By Patrick O'Connor
They call these the lost weeks in high school, the three weeks between Thanksgiving recess and December break where learning is supposed to be going on, where teachers are wondering why Thanksgiving break couldn’t be five weeks long, and students are hoping for the first snow day of the year. Yes, classes are still meeting, and homework is still being done; it’s just a little harder to concentrate right now, while everyone is choosing sides on the musical quality of Justin Bieber’s holiday song.
School counselors know better than to weigh in on the musical tastes of their students, but we need to be alert to make sure our students know how important these next weeks really are. A quick flip of the calendar at a high school on semesters shows students have one or two weeks in January before the semester ends; since most of that time is spent reviewing material, the time to take your grade to the next level is now.
The same is just as true for students on a trimester schedule. Chances are the first trimester just ended around Thanksgiving, so it would be easy to view these three weeks as the “warm up” for the second trimester. But anyone who’s been a student on a trimester schedule will tell you there is no such thing as a warm up period; you turn the academic switch on and keep it wide open for twelve intense weeks. Coming back from December Break ready to learn is great, but students cruising through these first three weeks will come back to find 25% of their grade cast in stone—and nothing in Santa’s bag is going to change that.
Counselors need to make sure students are focusing on the tasks at hand this holiday season, and they can do so in three simple steps:
1. Increase your CBWA time. Counselors may be trained to do private sessions over long periods of time, but this time of year requires us to be in the hallways and in the cafeteria, checking in with students and saying the right word or two that will keep them on track. Counseling By Wandering Around is a great way to get students to remember why they’re in school any time, but especially now.
2. Offer more study skills workshops. Students in semester schools will need some pointers on how to prepare for upcoming finals; students in trimester schools will need a reminder of how to make sense out of the first few weeks of the new term. Either way, counselor-led study skills workshops can help students hear about the importance of studying from a new voice; this is even more powerful if counselors team up with teachers to present them in class, but workshops during and after school can go a long way as well.
3. Touch base with your seniors. Since many colleges have a January 1 application deadline, it’s easy for seniors to get so caught up in writing the perfect essay that they end up with first semester grades that are far from perfect—and they need to remember that grades come first. Seniors may need encouragement to put the essays aside until vacation, and keep up with daily assignments, since homework plays a big part in all class grades. It’s also important to make sure seniors are entering their last high school holidays with a bright attitude; get out there and be seen among your seniors, and offer support where you can.