Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fire Extinguishers and Giant Pillows.

If you've visited a public high school in the last ten years, you probably were surprised at the relative sterility of the environment.   It's about clean lines, and clean floors.  It's about the ability to disinfect the desks and chairs, thank you very much, MERSA.  Oh, and it's about nothing comfortable to sit on, for fear of a nurturing environment for lice.  Yes, sterility is the word, with an overwhelming fear/healthy respect for the possibility of infection or infestation.

The same can be said for the "Welcome to the Big Leagues" mentality.  Suddenly those 8th graders who were reassured that "grades don't matter in 8th grade if you get an 81% in Algebra in the fourth quarter," are looking at life through a different set of lenses, where every quarter counts toward the almighty GPA.

(There's an interesting article at Mind/Shift relating tho this phenomenon here.)

The reality is, that as scary and sterile a place as the high schools appear, the counselors, administrators, and teachers are truly there to be as supportive and nurturing as possible.  The trick is in discovering a few key connections:

1.  Plug in.  Join the band, the cross country team, the debate club.  These connections will allow a relationship with an upperclassman or two who will give pointers.  (Which staircase is the least crowded?  How should you navigate the lunch line?  Is the librarian really scary?)  It is especially helpful if the team or organization meets in the summer, before the first day of school, to foster these cross-grade relationships.

2.  Identify the special faculty.  Is your next door neighbor someone that works at the school as a cafeteria lady?  Do you know the assistant coach of the football team?  There is an adult in that building that knows you and has your back, whether you know it or not.  (And for the Gifted and Talented kids, it's about searching out the TOG, who will introduce you to more people than you'll ever imagine!)

3.  Take advantage of every opportunity to connect as a class.  Is there a freshman picnic?  Go.  Even if you just sit with one friend and people-watch.  Is there a back to school night?  Again, go.  And if your school offers something as wonderful as Linkcrew, change your family vacation to attend.   

Our district is fortunate to have three dedicated staff members who oversee a group of upperclassmen designated as Link Crew Leaders, who are paired with groups of freshmen.  The program grew after the researchers studied the reasons for school violence (such as Columbine), and dropout rates, and realized that students with meaningful connections have greater success at school.  They play goofy games, give tours of a less-than-crowded building, and offer that sneak peek excitement that is so valuable in creating the bridge to a successful freshman year.

Yes, yesterday the advice was about landing the helicopter as parents.  Rest assured, there are fire extinguishers and giant pillows to allow for a nice safe environment -- even if the desks and chairs are disinfected beyond reproach.  High School isn't a scary place at all -- it's a place where awesome memories will be made during the next four years, that will be the fodder for epic stories for the rest of your lives.  Plug in, take a risk or two, and let the memory-making begin!