Different people learn different lessons during their school years. But for many grownups, there’s a lingering sense of “If I knew then what I know now….” So, for the benefit of the backpack legions about to trudge off to face their K-12 destiny, let’s tap that widespread wealth of knowledge and experience. Let’s ask: What one piece advice would you give a kid about to return to school? Pay attention. Some of this will be on the final. “Be a good manager of your time,” said Pat Shelley, a high school guidance counselor. “Whether it’s leaving time for yourself or staying on top of your studies, manage your time well so that you can avoid panic and negative stress. You can be stupid or lazy, but you can’t be both.”
Jessica Knutson would advise kids to make sure to remove lunch leftovers from their packs. “When I was in first grade, I made this careless mistake, and my new Barbie backpack soon became the home of a swarm of ants feasting on my forgotten peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” said Knutson, about to start her junior year at Washington State University.
“Start turning back the alarm clock now,” said Cathy Reed, a Spokane homemaker.
“Don’t worry too much,” said Claudia Wohlfeil, manager of the bookstores at the University of Idaho. “Everybody feels like a gigantic goober at some point in the process.”
Railroad engineer Todd Silk would urge students to get serious about learning.
“Take the hardest classes you can handle in math and science,” he said. “Work hard in English and take a foreign language. You never know what the future might bring. Your job may be outsourced or just done away with. You want to be ready for whatever and not be stuck in some low-paying job the rest of your life.”
Marissa Halpin, a 2004 college graduate who works at a Spokane Valley day-care center, offered a different sort of counsel.
“Eat lunch with as many different groups of people as possible,” she said. “You never know who you could befriend.”
Tracy Lockhart would suggest that each student focus on being an individual. “You will be more respected, liked and admired for being true to yourself and your beliefs than by following the crowd,” said Lockhart, who works at an engineering firm where she does computer aided design.
Community college teacher Lars Neises got right to the point: “Kids, please, leave your cell phones at home.”
But it might be tough to top former college teacher Michael J. O’Neal in the succinctness department.
“Shut up and listen,” said the Moscow, Idaho, writer.
Spokane mom Sue Jackson recommended getting enough sleep.
Nick Pease, athletic director for grades 7-12 in Cusick, Wash., echoed that point. “I have students in class who talk about watching movies until 3 or 4 in the morning on school nights,” he said.
Not a good idea. (See “low-paying job” above.)
“Be kind to others and cherish their friendships,” said Wendy Johnson, a Spokane Valley grandmother.
Molly Austinson, a mom, military wife and college student, said young people need to appreciate this time in their lives. “Live it up,” she said. “When adulthood, work, bills, and all that stuff sets in, you’ll wish you had enjoyed your carefree days more.”
Michelle Bledsoe, an administrative assistant at a middle school, suggested finding out if it’s possible to visit your building before the first day of school. “To set up your lockers and map out your classes,” she said.
School nurse Betsy Rainsford aimed her advice at grade-school girls. “Please wear sneakers or play shoes to school instead of those cute little high-heeled shoes that are currently in fashion,” she said. “High heels are hard for girls to run and play in at recess without getting hurt.”
Nancy Hill offered a reminder that there’s more to the school years than classroom experiences. “Don’t miss an opportunity to volunteer,” said Spokane County’s animal protection director. “Young people can make a huge difference in the community and it looks great on a college application.”
Retired nurse Bernice Scott would urge kids to consider more than just themselves. “Find someone who looks shy, lonely or new to the school and greet them warmly,” she said.
Spokane mom Nancy Lindberg was thinking along similar lines. “Pretend like you are an angel and you have come to Earth to bless everyone you meet,” she said.
Joyce Atkinson, a retired legal secretary, took a different tack with her advice: “Never let ‘em see you sweat.”
Terri Knadler, activities director at a senior living facility in Colville, said she hoped self-consciousness wouldn’t prevent young people from “having a good time and being true to themselves.”
“Remind middle schoolers that everyone is NOT looking at them,” wrote another respondent in an e-mail.
Computer marketing executive Marie Hartis would urge kids to stick to their beliefs and not yield to peer pressure. “Follow your conscience, and talk to your parents or other respected relatives or adults as you experience difficulties,” she said.
Hartis also advocated prayer.
Sherri Crisp, a mom, reflected her reservations about the merits of public education. “My one piece of advice to kids returning to school would be, ‘Don’t go! Beg mom and dad to home-school you.’ “
Laura Estes, who operates a quilt-pattern design business, offered this: “Stay in your seat, wait until called on, be ready with an answer, be respectful of your teachers and classmates, keep your eyes and ears open and save running, jumping and yelling for recess.”
Karen Kinsella, an environmental consultant who lives in Ione, Wash., said sometimes perspective is what’s needed.
“I know that most students won’t understand or believe it, but high school is not the single most defining social experience of your life,” she said.
On the other hand, “Be invisible” was the advice of a woman who described herself as “a 1956 high school graduate who still has some lingering bad memories.”
Darlene Price, a retired teacher’s aide in Electric City, Wash., saw too much bullying in her years at school. So her advice would be for students to simply be kind to one another.
“Learn English,” said John Krom, who lives on a farm south of Dusty, Wash.
“Pay attention and take responsibility for learning the material,” said Robert McGinty, professor of strategic management at Eastern Washington University.
The Rev. Bill Peterson said he would advise high school upperclassmen to figure out what their guiding values are and make decisions accordingly.
“Although they often imply that this isn’t so, it is my experience that your peers will respect you if you have consistently high values,” said Peterson, a Presbyterian minister and former college dean. “Where you get in trouble is if you say one thing and do another.”
Spokane high school student Maggie Dickmann offered some advice to middle school girls.
“It doesn’t matter who your friends are, how you dress, what your hair style is, and everything else that supposedly will make you popular, because there is never an in-crowd – everyone wants to be like someone else, even the populars,” she said.
And she would remind middle school students that boys and girls can be friends without being in a dating relationship.
What advice would you give a kid about to return to school?
“Teachers are not evil dictators, they really want to help you be successful,” said Betsy Weigle, a Spokane grade-school teacher. “If you don’t understand, ASK QUESTIONS!”
One more thing. “It’s OK to be nervous the first day of school,” she said. “Teachers get nervous too.”
And if all this advice doesn’t really make the back-to-school challenge seem manageable, here’s one last thing to remember, from the Gonzaga University school of law’s Susan Bowen.
“This too shall pass.”
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