Starting high school is a significant milestone on any child’s educational journey. With so many changes that come along with this transition, it’s never too early to talk about how to prepare for high school. Research and common sense tell us that the first year in a new school, especially high school, is critical – getting assimilated, setting goals, establishing habits and attitudes, selecting courses, discovering talents and interests, choosing mentors, learning new skills and building confidence.
Although back to school is currently a distant thought for most students, helping your soon-to-be ninth graders set goals now will help to prepare them for when it’s time to head back to the classroom come fall.
From my experience, here are some things to say to your high school kids as you’re working together to come up with realistic goals for the school year.
1. Get serious. Maybe the future isn’t one of your main focuses right now, but eventually it’s going to loom big. Think about what you’re good at – interests and skills that you could parlay into future vocations or avocations. If possible at your school, start college courses while you’re still in high school and make sure you’re taking the prerequisites for these classes as a freshman and sophomore.
2. Go to class. This speaks for itself, or at least it should. Make a goal to go to class, to be punctual, and to be an active learner. All that whining about how “Mr. Sneer doesn’t like me” or “Why do I have to learn this anyway?” is too middle school. It’s now time to grow up and take education seriously.
3. Have study buddies. It’s always easier to face challenges like out-of-touch teachers, creepy classmates, and difficult tests when you have someone to study with, to motivate you, to answer your questions about homework, and to compete with. Study buddies are valuable. Make it a goal to get a couple.
4. Take good notes. Yes, part of being an active learner is taking good notes on what your teacher and classmates contribute to the class. Learn to tell the difference between the wheat and the chaff – what’s worth writing down and what’s not. Make it a goal to go over your notes the same day with a study buddy.
5. Participate. It’s amazing how your confidence will grow when you participate regularly in class. Raise your hand. Offer your thoughtful opinions. Show that you’re paying attention. Before class, think of any questions you’d like to ask or any thoughts you’d like to share. Go over the words you’re going to use, so you’ll feel prepared. When you’re taking class seriously, you’re eliminating distractions.
6. Get help. When a subject is getting too much for you to handle, when even your study buddies can’t help you over a hump, get help quickly. It’s not always easy to ask for help, but the longer you wait, the thornier the challenges will become. So, be courageous. Ask a teacher to spend some time before- or after-school time with you or look for help outside of school. Sylvan Learning has a lot of different tutoring programs that can help get you back on track. Getting help in a timely fashion is one of the most important goals you can have.
7. Choose the right friends. True friends look out for the best interests of each other. They care about each other’s successes and challenges. They help each other through the tough times and celebrate with each other during the good ones. If this doesn’t describe your friends, you may want to re-assess. My grandmother used to say, “If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.” Make it a goal not to get fleas.
8. Organize. Put your things in order. Organize your study area, your notes, your backpack, your time and even your life, if need be. If your half-hour homework assignment is taking hours because you can’t locate your book, your notes, and your supplies, you’re disorganized. It’s time to take control.
9. Get involved. The right extracurricular activities can open up your world, allow you to discover new aptitudes and interests, provide you with a new outlook on school, and introduce you to classmates with similar interests and adults with unexpected talents. Check out the opportunities your school offers.
10. Study for tests. Yes, in addition to keeping up with assignments and participating in class, you’ll still need to study for tests. Do this with your study buddies – it’ll be easier and more effective. Here are some suggestions.
Sitting down with your high-schoolers to come up with the right goals will allow you to let them know how seriously you’re taking these important years and will give them an opportunity to share their aspirations. Talking regularly about progress will benefit all of you. I promise.