, letting parents know where she was going and, especially, refraining from drinking or having alcohol in the car. One night, when Toney’s daughter arrived after curfew, the girl “walked into the house and handed us the keys …made no comment. After that, she obeyed all the terms of the agreement.

“Fast forward 30 years,” Toney wrote. “We were in her home, and hanging on the wall was the framed contract we had all signed many years ago.”

Keep sending those parenting tips to me at

Ralph Berrier Jr. has worked at The Roanoke Times since 1993, was the paper’s music reporter from 2000-2007 and he currently writes the Dadline parenting column and is a general assignment features reporter.

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