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| FROM THE FRONT OF THE CLASS

Words of Wisdom From Class of '00

September 03, 2000|CHRISTINE BARON

Recording senior grades on the scanner sheets last June was a depressing task. Far too many students scraped by with barely passing grades or grades far below what they were capable of achieving.

But we're not just talking about letter grades here. There's many a student who works his heart out in a class such as Algebra II, for example, and gets a C. But it's an honest C, a C born of giving it his best shot.

With a few exceptions, the grades I recorded were not anyone's "best shot." They reflected apathy, boredom and a wasted education.

Shortly before graduation, I had these same seniors write about what they would have done differently if they had their high school years to do over again. Reading their comments, weeks after they had left, was both informative and heartbreaking. Rather than dump these revealing statements, I decided to share them, hoping that some of this hard-earned wisdom might reach this year's incoming crop of freshmen and their families.

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If I had just done my homework, turned things in on time, and looked over my notes before a test, I would have had nothing lower than a B.

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This simple statement, repeated in various ways by almost every student surveyed, is proof of just how little it would have taken to do better. The No. 1 reason for not putting forth such minimal effort? Laziness. Well, now it's going to be nothing but work to make up for what these students should have done in high school.

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Once I got behind and my grade began slipping, I couldn't fix it.

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Another typical comment, but one that's simply not true. It's almost never too late to "fix it" if a student is willing to put in the work. Most teachers hate to see a kid fail and will go to great lengths to help turn things around. On the other hand, if students continually make excuses ("As soon as softball season is over, I'll get things in"), teachers are far less inclined to go out on a limb for them.

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I now wish I'd taken some more challenging classes, but I didn't want to work that hard.

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This sad refrain showed up on more than half of the papers. No matter how often you tell a student that a B in an Advanced Placement class looks better than an A in a regular class, many tend to take the path of least resistance. No one is suggesting that students unrealistically push themselves beyond their capabilities, but taking a harder class in an area of strength is a good gamble. For one thing, one will be surrounded by motivated students, a worthwhile experience in itself. Second, kids don't necessarily do well in a class that's too easy. If they're surrounded by others who don't care, it's all too tempting to join the pack.

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No matter how much I wanted to do well in school, there was always a party to go to or someone to hang out with.

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Making their social life their top priority seems to have done in a lot of high school students. Again, no one expects teens to live a monastic existence, but there can be a balance. How much more fun would Magic Mountain be on Sunday if all the homework was completed on Saturday? It seems basic common sense to finish work before play, but no one seems to have pointed out the benefits of delayed gratification.

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Once I knew I could go to a community college no matter what my grades were, I basically quit trying.

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This frequent comment was particularly frustrating because it shows a misunderstanding of the nature of community colleges. Yes, there may be some "late bloomers" out there, but the sad fact is few students are. Slackers in high school simply become slackers at Orange Coast or Los Angeles Community College.

Setting one's sights high is never a mistake. It's called "keeping your options open." Few 14-year-olds can predict what they will want at 18. If a graduate has the grades to get into a four-year school but opts for community college, she's operating from a position of strength. This student is the one who finishes in two years flat and transfers to UCLA.

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I wish now that I'd had a plan for my future. I just sort of let things happen, figuring everything would work out somehow.

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Well, it didn't. The person who wrote this failed English and did not graduate with her class.

One of the defining differences between successful students and everyone else is their ability to visualize themselves in the future. They have a "game plan" and they stick to it. Even if they're not crazy about every class they have to take, they realize it's a means to an end. One fatalistic student even said, "I should have done a lot better, but I figure everything happens for a reason." Failing does not inevitably happen. It is the result of very specific decisions.

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A lot of the stress I went through in high school was my own fault. I was always trying to keep from getting a D in something.

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