How to Break the Negative “Can’t Do” Mindset: High School

The “I can’t” mindset can be detrimental to high school learners. The problem with this negative tunnel vision is that it can easily begin to spill over onto other aspects of a teen’s life. For instance, a high schooler that feels negatively about her ability to do math might transfer that fixed mindset to her ability to learn chemistry, physics, architecture, etc. The negativity creates a destructive snowball effect. High school is a time when students should recognize that the sky’s the limitthey have adulthood and independence right around the corner. A negative mindset can cause teenagers to subconsciously impose restrictions on what they believe they are capable of achieving. To combat this cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook for high schoolers looking ahead toward their future.

Show teens that intelligence and ability are not limited to certain tasks, subject areas, or capabilities. Very often, students place much of their self-worth on grades and GPA. And while these are important indicators, they do not accurately measure the whole person’s capabilities. Adults can help by shedding light on “lesser known” examples of intelligent, successful people and instilling a sense of value in different areas of academia, the arts, athletics, etc. Remind high schoolers that school is just one realm for learning and that each person has his or her own strengths. A poetic genius may not be well-versed in math; while a musical prodigy might find history or the sciences more challenging.

When possible, provide high schoolers with options and choices, not only for engaging in the content, but with methods of demonstrating mastery. In providing options, high schoolers become more absorbed with the content they had a hand in choosing. Similarly, when students are given choices in what type of product, project, or demonstration to compose, they are naturally more invested in the outcome. Choices also provide students with a sense of agencya chance to connect their own ideas and decisions to the impact that these decisions will have.

Explicitly discuss the psychological and neurological findings behind growth mindset. There is a reason why growth mindset has been touted as one of the recent educational buzzwordsthere is plenty of research and data to support its claims. High schoolers are at the age to truly grasp their learning tendencies and recognize the plasticity of the brain. Simply put, neural pathways develop and strengthen with repetition and practice. When students understand that they can have a certain amount of control over how much they learn and how well they learn it, school work no longer feels like a task to be undertaken, but more like an opportunity to strengthen their skills and hone new strategies.

Encourage the challenge; discourage busy work or the easy way out. For many students, not just high schoolers, the path of least resistance can often be the most appealing. And that’s understandablewhy cause ourselves more trouble or torment in an effort to reach a goal? The answer lies in the methodology behind growth mindset. The more we challenge ourselves, the greater the opportunity to strengthen the neural pathways. When tasks are mundane, simple, or elementary, our brains do not experience the same level of activity as if they do when a process is complex, unfamiliar, or mentally demanding. Explain to high schoolers that, if your goal is to build muscle, you wouldn’t go to the gym to lift 1.5 lb. weights every day. You would increase the weight, reps, and add variations as your workouts progress. It is the same concept when working out our brains. The easy way out may give high schoolers the correct answer, but it does nothing to stretch their limits or develop higherlevel thinking skills.  

 

How to Break the Negative “Can’t Do” Mindset: Elementary

In elementary school, children are just beginning to understand themselves as learners. These are crucial years in terms of building a positive mindset and a solid understanding of education and its significance in their lives. Because of their blossoming ideas and new experiences in school, elementary-aged learners can be especially fragile when it comes to their self-perception.  

One surefire way to turn children off to school, education, and all things learning-related is to allow them to steep in their own negativity. This “I can’t” mindset can be especially detrimental to young learners because the longer they engage in this negative self-fulfilling prophecy, the more likely they are to solidify those beliefs as true. To combat the cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook.

Abolish terms like hard, boring, easy, and fun when describing an activity, assignment, or task. Instead, replace those descriptions with words like challenging or interesting. A subtle shift in the adjectives removes the opportunity to equate the school work with a negative connotation. If something is described as a challenge, as opposed to hard, children are more likely to muster the effort and be motivated by the opportunity to try. Similarly, abandoning anxiety-producing terms such as test or exam can also bolster a more positive outlook.

Do away with thinking of education in terms of absolutes. Because of the way that our educational systems are structured, learners often get caught up in the “all or nothing,” “pass/fail,” “smart or not smart” mentality. Cultivate the notion that school, learning, and intelligence are not exclusively yes or no categories. Sentences like, “I’ll NEVER understand this!” are only serving to prove that negative belief. Instead, instruct students to adopt a growth mindset when engaging in self-talk. Examples might include, “This is challenging, but I’ll keep trying.” “The more I practice, the better I will become.”

Stress the importance of growth over perfection. Again, much of our standard ideas of education involve grades, percentages, and correct answers. But to prepare elementary schoolers to become lifelong learners, adults must put the focus on overall growth and acquisition of new skills.  

Present school work and learning in general as a lifelong, continuous process. It is important for children to know that there is not one person who knows everything about everythingand no, you are never “done” when it comes to learning. Remind elementary schoolers that because curiosity is what feeds our need to learn, it is okay, even expected, that we don’t understand everything right away.

Practice routine reflections as an essential part of the learning process. This routine can vary depending on the task or assignment that students are reflecting upon; however, the notion is the samereflecting on and thinking about how we learn helps us to understand strategies that work or don’t work for us in any given task. Elementary teachers may ask students to consider what went well during their learning process. What do they wish they had done differently having now finished the task? What was the most difficult aspect of the assignment or project? How did they use their strengths to complete this assignment? Questions like these allow elementary students to not only reflect on their learning process, but also take deliberate ownership over their work. Through reflection, young learners find value in the challenges and errors, which helps to keep the negative self-fulfilling prophecies at bay.

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

What happens during a fire drill?

It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

Behavior Management Strategies Taken from the Teacher’s Playbook

If asked about observations pertaining to student trends over time, teachers, administrators, and any other school personnel will likely tell you how the culture of behavior in schools has drastically changed, even in just the last decade. While this is a generalized observationnot necessarily one that rings true for every child in every school across Americaprofessionals working in the realm of education report an overwhelmingly recognizable shift in behavior and behavior-related challenges in schools.

For parents that are struggling to manage behaviors at home, the stress can be all-encompassing. As teachers and parents may witness, when these behaviors go unaddressed, there is a tendency for actions or attitudes to escalate. While educators certainly do not have all of the answers, what they do have is plenty of experience with a wide range of personalities and demeanors.

Maintain consistency and stay strong

As teachers well know, adolescents and even young children can be masters of persuasion. Whether begging, throwing fits, crying, or pitting parents against one another, a child’s aim is typically the same when it comes to these strategiesthey are trying to break you. The reason that they attempt these methods is probably because they have seen it work before, either among siblings, at a friend’s house, or maybe they’ve even worked you over in this way before. The point is, when children are used to getting what they want when they want it, they will go to great lengths to achieve or receive.

Therefore, if you have already said “no,” do not falter; do not waiver or go back on your word. In doing this, you are showing your child that they can convince you to change your mind. Will it be embarrassing when your child throws a tantrum in public? Yes. Will they likely stop immediately if you cave in? Yes. But will they remember their success rate from throwing this fit? Absolutely. It may make your life easy in that moment, but going back on your word just to stifle a temper tantrum will inevitablely backfire because you are essentially reinforcing that negative behavior.

Ditch empty threats

Just as a teacher would not give detention and then “let it slide,” parents must follow through. If you impose a consequence, you must be ready to deliver that consequence. Empty threats or punishments that never come to fruition are just other examples of adults reinforcing negative behavior. Your child will remember how the “week without screen time” turned into just one night without the iPad before bed. In dropping the ball on the original consequence, your child will be less inclined to take those warnings seriously.

Put the child in control of the outcome

Teachers typically spend a great deal of time setting the expectations for their classroom environment, assignment protocol, and behavior. The point of setting the stage so specifically and deliberately is that students are made aware not only of the expectations, but also the subsequent consequences if those expectations are not met. Students know in advance that they will lose a certain percentage if work is submitted late. They also know that unkind words or behavior will result in lunch detention or a phone call home. Because of these known repercussions, students are careful to adhere to the rules.

It’s the same at home. Parents should calmly remind children of the expectation and the consequence that their child will be choosing if the behavior continues. This puts children in the driver seat by reminding them that they are in control of their behavior and how that behavior will play out. Explain to them that they “are choosing a consequence by behaving this way.” Children will be less inclined to continue the behavior when they know that this behavior would essentially mean that they’re imposing a punishment on themselves.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. III

Just as we explored occupational therapy (OT) methods that support fine motor control, balance, and coordination in the previous two posts, this third and final post will focus on OT methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness. Of course, depending on each student’s individual needs, the supports and strategies will vary. Likewise, a student’s age and developmental abilities will also determine which methods are beneficial and how to include them in the learning environment.

For children that need tactile strategies to promote their attentiveness in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Fidget toys, stress balls, and thinking putty/clay are great options for students that prefer to keep their hands moving while learning. Because of the rhythmic stretching, squeezing, or rolling between fingers or hands, students with attention issues are able to channel the urge to move, tap, or click into the object that they are holding. Just as the occupational therapist would do, however, be sure that students are using the fidget item discreetly, not as a toy or distraction.

When possible, plan to utilize 3D objects as models or manipulatives to introduce math or spelling concepts. For example, for elementary schoolers learning about multiplication via arrays, teachers can use Legos to build the array in place of drawing it or shading it on paper. The process of constructing and deconstructing arrays using Legos allows students to comprehend how 2+2+2+2 = 2 x 4 and what that representation looks like in 3D geometric form.

Using sand, paint, or shaving cream in aluminum baking trays, or “spelling trays,” allows students to practice their letter formation, spacing, and size with an engaging added sensory component. The practice is low risk as well; if a child messes up his letter, he can simply shake the sand or add more shaving cream and begin again.

For children that need movement strategies to promote their attentiveness and positive behavior in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Much like many 504 and IEP accommodations, frequent breaks are certainly beneficial when students become agitated or restless. A way to incorporate this method into the mainstream classroom is to promote brain breaks for all students in the room. Especially for classes that are run on a block schedule, teachers can break the instruction for 2-3 minutes to allow students to pace, jump on a miniature trampoline, stretch with resistance bands, do jumping jacks, toss a bean bag, play Simon Says, or simply stretch to release some pent up energy.

Teachers might consider swapping out their desk chairs for yoga/therapy balls, wiggle seats, bean bag chairs, stools, rocking chairs, wedge seats, or swivel stools. The different range of seating options allow students to bounce, alter positions, or swivel to expel some of their energy. With alternate seating, just be sure to provide clipboards or other surfaces for students to write comfortably.

There are also additional strategies to promote attention and positive behavior:

Much like educators differentiate by providing student choice, occupational therapists also utilize options and choices to promote engagement, attentiveness, and positive participation and behavior. When offering choices of activities, challenges, projects, practices, etc., occupational therapists try to provide at least one option or rotation activity that appeals to the child’s strengths and/or interests. When children have a hand in selecting their activity or assignment, they feel a stronger sense of ownership and independence, which increases effort and motivation.

OT methods also frequently incorporate tech tools to promote development of certain skills or practices. Teachers can provide links to podcasts, educational videos, scholarly articles or websites, and educational games for students to browse and play. The technology not only promotes engagement; the audiovisual component allows students to watch and listen as concepts and skills are modeled for them. They can also work at their own personal pace while using tech tools by pausing, rereading/re-watching, or completing additional practice games.

After a therapy session, many professionals ask children to reflect on and rate their work during the session. Questions can focus on the content, activities, behavior, focus/attention, etc. The key for this OT practice is to encourage students to reflect on the session and discuss areas of strength and areas for improvement. Teachers can plan mini-conferences with students to discuss progress. Stress the fact that genuine ratings and responses are essential for reflection and growth. Not only are students accounting for their successes and missteps, but they are also practicing skills such as summarizing, causes and effects, paraphrasing, memorization, critical thinking, and metacognition.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. II

In addition to occupational therapy (OT) strategies that promote and strengthen fine motor control in the classroom setting, there are a number of additional techniques and practices taken from occupational therapists for younger elementary children that need a little bit of guidance with their balance, coordination, sensory processing, behavior management, or attentiveness.

Balance and Coordination

We often place these two concepts in the athletics realm; however, balance and coordination are necessities not limited to physical education programs in schools. These essential life skills stretch way beyond the field or court. Daily practices such as dressing, eating, climbing stairs, writing, brushing teeth, etc., rely on one’s ability to coordinate certain motor skills. Therefore, the roughly 5-7% of children affected by developmental coordination disorder, or DCD, will need to rely on OT practices and methods to develop more than a fastball or perfect jump shot. Their day-to-day practices truly hinge on their ability to develop coordination over time.

In the academic atmosphere, children with DCD or other difficulties with balance or coordination can benefit from the following modifications or strategies:

  • Desk chairs that are detached from the desk allow for more appropriate and comfortable positioning in terms of seating. The children can scoot or push their chairs in to their desired proximity to the desktop, which discourages slouching, reaching, and fidgeting.

  • Teacher notes or worksheets can be modified so that copying from the board is limited, as this can be a frustrating process for children with DCD. Fill-in-the-blank or paraphrased notes allow students to practice viewing the board, listening to the teacher, and writing an abbreviated version of the notes while maintaining focus. Because of the modification, the student is still receiving the content and is actively participating, but the workload is less taxing for him/her.

  • Provide students with paper that suits their handwriting style. If you know that a student’s main issue is size or spacing of letters, provide him with wider lined paper and lined paper that includes the vertical margin lines. If the issue is aligning numbers correctly in math problems, consider providing graph paper or grids to promote precise number alignment.

  • Incorporate tossing and catching into your memorization or test review lessons. Keep the rotation predictable, such as passing around the room in a circle or passing the ball alphabetically among the class. Use a larger, lighter item that allows for easy passing and receiving, such as a beachball or beanbag.

  • Games such as Twister and hopscotch allow teachers to incorporate balance and coordination with other content-area skills or practices. For instance, elementary schoolers learning their times tables can use hopscotch to demonstrate mental math while practicing balancing, hopping, standing, etc. A family favorite game, Twister, similarly encourages coordination while students reach and stretch left and right hands and feet.

  • Teachers can utilize painters tape as a way for students to practice making and categorizing shapes, then use the taped shape outlines to practice balance. Challenge students by having them walk the lines of the shapes “heel to toe.” You can add levels of difficulty by asking them to toss a bean bag while walking, recite the alphabet or math facts, or walk backwards.  

In the third and final edition of OT strategies in the classroom, we will focus on occupational therapy methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness.  

Proactive Steps for Transitioning within or between Schools

For parents with school-aged children, the idea of transitioning with or between entirely new schools can be anxiety-producing. How will my child handle the change of environment, schedule, routine and peers? How can I get a head start on making the transition as smooth as possible? What if things do not go smoothly? Who can I turn to for guidance? All of these questions are not only typical, but valid as well. Below are suggestions and ideas for parents whose children are transferring to a different school, or who will be experiencing a major transition within the current school.

Attitude is everything: For children who are just beginning preschool, Pre-K, or kindergarten, the initial transition from home life to school life can be challenging on many different levels. To ease the process right from the start, parents should be cognizant of how they react to the transition, as well as deliberate in how they portray their own attitude towards school. Parents and older siblings should intentionally speak of school as a positive, exciting new experience. A positive attitude towards school promotes the idea that this is a beneficial change in the child’s lifeit allows young children to become excited about the “newness” of the experience, as opposed to becoming frightened of the unknown. Discuss some of the new things that he or she will get to learn and participate in. Talk about the new friends they will make. Shed plenty of light on the great adventures that school providesperhaps start a countdown to encourage excitement about the transition, instead of dread.

Even for older students, attitude is completely contagious. If children and teens sense stress or anxiety coming from you about the school changes, they are certainly more likely to internalize those emotions. Therefore, if your middle or high schooler is experiencing a transfer or major schedule change, their first line of support and initial dose of positivity should come from you, the parents. Validate their concerns by listening and not dismissing their feelings, but be ready to put a positive spin on their concerns and provide solutions to their perceived worries.  

Do your research: To remove the intimidating shroud of the unknown, encourage any orientation, meet-and-greet, playdate, school tour, or mentorship that the new school might offer. For older students, check to see if their clubs, organizations, or extracurricular activities from the previous school exist at the new school. If so, get a jumpstart on registration, forms, and physicals for athletics. If your child or teen functions best when they know what is coming down the pike, ask the school about seeing your child’s class schedule or possibly meeting teachers in advance of the start date.

Guidance counselors are always a go-to for parent support, but networking through the PTA is another great resource. Members of the PTA are obviously involved in the school and in tune with the goings on in the school community. Fundraisers, parent meetings, and social events provide an opportunity for new parents to get involved, ask questions, and thus provide a sense of comfort to their child as “the new kid.” As much as information is power, parents new to a school’s community should be somewhat wary of the rumor mill, as this can paint facets of the school in a negative or incorrect light. Remember that any sort of listserv, blog post, or review could be biased or wholly untrue.

Focus on what’s important: Especially for middle and high schoolers, a transfer or transition to another program or school can mean a sharp learning curve, or even an initial decline in grades. Remind your student that anything new or unfamiliar is going to present its share of challenges, but this should not create discouragement. If grades slip or stress builds, reinforce your teen’s sense of self-worth by placing the focus on their other strengths. Remind him or her that a grade is simply one measure of their learningit is not indicative of one’s intelligence or capabilities.

Set aside time to acknowledge small wins or slight victories as a means of boosting self-esteem. Remind your child of the potential for growth that comes with challenges and obstacles. Then, encourage your teen to put the emphasis on gradual growth and improvementnot a solitary grade or score.   

High School Guidance Counselors and Advisors: Key Questions for Grads, Part II

To continue the suggestions of under-utilized questions for potential college freshman to consider, we must prompt students to think about how campus size will directly affect their experience.

Small fish in a large pond, or large fish in a small pond? Again, heading off to Penn State, I knew the basic population of students on main campus. What I was not fully cognizant of, however, was how the roughly 50,000 students on campus would greatly alter the academic and social setting, thus transforming the whole experience in unanticipated ways. To my own fault, in the pamphlet and at first glance, student enrollment simply seemed like an arbitrary measure. However, upon showing up to my first lecture for a political science introductory course, the true representation of the campus size revealed itself. My 400+ class involved zero peer interaction, discussion, or engagement. There was no attendance or accountabilitywhich meant you could show up or not, as long as you were present for the midterm and final exam. While some students may thrive on the anonymity of such a setting, it wasn’t until I was immersed in it that I realized that it wasn’t for me.

Guidance counselors and advisors are invaluable resources to help prepare students for the actual experience that a university will present, helping students to better gauge their preferences. Asking questions like, “Do you prefer to fly under the radar of anonymity in class, or are you looking for more personal support from professors and instructors?” “Do you want to see, recognize, and acknowledge classmates as you pass through campus, or do you prefer to encounter, dine with, and meet new people every day?” “Depending on the campus, do you want a quick, walkable commute to your classes, or do you prefer a sprawling walk or bus ride to your lecture halls?” “Do you want to seek out a close-knit group of friends, or do you prefer to fall in naturally with the people that you get to know in the smaller setting?”

All of these questions relate to the day-to-day experiences that students will need to consider before making a decision. Another suggestion, especially with regard to class size, would be to encourage students to sit in on a few classes if possible. A campus tour shows much of the environment, but experiencing classes firsthand allows high schoolers to get a taste of how their education will look. Of course, as students progress and select majors and areas of study, the class sizes will shrink. However, the first 1-2 years of gen eds will reveal the true nature of a large state school versus the small liberal arts environment.

How could you realistically combine your strengths and interests to serve as your leg up in the workforce? This question is difficult for several different reasons. First, it forces students to look critically at their abilities and academic assets. Secondly, this question prompts students to look to the future and anticipate what they might choose as a prospective career, which can be intimidating and stressful. And finally, this question requires students to synthesize two concepts, (strengths and interests), which they may have never thought to combine. The complexity of the question, even if unanswered, helps students to envision how the university will act as a stepping stone toward their development into a self-assured, contributing member of society.

Considering this question also helps students to potentially narrow their post-secondary options. If their strength in math and interest in working with children lead them toward an education major, that student should ensure that their university offers an undergraduate education program. Does the school have a strong math department? Are their teaching internships or volunteer opportunities offered through the university? Would a study abroad program allow for teaching experience overseas? Again, these follow-up questions motivate high schoolers to look more critically at their college options to guarantee that their choices end up checking all of the necessary boxes.

How familiar do you want college to feel? Advisors and guidance counselors will want to ask students about their comfort level regarding the school’s climate, setting, history, demographics, etc. If the school has a reputation for its athletics and Greek life, students may want to consider how much they plan to participate or value those traditions. Are students looking for a serene, lush campus, removed from hustle of the surrounding areas? Or do they prefer a campus immersed in the culture of a thriving city? Do they want to experience cultures, practices, languages, and people outside of their own upbringing? Or do they want to live and study where they feel “at home” and included?

Encourage students to consider which types of school settings and locations will provide them with the most opportunities for growth. Of course, the response will vary from student to student. The goal is for them to envision their ideal college experience and then follow that knowledge.

Finally, not so much a question as it is a consideration: you can always change your mind. Choosing, enrolling, and moving onto campus is not a binding decision. As much as we would like for students to find their niche or match on the first try, this is not always the case. As much as Penn State ended up as a mismatch for me, my time there allowed me to see more clearly what I was looking for in the college experience. Sometimes you have to see what you don’t want before you can realize what you do want. In my case, transferring helped me to appreciate the change of pace, cultural environment, and different class structures that the University of Pittsburgh provided. So as much as we’d like to guide them in the right direction, students should also know that they can always diverge or detour.             

High School Guidance Counselors and Advisors: Key Questions for Grads, Part I

Guidance counselors and advisors at the secondary level have their work cut out for them. Not only are they responsible for the social, emotional, and academic well-being of each child, but their position also requires a great deal of research, recommendations, and paperwork during the college admissions process. I think back to the stress of my own college search, application, and admissions processand let me just say, I would never wish to relive that tumult. Now, think about the fact that, on top of their regular day-to-day roles in schools, guidance counselors also perform that monstrous college application process year after year for hundreds of students at a time.

With the end of the school year approaching, the nation’s high school graduates will be heading off to prove their college and career readiness in no time. Meanwhile, a whole new crop of high school juniors will be starting the college search and application process, continuing through the revolving door that is their high school’s guidance and advising office. A whole host of questions will be thrown at these young, eager students. However, what piques my interest are the many questions that aren’t typically askedquestions that, while they may be less standard, are very telling when students are in the midst of the college search.

How close is too close? There are pros and cons to looking and staying closer to home when heading off to college. Some students find a sense of comfort knowing that parents and siblings are a short drive away. Some even prefer to live at home and commute to campus for their daily classes. Not only will the comforts of homelike laundry and homecooked mealsbe provided daily, but commuters save thousands of dollars on room and board by living at home.

A drawback to this, of course, is the fact that the “true” college experience becomes sacrificed when students live at home. Dorm life, communal dining, late-night cram sessions, and weekend events are all part of living on campus, especially during freshman year. If students have the option to commute to campus, they may still prefer to forgo their childhood bedroom in favor of the independence that campus life brings. It all depends on the person, but ask them, “What is more important to youmaintaining consistency and familiarity, having family support and saving money, or independence, responsibility, putting yourself out there with new people, and the genuine freshman on campus experience?

What do you like to do on the weekends? This may sound like your typical, run-of-the-mill, “icebreaker” question, but the intent behind it is crucial for students who are on the fence between vastly different post-secondary schools. My own experience at Penn State proved to be defining, and perhaps, had I truly considered what my downtime in college would look like, I likely would have made a different decision. Beyond the course loads, exams, and hours spent studying, college life involves a great deal of downtime, especially for students who have masterfully planned a leisure-conducive course schedule.

With this in mind, students need to be ready to fill their time with activities other than parties and naps. In my own case, once the excitement of Penn State’s football season died down, the once bustling Happy Valley became a pretty bleak, homogeneous cow pasture (in my personal opinion). At that point, due to my own ignorance/naivete, I hadn’t really thought about what life would look like during a never-ending winter in rural Pennsylvania. Of course, campuses offer an endless amount of extracurricular options. From clubs, intramural sports, and philanthropic organizations, to mixers, academic workshops, and hobby groupsthe options are limitless. Students just need to ask themselves, “What do I really like to do?” Then be sure that those interests are well-represented at the universities that they’re eyeing.    

How to Plan for Summer Learning Opportunities—Middle School

Here we arewe find ourselves in the middle of spring, with summer just around the corner! As the school year begins to wind down, summer learning opportunities are likely to be the last thing on a middle school student’s mind. As much as preteens and teens would prefer to set aside the school work for a while, the truth is, summer learning opportunities enrich students’ academics and prevent the typical learning gaps that summer can bring. That said, now is the perfect time to begin to look at options for educational summer plans. Whether debating between formal summer school options, camps, or groups, or if you are looking at less structured options for learning, there are a plethora of options for engaging your middle schooler in some summer learning opportunities!

For students entering middle school, the summer after 5th grade can be the perfect opportunity for students to begin accruing their SSL (Student Service Learning) hours toward their 75hour graduation requirement. Volunteer work, even outside of fulfilling the SSL graduation requirement, allows families to investigate certain needs in their community and reach out to those organizations by volunteering their time. The first step when helping your middle schooler decide how to proceed with their SSL hours is to discuss and identify specific community needs and the service options available to meet those needs. For instance, if your teen is particularly interested in “going green” projects, help him or her explore the local organizations devoted to preservation, recycling, or other green initiatives. Beyond working toward a graduation requirement, through service, middle schoolers begin to develop a sense of independence, responsibility, advocacy, self-worth, cooperation, strategizing, and goal-setting. The service opportunities, especially in our area so close to D.C., are truly limitless.

For some outofthebox learning opportunities for your middle schooler, check out Montgomery County Recreation and Parks Summer Guide for 2018. There you will find summer camps for all ages and interests. For children on the younger side of middle school with a culinary interest, options such as Baking Boot Camp, Cook Offs, and Food & Fitness are great programs to get them learning all about their culinary talents. For older middle schoolers with a tech savvy spark, MoCo offers camps for robotics, game development, filmmaking, lego engineering, Youtubing, and a long list of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) camps. For your active middle schooler always on the go, check out the many sports and outdoor camps, which offer everything from kayaking, lacrosse, karate, and flag football, to horseback riding, archaeology, and ultimate frisbee.    

If you are in need of activities that are even more subtle in terms of instruction, below are a few options and ideas that are less structured than camps or courses, but still allow for some learning in disguise.

When planning a vacation or long weekend over the summer, allow your middle schooler to complete a little research of the location. Depending on what they are able to find, perhaps have them plan an activity or select a “hot spot” for the family to check out during the trip. This subtle activity allows middle schoolers to put their research skills to the test for a real-world purpose.

Provide tokens or incentives for middle schoolers to try out new chores or ways of helping around the house. For instance, teach your teen how to mow the lawn and monitor his lawn mowing skills until he’s mastered the routine. Challenge your child to a laundry competition, in which you race to sort or fold laundry. Plan a sibling versus sibling cook-off, with each parent acting as the sous chef or supervisor of the cooking battle. Subtle challenges such as these allow preteens and teens to attempt new skills or tasks without the pressure of outright school work.

Select a series of movies versus books to read and binge watch together during the rainy summer days/nights. Read and watch together as a family, then discuss which version was better and why. Talk about how the characters either did or did not represent what each person had imagined in their head. Were there any glaring differences between the book and the movie?