Making The Most Of High School: Tips From Administrators, Teachers And Students

Share this:

The first day of high school can be a daunting prospect for rising ninth graders. A bigger school with more people, faster-paced instruction, and a seemingly overwhelming array of extracurricular activities are a few of the main ways that high school differs from middle school. Here are some tips from local administrators, teachers, and high school students and alumni to help you make the most of your high school experience from day one!

Start Strong. One of the biggest adjustments for students starting the ninth grade at Independence, says Assistant Principal Michael Stallsworth, is the pace of instruction. Most high school classes are a semester long as opposed to middle school classes, which run for the whole school year. “If you start ahead of the game, you’ll stay ahead of the game. Don’t play catch up,” says Stallsworth.

Stallsworth’s advice is echoed by many local teachers. “Make sure to ask questions and go to tutoring early,” says Jennifer Kant, a science teacher at Charlotte Engineering Early College. “Don’t wait to fall behind. Teachers really appreciate it, and you will not regret it.” “The first semester is what everything else is based on,” adds Queen’s Grant High School’s Drama Teacher Elizabeth Mills.

Get Oriented. When you’re entering a new and bigger school for the first time, “knowing what the school looks like so you don’t get lost” is key, says local high schooler, Noelle. See if your high school has a program where you can explore the school before the first day. Independence High School, for example, offers the “Patriot Lifeline” where incoming freshmen can tour the school in groups led by current students. “It gets you that familiarity with the building,” says Stallsworth. “You know what you’re walking into on the first day.”

Get Involved. Another thing that sets high school apart from middle school is the wealth of extracurricular activities available to students. “We have so many different clubs at the high school level,” says Stallsworth. “There’s always an athletic event going on at the school, most times multiple athletic events.”

Queen’s Grant High School graduate Julia Thompson encourages current students to take advantage of the clubs and sports offered by your school, pointing out that not only are these opportunities free but they also give you an opportunity to make valuable connections. “It will give you social variety and talk to different people,” says Thompson. “Networking is major, even if it is with your peers! You could be working in a professional environment right next to them some day.”

Don’t Overcommit. Getting involved is important, but it’s also important to have a manageable schedule tailored to your own interests. “There’s a fallacy that the more things you do the more attractive your resume is to colleges, which isn’t the case,” says Providence High School teacher Nicole Jenkins. “Choose a couple of things you love and be committed and develop with those things.”

“I would say to join clubs that you are passionate about – not just what might look good on your transcript,” says Kant, who recalls meeting all of her best high school friends through clubs. “Make sure you actually enjoy what you’re spending your time doing,” urges local high schooler, Maria.

Consider your class schedule carefully.
Early on in high school, you’re likely to have little choice about what classes you take as your schedule is filled with required core classes. But as you move through high school and fulfill the state’s requirements, you’re likely to have more time in your schedule to choose electives. “Take classes that are going to better and further your college education, not just what your friends are taking,” says Queen’s Grant graduate Marina Geyer. “It will help you in the long run.”

Jenkins encourages students to avoid taking too many advanced placement classes. “Take manageable classes,” says Jenkins. “If you don’t love math and plan on being in a math field, why are you taking AP Calc?” Queen’s Grant graduate Katie Hammer recommends finding a language you love and sticking with in high school, “I know it’s difficult to focus on languages in high school, but just a little practice every day will help with your marketability later in life,” she says.

Get organized. “For students entering high school for the first time, time management and organization are the keys to success,” says Queen’s Grant Assistant Principal Mary Rose Ramsey. “After spending all day in classes, it is easy to go home and leave homework undone. Schedule yourself at least an hour nightly for studying and homework.”

“Planners and being organized is key!” says Maria, who recommends keeping a folder in your book bag for extra notebook paper and important papers. “Clean out your book bag at the beginning of every quarter because it gets to be overwhelming when you can’t find anything and all of your pencils are at the bottom of your bag.”

Ask Questions. Your teachers are there to help, but remember that your success ultimately depends on you. “If you find yourself struggling to keep up or understand the material, talk with your teachers,” says Ramsey. “They are usually more than willing to spend extra time outside of class with you to ensure that you achieve your best.”

“It’s OK to ask questions, it’s OK to ask for help,” says Stallsworth. “We want kids to be successful. We have great teachers at the school. Talk to them. They’ll support you, they’ll provide tutoring. Whatever you need.”

“Be critical and do not just take everything at face value,” says Queen’s Grant graduate Parks Sadler, who feels it’s essential to prepare early for the critical thinking you’ll be expected to do in college. “Do your own research outside of class and come back to the teacher with more questions and topics to discuss.”

High school can be tough, and sometimes you’ll need support that isn’t just academic. “Get to know your counselor and the librarian, and make a connection with another teacher you trust who can help you when the going gets tough,” says Jenkins. “You will have stressful days. Finding the people who can help you approach that stress in a healthy way is essential.”

Don’t stress. Remember that every incoming ninth grader is feeling self-conscious and worried, and Hollywood-perpetuated ideas of upperclassmen stuffing freshmen in lockers are largely myths. “Just do the best you can, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be the best at everything,” says Queen’s Grant graduate Paige Rabinowitz. “Just be yourself,” says Queen’s Grant graduate Courtney Hefner. “People will love you for being you. No need to do outlandish acts to try and fit in.”

Mistakes will happen. “It’s OK to make mistakes – even a lot of mistakes – if we learn in the process,” says English teacher Susan Hopkins. “Failure will happen,” adds Jenkins. “You will live.”

Perhaps Queen’s Grant graduate Hayden love sums it up best: “Everything works out in the end, and you’ll look back one day and wish you were a careless ninth grader, so enjoy every moment!”

Share this:

Previous articleThe Blood Test Your Doctor Should Run, But Rarely Does
Next articleSet Children Up For Academic Success
Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: