“Dear Juniors…” Tips for Starting the Year Strong

This year can be quite busy – it’s an important one for your future, too, if you plan to attend college. I want to share a few tips to help you start off on the right foot:

(These things are all still important even with the current circumstances of the pandemic.)

  • Work harder at school this year. Your junior year grades will be what colleges see as you apply next fall. You can still have fun, of course, but doing your best this year really matters.
     
  • Participate in class even if it doesn’t come naturally. Come this spring you will be advised to ask two academic teachers to write your college recommendation letters. Those letters will be much more personal and favorable if your teacher has gotten to know you through your contributions to class discussions. Speaking up in class will get easier as you practice, and you will need this skill in college and in the workplace.
     
  • Stay after school for extra help (in person or virtually) or to attend review sessions before a quiz or test. This will almost always make you better prepared. And, again, it will give your teacher a chance to get to know you and your work ethic.
     
  • Work on your study skills, time management, and overall organization. You will need to be proficient in these areas to be a successful student in high school and college. If these areas are difficult, ask your parent to help you find some support, either at school or by hiring an academic coach.
     
  • Make sure you are involved in some activities outside of class. (This one is very difficult because of Covid-19, but hopefully, you can find ways to participate) When it comes time to write your essays and participate in campus interviews, you’ll want to point to things you have done in addition to your academics. Volunteering, part-time jobs, clubs, sports, the arts, etc., are all valuable in this way. Plus, they can be fun and help you realize your strengths and interests.
     
  • Plan to take the PSAT when your school offers it in October. (It may be in January this year.) Arrange to also take a practice ACT and compare the results. Pick one and then decide on your test-prep plan. (If you receive accommodations for school testing, talk to school counselors to make sure you have them for these tests too.) Many schools have switched to Test-Optional this year, but it is unclear how many will continue with that when you apply.
     
  • Be vigilant about your presence on Social Media. Schools definitely have access to this, and yes, scholarships and even acceptances have been rescinded based on what they have seen on social channels. In short, if you wouldn’t want your grandmother or a future employer to see it, don’t put it out there!  
     
  • Plan to visit some college campuses this fall to do some window shopping. Do your best to visit local schools of different sizes and locations (city vs suburban/rural). It is best to see schools that are realistic for you to attend so that you don’t fall in love with a school that is not an option for you. Some schools are offering on-campus tours and some are virtual. All schools are offering virtual information sessions, so you don’t have to sit in a room with others!

All my best for a great junior year!
 

10 Tips To Thrive This FallĀ 

I have listened to a lot of webinars this summer about COVID-19 and teens. When it comes to coping, the overall recommendations hold true for all of us:

Acknowledge the losses that have occurred. The lost sports season, the canceled spring play, the missed internship or summer job, the socially distanced graduation ceremony, and, of course, the ongoing isolation from friends – each of these losses has an impact. Acknowledging what’s been missed is the first step in getting past it. 

Accept the things over which we have no control. Most of these things are nobody’s fault. Colleges understand that student grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities will not be the same as usual.  

Accept the coming uncertainty. This doesn’t mean that the future is all negative. Whatever it turns out to be, it is not helpful to worry endlessly about what may occur. 

Know that you are not alone. We are all in this together. Remind your child that this will not go on forever and that adversity builds resilience. We will all be stronger for having lived through this.  

Find the opportunity. Where are the benefits? How can the additional time that has been made available be used productively to learn something new, dive further into an existing interest or hobby, etc.?

Be aware:  For your teens especially, it’s important to stay connected and keep an eye on their mental health. This may be a good time to contact a virtual therapist so your child has someone to connect with on a regular basis. 

Maintain social connections. These are so important for teens. Remind your child to keep reaching out and interacting (safely!) with friends, cousins, grandparents, etc. Helping others is also a meaningful way to distance ourselves from our own problems as we focus on the needs of someone else. 

Establish family time. Are there some new traditions that you have begun since the pandemic (e.g., baking together, watching movies, playing board games)? Can you continue as the school year starts? In addition, try giving your teen some new family responsibilities to help keep the household running smoothly and increase their independence. 

Agree on expectations. Set up a family meeting to review plans and expectations for the coming year. Discuss sleep (teens need 8-9 hours per night), chores, daily exercise, distraction-free study areas and times, weekly fun family activities, etc. Begin now to move them towards the coming fall schedule, starting with setting an alarm and getting themselves up. (Good practice for college!)

Ramp up college application work (for rising seniors). As always, this work needs to be completed thoughtfully and on time. Set up separate family meetings on a regular basis to discuss college-related issues. Then make a point to not discuss college outside of these meetings, so your child has some college-free time at home! 

All the best to you and your family in making a smooth transition back to school!
 

Avoid The “Summer Slide” – This Year Especially

Unfortunately, the “Summer Slide” is not a dance. It's a term used by educators to describe the very real phenomenon of students losing academic ground over the summer as they use their brains less vigorously. For students who plan to take the SAT or ACT later this summer or in the fall, or who want to start off strong in their classes, the Summer Slide can put them at a disadvantage.

This summer is more critical than ever. Many students lost some academic learning during the spring, due to online classes, fewer assignments and pass/fail grades.

So, here’s one easy remedy: Read!
Encourage your children (of all ages) to read as much as they can. Some may already have assigned reading from school, but reading can also take the form of pleasure novels, magazines, etc. What matters is that they read regularly. This will help across the board and certainly with the ACT and SAT for juniors. I suggest that your child pick a daily time to read and plan for it, so that it actually happens.

Some students may also benefit from starting up with math or writing tutoring in the summer to review what they learned in the spring and preview what is coming in the fall. Those who struggle with organization and study skills may benefit from work with an academic coach as well. Good to get this scheduled soon, so you can work around vacations.

Explore Interests: Summer is a perfect time to have your child try something new and discover what they are good at, what they like, and what they hate. Whether it is a part-time job, volunteering, or a home-based project, everyone should be doing something in the summer that will help them learn more about themselves as well as build responsibility, independence, and self-confidence. Your child may need your encouragement if they have not yet found something to dive into on their own.
Due to the virus, there are many free courses online this year. Students can search on an area of interest – coding, creative writing, photography, woodworking, intro to engineering, etc.
Here is one source to find programs.

Informational Interview /Job shadow: Summer is a good time to have discussions about what your child finds interesting and then seek out an opportunity for them to do some shadowing to learn about a particular field. Try asking friends and neighbors if your child can talk to them about their field of work – how they got started, their career path, what a typical day is like, etc. Hopefully, an in-person job shadow can be a follow-up when circumstances allow.
 
For those motivated to work on their own, here are a few ideas/resources:

Khan Academy: You may know that Khan Academy now offers free SAT prep. It’s also a great place for students to work on various topics in math, science, computing, humanities, art and economics.

Free Rice. This terrific site covers a wide range of subjects (math, vocabulary and grammar, sciences, humanities, geography, foreign languages, etc.). It is fun to use and correct answers donate grains of rice to third world countries!

Finally, for rising seniors, there is college prep work to be done! Finalizing a list of schools, completing the main college essay and filling out the Common Application, to name just a few important items.

Believe me, come this fall, your child will be very happy that they have completed this work in the summer. You will be too!