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School Top Tips
We asked area superintendents and a college president to provide key aspects to keep in mind as students get ready to return to school.
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Dr. Rita Bishop
Dr. Rita Bishop, superintendent of Roanoke City, with advice for elementary students: “Make a friend today.”
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Dr. Charles Lackey
Dr. Charles Lackey, superintendent of public schools in Franklin County, for middle schoolers: “Expect more out of yourself.”
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Nancy Oliver Gray
Nancy Oliver Gray, president of Hollins University, for college students: “Commit to your new community.”
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Dr. Lorraine Lange
Dr. Lorraine Lange, superintendent of Roanoke County Public Schools, for pre-schoolers: “Let your child ride the bus so he or she starts with the others.”
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Dr. Anthony Brads
Dr. Anthony Brads, superintendent for Botetourt County, for high school students: “Face time beats Facebook hands down.”
You may be well past those early school years by now, but remember the fear and trepidation when stepping off the bus for the first time, about to enter a school building? Wondering how you’d fit in with the crowd in middle or high school, or how tough the adjustment to college might be? We polled some area school system superintendents and college presidents, asking them for advice on how to best handle a new school environment. Some of that wisdom is geared towards students, while other tidbits are for parents.
Who better to start off with than Dr. Lorraine Lange, Superintendent of Roanoke County Public Schools? Lange was named Virginia’s Superintendent of the Year by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents earlier this year and was a finalist for the National Superintendent of the Year award.
Lange, who taught kindergarten early in her career, believes youngsters may be better prepared now for their first day ever of school, since many more attend preschool. Still, says Lange, the following basic tips should help:
1. Talk to your child about going to kindergarten before the first day. Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to see the room and meet the teacher before the first day.
2. Talk a little about things that will happen during the day (nap, snacks, etc) and mention that you will be waiting to hear all about the day in the evening.
3. Make sure your child eats breakfast and has a good night’s sleep.
4. Let your child help pick out his or her clothes and make lunch along with you. There is more of a chance of children being happy, wearing comfortable clothes and eating lunch, if they had a say.
5. Let your child ride the bus to school so he or she starts the day with all the other students. Saying good-bye is hard, but prolonging that only makes it harder.
Lorraine Lange’s best piece of advice for parents? “Trust the kindergarten teacher, [they] are special. They have a strong love of young children and want their students to have a good day and be happy learners.”
Dr. Rita Bishop has helped turn Roanoke City public schools around since coming aboard as superintendent, driving towards a fully accredited school system, installing an overage academy at Forest Park for high schoolers struggling to graduate and instilling a new sense of pride in academic achievement. Her advice for those about to enter elementary school after a year of kindergarten is short and to-the-point, much like the no-nonsense person that Bishop can be.
1. Do your best
2. Be a leader
5. Make a friend today
“Listen to your teacher and tell [them] if you are worried,” says Bishop. “Learn something new everyday [and] smile.”
Dr. Charles Lackey, superintendent of public schools in Franklin County, wants to see students get engaged as they reach the middle school years. That’s a tough time for many preteens and young teens anyway, but Lackey says there are ways to make the transition to middle school easier. It also makes for a much smoother leap to high school a few years later.
1. Don’t be afraid to try something new (classes, clubs, friends, sports, subjects, [other] opportunities).
2. Actively pursue making new friends – it will be the first time in their life that students will be with a significant [number] of students from other schools that they don’t know.
3. Expect more out of yourself; take harder courses, involve yourself in something completely new to you, and don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
4. Get involved in some form of art (band, chorus, painting, computer art, pottery, etc.).
5. Consider middle school an adventure - this is a time to develop your individual independence.
Lackey has these words of wisdom: “get involved in a middle school activity (sports, band, Odyssey of the Mind, student government, chorus, clubs, intramurals, helping others through philanthropic activities). It helps you get noticed, develops your identity and tests and develops new skills.”
Dr. Anthony Brads (call him Tony) is superintendent of public schools in Botetourt County. Brads was an assistant principal at the high school level and taught in middle school. His advice for students entering high school and their parents is all about being engaged.
1. Get involved!
2. Talk to your parents about school. Parents, do not settle for the answer “nothing,” to the question “what did you do today?”
3. Less phone time, more face time…Face time beats Facebook hands down!
4. Take the most challenging courses that you can stand. One day, you will be very glad that you did.
5. Be kind. You have no idea what others deal with on a daily basis. Do not add to their stress or anxiety. High school is tough enough.
Brads says the single best piece of advice he can give a new high school student is simple: “Choose to join a club, a student activity, an athletic team, cheerleading, the band,” notes Brads. “Participation in co-curricular and/or extra-curricular activities have proven to expand, enhance, and engage students to such an extent that they consistently perform better academically than those students who do not get involved.”
When the K-12 years are finally behind a student, college beckons for many, be it community college, a large public institution like Virginia Tech or a small, private center of higher learning like Hollins University.
Nancy Oliver Gray has been president of Hollins University in Roanoke County since 2005, bringing her high-energy persona to the women-only undergraduate liberal arts school. (There are co-ed masters programs at Hollins.) College is a brave new world for students, as evidenced by the tips Gray shares.
1. Put academics first and develop a positive study habit. Find a place where you can study and make it part of your regular routine. Academics in college are very different compared to high school.
2. Commit to your new community. This campus will be your home for the next four years, so fully engage in that experience, in class and out of class. Attitude makes a difference.
3. Be engaged – not only in the digital/social media world – but in person as well.
4. Find yourself an upper-class mentor or two. Connecting with upper-class students allows for a greater understanding of the college experience and it’s a great way to make new friends.
5. It’s never too soon to begin exploring study abroad or internship opportunities. Make contact early in your college career with the office of international programs and your career center. Begin learning about how a month or a semester in another country and real-world experience in the workplace can enhance a liberal arts education.
“Abundant opportunities and resources await you in college,” notes Gray, “but it is up to you to take full advantage of them.” That’s probably good advice - each of the school system leaders polled apparently took advantage of those opportunities as they made their way up the education and career ladders.