The start of a new school year generally spurs a bit of anxiety to students – especially for those about to enter a new school. Who doesn’t have some butterflies in their stomach the night before classes begin, or when meeting your teacher for the first time?
But along with that angst and a need to prove your scholastic mettle once again, September also offers the opportunity for a fresh start. In baseball, if a pitcher’s ERA was uncharacteristically high the previous year, or if a hitter’s batting average was surprisingly low, spring training offers hope and promise to turn things around.
A new school year offers students parallel academic opportunities – reclaiming a spot on the honor roll, a chance to boost your overall average and class rank, successfully completing an Advanced Placement course to earn college credit. Last year was last year. This year is now.
But what steps can you take to start the school year off right? Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern, offers several suggestions. She is a former school psychologist having worked in Connecticut and Massachusetts schools.
Today, Wise Words launches a 2-part series on how to start the new school year off right. McNamara shares her ideas in both posts.
*Learn from those who walked the path before you. Talk to students who recently completed the course or year you are about to start. Ask about workload, topics addressed in classes, teachers/instructors and other important pieces of information that will help prepare you for the year to come. While finding out that Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith is a tough teacher is good to know, ask what specifically makes them so tough. What do they like or dislike? Similarly, you might hear that sophomore English is very difficult. But then ask why and what kinds of assignments are forthcoming. “Remember, people will differ in their opinions about what was enjoyable, tolerable or unpleasant, so be sure to get a variety of opinions,” McNamara says.
*Seek guidance. Talking to a guidance counselor, or perhaps a teacher or two, can answer some questions and concerns you might have. Maybe you had a good relationship with last year’s algebra teacher. Ask them what geometry will be like. If you don’t know any students to talk with about a course or year, counselors might even be able to help put you in touch with someone. “These professionals are great resources to help you navigate the unknown at school,” she says.
*Have some fun. In fact, plan for it. Various studies show that engagement in school is important, yielding benefits to students, such as higher academic achievement and lower dropout rates. “One way to be more engaged in school is to have something that you look forward to and motivates you to be there,” McNamara says. “Find something you enjoy and do it, whether it is a class that is interesting, a sport you love, or a club that fulfills your creative or volunteer spirit. It’s a lot easier to get out of bed and get to class when you have something motivating that is waiting for you.”
*Make the most of your electives. Most schools have a certain number of required, or core courses. For example, every sophomore might need to take English II. But electives are those classes in your schedule that you choose to take. For example, you may need to take five classes next year, but only three of them are core courses, leaving room for two electives. Courses in the arts are frequently electives, as are those in computer science. But even additional courses in the “basics” can be electives, such as going beyond your three-year requirement in foreign languages and taking a fourth year of a language. “Use these ‘flexible’ credits to make the most of your school experience, whether it’s for fun or to help you achieve your goals,” she says. McNamara points out that a larger number of students today apply to majors or specialized schools when applying to college (such as engineering). Electives can be a way to provide you with specialized training and give you a “leg up” on the competition.
Part II – More helpful hints to start the new school year out right