Education

We are now in the beginning weeks of a new semester and last semester is nothing but a distant memory. Any bad grades we received or mistakes that we’ve made have been replaced by a clean slate. This is our chance to start fresh. I know that starting fresh might be easier said than done, and that many of us might still be feeling down about the grades we received last semester, but don’t spend too much time dwelling on the past. You can reflect on it from time to time, but when you do so think about your past in a positive light. Always remember that the mistakes of yesterday won’t prevent you from making better choices today.

Remember that you are in control.

If you want to be better and do better this semester, you have to believe that you can do it. After all, you are in control of how well you do in your classes. You are the one who makes the decision to show up to class, to study for a test, or to do homework. All of those things are important if you want to get good grades. If you go into this semester thinking that it’s okay to skip class, or if you don’t take your schoolwork seriously, then that will ultimately hurt your overall performance in the course. To rock this semester, not only do you have to be dedicated, but you have to want to be dedicated. I keep using ‘you’ in sentences because, really, this is all about you. Sometimes it may feel like your professors are the ones making your life miserable, but you have more responsibility and control when it comes to the grades you receive than you might think.

Make adjustments.

The next step in rocking your semester is to make adjustments. If you partied too much last semester, dial back on partying. Instead of going out every weekend, go every other month, or don’t go at all. Having study parties is much better and more beneficial than actual parties. Don’t get me wrong. It’s okay to have a good time and go out with your friends, but only do so if you have all of your work done. If your studying habits are what you need to change, then search around for new methods of studying to see which one works better for you. There are many ways to make adjustments. Just begin to weed out the bad habits and replace them with ones that are more effective and will give you better results.

Get involved.

Lastly, make sure you get involved. College doesn’t have to be all about homework and partying on the weekends. You get more out of your time in college when you make room for extracurricular activities. Not only will they enhance your semester but they will teach you valuable skills that will help you come out on top. Many of us are probably already apart of a few clubs and organizations, but for those of us who aren’t, try it out! Being involved has helped me become better at time management, which is something I have always struggled with. Having other priorities can really help put things into perspective, so figure out what those priorities mean to you. Having a great semester doesn’t always have to mean getting good grades. Sometimes being part of something bigger than yourself and making friends with people who share the same interests can make a huge difference in the way that you look at college.

A lot of people dread coming to school. I’ll be honest – sometimes I wish I didn’t have to go to class. But then I remind myself that I am my only enemy. You are your only enemy. No one can stop you from rocking your semester other than yourself. Sure there are outside forces that have to be taken into consideration but, for the most part, it’s all about you and your willingness to change for the better. Once you have more confidence and stop letting your past define your present, your future will start to look whole lot brighter and each semester after this will continue to get better and better.

Just like anything in life, improvement takes practice. Feeling confident and believing in yourself after a bad semester (however you want to define it) isn’t always a walk in the park. Believe me, I know. But if you work at it, you’ll begin to see positive changes. Both in who are as a person and who are as a student.

Good luck everyone! #SeizeYourYouth!

Image: Picography

Education

fall supplies 2014

‘Tis the season for going back to school, and we all know what that means: new school supplies. Start your semester off on the right foot with these handy notebooks, planners, and tools. Don’t start your new classes without these seven necessities:

1. Big Monthly Planner – A big calendar made for big plans and big dreams. Mark all of your important dates, and never miss a meeting, class, or event again.

2. Thought Cloud Sticky Notes – Have a brilliant idea? Write it down! Don’t want to forget something brilliant your teacher said? Note it.

3. Moleskine Classic Notebook – Take notes, write down your to-do’s, and jot down your ideas and accomplishments.

4. Sharpie Chisel Assorted 8 Pack – When you want to make a statement, do so in a big and colorful way. Sharpies are perfect for labeling, notes, and crossing things off of your to-do list!

5. Pencil Case – A durable pencil case will hold your statement Sharpies, writing tools, school ID, and anything else you need for class. We like the handle at the end for easy access from your backpack.

6. Camelbak Water Bottle – You all know very well that water is incredibly important. Stay hydrated throughout your classes, sports practices, and after-school clubs with a reusable water bottle.

7. Lime Green Streamer Binder – Your backpack can get pretty packed. Avoid wasting time searching for specific class binders and just assign patterns and colors to each class. This binder definitely stands out.

Image: Laiwan Ng, Flickr (edited)

CollegeSkills

The question that will (almost) always be asked when someone finds out that you will be attending college is “What’s your major?” It will be asked during school. It will be asked when you are home for the holidays. It will be asked after graduation. Why is it so important anyway? Well, knowing a person’s major can give a general outlook on their plans for life after graduation. It doesn’t always apply (just because you’re an Art History major doesn’t mean you’ll be working in a museum for the rest of your life). Choosing a major can be extremely stressful. For one it can determine what school you attend (research vs. liberal arts vs. technical). Secondly, most schools require an official declaration by the end of your sophomore year. Here are a few tips to making this difficult decision:

1. Don’t Declare a Major Prior to Actually Attending Classes 

This can be difficult for those of us that are extremely passionate about a specific subject. I decided I would be a music major the summer before I started high school and I stuck with that…up until it was time to register for my semester of college. I heeded the advice of my elders and took classes from different areas and I ended up choosing to be a communications major. And I’m so happy with my decision. You might still love your original major or you may discover a new passion. Try it all.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind 

Even if you do declare a major early on and end up hating it, it’s okay! You can always to something. Of course, if you do this later on in your academic career it may be readjusting your expected graduation date. But it’s better to take classes in something you enjoy than to sit through a miserable lecture.

3. Career Path is Not Everything 

 I have met so many students that are majoring in something only for the sake of having a steady job after graduation. There are articles published nearly every day about the current job market and what it would wise to major in but guess what? These change! It’s not possible to predict what will be happening 10 years from now so pick what you like.

4. Find Out the Requirements for Your Major of Choice 

Be diverse with the 101 classes you take. Towards the end of my sophomore year, a close friend of mine decided she wanted to major in one of the sciences. So what was the problem? That major required a certain amount of pre-requisites that would’ve had to been taken during the first two years of school. Taking a broader range of introductory classes during her first two years could have saved her a lot of time later down the road.

5. Take Advantage of Your Counselors 

They’re there to help after all! I never would have considered being a communications major if it were not for my counselor. She told me more about it and after listening to her advice I realized it was the best fit for me. Counselors will look at the classes you have taken and realize your particular strengths/weaknesses and help you assess your options.

Image: Lime Lane Photography

EducationSkills

It’s summer! You get to sleep in, waking to the sound of chirping birds, sunlight coming through the windows, illuminating your room. You wake up with bed hair and you stumble out of your bed, walking past the pile of dirty laundry and bowl of cereal you went to get in the middle of the night. Your desk is a mess. Nail polish bottles, papers, pencils, eraser dust, an earring missing its sister, a collection of bracelets, a chipped cup, a photo of you and your friends, Post-Its that have lost their stick…

Listen. You’re a lovely and awesome person, but it’s time for an intervention. It’s time… to clean your room. Summer is a great time to clean your room or workspace. You can get rid of old things and prepare for the next semester. There are some things you can do to make it easy for you to keep your room clean until September, without making your room too sparse or boring.

When most people clean their room, they clean their closet. But there are other parts of your room that you can’t neglect. You have that Economics textbook propping up your laptop. The Victorian novels you bought for Lit class are scattered on three shelves and you probably spent $200 buying all of those last semester.

Students often forget (or don’t have time) to sell their textbooks at the end of each semester. Finals can get in the way, or going back home/going abroad will be more of a priority than a few books lying around. But unless they’re on a shelf (and you’ll be using them again), there isn’t any reason to keep them. There are many options to sell them, either back to the school’s bookstore or online.

Speaking of things you’ll need again, you might want to sort through all your notes. Some students use a laptop and save their docx. or PDFs there. Luddites like me like to print things out (sorry trees!) and write notes on them before putting them in a folder. All those papers scattered in your room? The Post­Its reminding of you an upcoming final? The pens that dried out because you lost the pen cap? (I prefer clicky pens myself) This is a good chance to go through what you want to keep (or not keep) and delete/throw out what you don’t want.

Laptop users, this is a good time to back up your data! You might unexpectedly need that final paper’s works cited page again, or you might get a handout that you’ve gotten before. I like to back data up every half a semester, but the summer is the best time to do it. You might want to tune-up your computer and all that techy stuff while you’re at it!

This time of the year is a good chance for you to make a workspace for yourself. If you’ve been living off your bed with laptop in lap, you might have found yourself falling asleep while doing a paper (sounds familiar?). If your desk space was cramped up with dirty laundry, old lip gloss, and a dusty printer, well, it should all cleaned up and free for you to use. If you create a workspace, it will help you concentrate.

Remember, if you always push your chair in after you use it, it won’t be piled up with clothes and other things. Keep a container for pens and other office supplies, and make sure your printer is in a spot that’s easy to access. Ink is also easy to refill, so always have that somewhere in case you have to emergency­print a handout or something. Things like that can distract you from working during the school year, and if you start the habit this summer, you are more likely to maintain it (and get to know where everything is) by fall.

Now that your room looks like it’s ready for summer fun, as well as for the next semester, there are a few things you can do to keep it that way. Next week, I will share my tips on how to maintain your organized space.

Read Summer Action Item – Clean Your Room: Part I

Image: Kikette Interiors

CultureEducationTravel

Backpacking through the Trinity Alps, kayaking down the Salmon River, conversing with local school children in rural Chile…these experiences are just the norm at the Alzar School.  And Elena Press, a sophomore at Upper Dublin High School, located outside of Philadelphia, was one of just ten participants in its Fall 2013 session.  From mid-August through the end of December, Elena attended the fully accredited semester school, partaking in the schools “Six Foundations:” leadership training, academics, outdoor adventure, service learning, cultural exchange, and environmental stewardship.  The school, based on a 100-acre campus in Cascade, Idaho, is for motivated sophomore and junior students.  Students participate in significant outdoor expeditions, learning to whitewater kayak, backpack, rock climb, surf, ski, snowshoe, and more. Its academics are challenging, all honors and Advanced Placement, and the leadership opportunities that are provided are what Elena describes as “once-in-a-lifetime.” But these high level courses are distinctly different from those familiar to a traditional high school. The Alzar School emphasizes critical analysis, creative thinking, and effective communication, while using its unique resources to provide a vast variety of hands-on experiences for its students.

Elena Press elaborates:

Before beginning the process, I was hesitant to depart my highly regarded high school, as well as the town I had lived in my whole life.  Leaving behind friends, family, school, clubs, and activities would be an immense sacrifice. Of most concern, since I was missing a semester of my customary education, was how this would impact my future?  A typical worry of many teenagers is college.  Many students, including me, wonder: What classes should I take?  How can I earn the best grades?  Should I get more involved in my community and service projects?  How many awards can I receive in my high school years?  Yet colleges love seeing students partake in unique activities and take risks, two items surely fulfilled by an experience at the Alzar School!

A frequent activity of the students at the Alzar School is kayaking. Students kayak in Idaho, Oregon, California and Chile, providing many opportunities for a first-time kayaker, like me, to increase their knowledge of this riveting sport. I vividly remember staring with wide eyes and quaking in fear as I gingerly paddled in my kayak, mortified at the prospect of going down Snow Hole, a Class IV rapid. My instructors insured me that I was capable and reviewed the line with me multiple times. Then, I went down. I did it! And I flipped over and swam out. Consequently, I discovered that kayaking is absolutely thrilling; you can choose to challenge yourself however much you desire. The uncertainty of being under the water’s influence taught me to push myself, but kayaking is all about community; my friends and I learned many lessons from each other, and constantly supported and cheered one another on, whether doing a flip in the air, or leading down a rapid for the first time.  This is one of the reasons why the Alzar School integrates a large amount of kayaking into the students’ time.  The school considers it a great medium for empowering young leaders.

Of the five months spent at the Alzar School, students spend two weeks traveling through the Northwest, six weeks in Chile, and the remainder of the time in Idaho.  When traveling to Chile, students fully immerse themselves in the culture, vastly improving their Spanish skills by participating in a homestay program, attending a Chilean school and conversing with locals. By traveling through Chile, I discovered that smiles and laughter can break even the strongest barriers of age, language, and culture. The traveling opportunities are not presented purely to allow the students to experience new places, but to open their hearts and minds to other parts of the world, and an unknown culture.  All these contribute to the ultimate goal…to empower and teach young individuals to become leaders in our world today.

Throughout the semester, I learned to plan and lead expeditions and service projects. Alumni continue to develop the leadership skills they acquired from their time at the Alzar School by creating a Culminating Leadership Project to make a difference in their home communities and the world.  The goal of my CLP, Girls Outdoor, is to foster an appreciation of the environment by exposing young girls to the outdoors.  I’m planning and taking 19 Girl Scouts on a three day camping trip. This will involve, among other things, teaching them Leave No Trace principles, risk management, and camping planning.

My semester at the Alzar School was the peak of my high school career and a highlight of my life. The greatest benefits that I acquired from the experience were figuring out who I am as a person and becoming confident in that person, while gaining a support group of the most incredible lifelong friends and mentors from all over the world. From chopping wood, to teaching Chilean kids how to kayak, I’ve never had more fun doing anything. I overcame limits, fell a lot and laughed even more, and found out quite a bit about myself in the process. I wish that every high school student could partake in an experience like the Alzar School offered me.

 Elena encourages anyone who is interested in the Alzar School to check it out.  For more information, visit www.alzarschool.org

Education

Not only does a new year bring new goals, new classes, and new friends, but January also means that a new semester is starting. For high school seniors, this semester is critical. It is the last few months that you will spend with friends you’ve known for years, it is the time to create a legacy for your class, and it is a time where major life decisions are being made, such as where to attend college or what to study during your gap year.

The countdown begins for seniors, and it is bittersweet because these are the “last time” experiences that you will cherish for a while. You have five months to make your last semester of high school awesome – these 6 ideas will help you make it a semester you’ll never forget.

Designated dress-up day. When I was a senior in high school, my classmates and I wanted to leave a legacy. We wanted to do something memorable. What we decided to do was coordinate dress-up day for one day of every month. This took a lot of effort even though we were a fairly small senior class because in order to pull off the stunt, every single senior had to be dressed up – it had more impact this way. Every month all of the seniors would meet and decide the theme of the month. On dress up day, all of the other non-senior students were thoroughly entertained and surprised. Dress-up day also brought our senior class closer together and gave everyone something fun to participate in. Dress-up ideas include: toga, 70’s, the Great Gatsby, Under Construction, school colors, Hawaiian, mismatched, sporty, ugly sweater, one color, twins, and alphabet.

Connect with teachers. High school teachers are fantastic and they have been there throughout major growing moments in your life. Get to know your teachers better so that when you graduate, you can keep in touch and visit. The loads of homework your teachers assign can be annoying, but don’t let that deter you from getting to know them better.

Get to know your classmates. If you have found your close group of friends that you are comfortable with, that’s awesome. But remember that there is always room for more friends. Get to know classmates you didn’t have the chance to talk to last semester. The friends you make this semester might be your friends for life. Take the time to talk to people you don’t know before graduating and leaving for good.

Nix the drama. High school is filled with unnecessary, stressful drama. And guess what? It’s never worth it! Reject participating in drama and allow yourself to have a stress-free semester that you can actually enjoy with friends. Don’t let petty drama ruin your last days of high school.

Step outside of your comfort zone. Your last semester of high school is the perfect time to try something you didn’t have the opportunity to do during the last three and a half years. Step out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there. If you are shy and didn’t have the chance to try your hand at drama, audition for the school play. Always wanted to make a 3-pointer? Tryout for the basketball team. Your last semester of high school should be fun and filled with new experiences that could change the course of your life. Who knows, maybe the pottery class you decided to take last minute will inspire you to major in Art in college! Use this time to try new activities and discover new things about yourself.

Go to the Prom. Whether you go with a date, your best friend, or your sister, go to prom and have fun. Try not to worry about being asked or how you look. In a few years there’s a good chance you won’t even remember the dress you wore, but I can guarantee you will remember how much fun you and your best friends had laughing together. Many seniors opt out of going to prom, but it’s one night of your life and you can make it the night you want it to be.

How are you going to make your last semester of high school awesome?

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