I took one look at my high school freshman last year – sprawled out on a sofa, soccer cleats still on, papers and books everywhere – and knew there was only one solution to helping him survive in a large and sometimes overwhelming New York City public high school.
Her name was Danielle, and she just happened to be on her way over.
I have enormous empathy for bewildered freshmen and their parents. That’s why everyone needs a Danielle, or a friend or older sibling with proven strategies for success and superior organization skills.
Danielle was weapon number one. An amazing English teacher who cared deeply about writing and made my kids care even more was weapon number two – a story for another time.
Danielle is a high school senior now and the most efficient student I’ve ever seen. She graduated from Mark Twain School for the Gifted and Talented, a middle school in Coney Island that, among other things, emphasizes organization. Whatever they are doing there, it’s a big favor to parents and kids.
Sure, there are plenty of freshmen who manage to find their lockers, hand in their lunch forms and buy the right folders and notebooks on their own. Others need a lot more hand holding, and most high school staff and teachers simply don’t have the time. Once your kid is in high school, you may not want to be doing this anymore either.
By the time my youngest entered high school last year, I was fed up with nagging and had exhausted all tips, such as writing “USE ME!’’ in capital letters on the academic planner my oldest had never opened. I was wasting my time.
The last thing my teenagers needed was a nagging parent. Yet that’s what my oldest got.
“Did you do your homework?”
“Do you have any homework?”
“Get off Facebook! What book do you need for that class? Why did you leave that notebook home? How could you possibly not have homework?’’
I still remember the shock of freshman parent teacher conferences. I too, was adjusting after sending both kids to a small, nurturing middle school where the teachers knew all of us very well. I remember feeling lost and bewildered in the huge building, where I was lucky to get three minutes with a teacher after waiting for 45 minutes, while missing the many others I needed to speak with simultaneously.
I persisted, and soon enough learned about missed homework assignments, missing forms, and missed classes. I learned that in one 8 am class, my freshman had barely opened his eyes.
I am fairly certain that both of my children spent a great deal of their freshman year of high school asleep. I don’t blame boring teachers or classrooms. It had a lot more to do with those unpredictable growth spurts of adolescence, combined with adjustment to a longer day, longer commute and a host of new demands, both academically and socially.
The good news is, my oldest, now a senior, got over it. He woke up by sophomore year and found classes and teachers he loved. I stopped nagging about homework and he managed to turn it all in – for the most part.
I don’t dare look at his planner, though, and he still hasn’t found his locker.
The youngest had Danielle, who happens to be one of my older son’s closest friends. On the day Danielle came over last fall, she took the freshman in his room.
An hour later, they emerged, with five different forms for me to sign. Each subject was organized by folder, and all notebooks neatly labeled. A planner was filled with dates of soccer games and homework assignments. Danielle’s work was done, his was just beginning.
The other night when I got home from work, I heard the sound of a stapler, and found the sophomore on the floor, neatly stacking forms and writing on labels.
“Oh, was Danielle over?’’ I asked.
“No, I don’t need her anymore,’’ he said. “I’m just getting organized.’’
Insideschools.org would love to know from parents and students how they managed to survive freshman year. What worked? Do some schools help freshman adjust? What strategies can you pass on? See also, this week's Ask Judy: My 9th-grader hates her school.