Teen Talk

For the anxious freshmen: Tips for succeeding in high school

Kelly Richardson
Kelly Richardson Bee Staff photo

Dear Readers: Many of you have written and asked me to reprint the letter I wrote four years ago when I had a high school freshman. Funny how fast time flies. Here is it, and thank you for asking to read it again. Hope you enjoy it, and wishing all high school students a wonderful school year ahead.

Dear high school freshmen: You’re off to high school and about to enter a whole new world. You are no longer the little kid of junior high – you are now an official teenager getting ready to become a young adult. While most of you will be excited – with a little bit of fear – on the first day, some of you may be feeling unsure and concerned about what lies ahead. Rest assured, surviving high school is possible, and a few small steps will help move you in the right direction. Here are a few tips (call it a Freshman Survival Guide) to help you succeed and thrive in your new environment:

▪ Set your mind up before school starts to join at least one activity, if only for your freshman year, whether it be sports, band, drama, math club, 4-H, student government or a service club. Decide what interests you.

▪ Don’t limit yourself to just the friends you already have. High school is about meeting new people and trying different things. Who is to say your friends won’t change in the next four years and you will suddenly be left feeling alone and not connected to anyone at school. Multiplying your friendships means expanding your options and giving yourself so many more opportunities to have fun.

▪ Repeat after me: “The key to my success in high school is to stay organized.” Get in a habit of organizing your backpack every Sunday. Remove all excess paperwork, wrappers, broken pencils and empty water bottles. Who knows, you may even find the retainer you thought you lost earlier in the week. Have folders for every class neatly in order and take the time to hole punch whatever you need in your binder. A few minutes to organize can be the difference in your grade.

▪ Don’t be afraid to ask for help – whether it be counseling, tutoring or any other support service. Asking for help is a sign of strength and shows that you care about yourself. Let the adults in your life – like your teachers, coaches and parents – help out when you struggle.

▪ Stay ahead of the game. Pace yourself when it comes to assignments. Waiting until the last minute to do an assignment means it will be rushed and not your best effort. Get a calendar in your room and write when any big assignments are due. Make it your goal to have everything done at least three or four days ahead of schedule, so you have time to make any needed changes before it is due. Please don’t give me the “I work better under pressure” line. I’ve heard it a thousand times and seen it be effective maybe twice. Most people work better when they are not stressed and under the gun to get something done. Being stressed causes people to be irritated and makes it hard to concentrate. You will be far better served to stay ahead than to try and play catch-up. Remember, you may fall behind, but the rest of the class doesn’t. It takes four years to create a grade point average, and it only takes one bad semester to damage it.

▪ As hard as this may seem, turn off your cellphone or put it on silent while you are in school. You don’t need your phone to vibrate every time you get a new tweet or sports update. Perhaps you just check messages during lunch and after school. If it is something so important, your friends can always share it with you during the breaks.

▪ Get to know your school principal or vice principal. This one may evoke an eye roll response, but trust me, it’s the smart thing to do. If you see them on campus, walk up and introduce yourself. Be genuine and just say hello. You might be surprised that they can be pretty cool and someone you enjoy talking with. You don’t want your first encounter with them to be when you are in trouble or having a problem. Be respectful and friendly, and they will be the same in return.

▪ Find older students at school who can be mentors. If you play in the band, find someone who has been in it for a while to show you the ropes. If you like student government, find someone older who can share what role you should play in school spirit and helping the school with activities. If your goal is to go to Stanford, get to know an older student who takes difficult classes and knows what it takes to get in to a top college. Give yourself positive role models who will help guide you and support the goals you have.

▪ Surround yourself with people of good character. High school will pose many opportunities to do things that can change your life in a negative way. Find other teenagers who have the same values, goals and principles and will help you to stay the course. Be prepared to say the word “no” when things come up that you aren’t comfortable doing. Have confidence in your decisions and don’t let others sway you into doing things you really don’t want to.

▪ Get familiar with the school library. It might have resources like tutoring or special help that could be a big help if you are ever stuck.

▪ Your heart will be broken and you will break hearts. Expect it. Don’t sink your whole high school experience into one relationship.

▪ Remember, you are never alone. Yes, parents may get mad at you and you may be in trouble for what feels like an eternity, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love you and we aren’t here for you if you need us. We know you will make mistakes – and so will we, so cut us some slack. Our job is to be your parents, not your best friends. If we are upset, it’s only because we care about you and your future and we want nothing but great opportunities for you. We don’t expect you to be perfect, but we do expect you to try your hardest.

High school is a great example of what you put into it is what you will get out of it. Ask any graduate and they will tell you the next four years of your life will fly by. You only get one chance to be in high school, so go to the dances, football games, school plays, rallies and be a part of your school. Beginnings are scary, and endings are usually sad; it’s what you do in between that counts the most.