August 10, 2007

An insider’s guide for this year’s freshman class

By John Shaughnessy

Call it “An Insider’s Guide to Helping Freshmen Make the Most of Their Catholic High School Experience.”

With the help of three young people who have taken a

well-rounded approach to high school, here is a list of tips for incoming freshmen—or any high school student—to enhance these four years of their lives.

Get involved— “Find something you’re interested in, something you love, and go for that,” says Elisabeth Patterson, a 2007 graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

Elisabeth played lacrosse, played guitar at school liturgies, helped with a dance marathon to raise money for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, and helped lead the school’s chapter of Invisible Children, a group dedicated to helping children in Africa.

“You’ll find people who have the same interests as you. That will help you make strong relationships for your four years.”

Set goals—Set goals for yourself each day,” says John Okerson, a senior at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis.

John uses that approach both in his sports and his studies. He’s a member of the school’s football team, basketball team, National Honor Society and Promise to Keep, an archdiocesan peer mentor program that promotes chastity.

He’s learned that setting daily goals has helped with his long-term dreams.

“With sports, it’s hard to get through the practices sometimes, so you need to set goals if you want to play.”

Schedule your time—During high school, Kristin Mooney always wanted to watch her favorite television show, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

She also wanted to see as many of her school’s sporting events as possible. Plus, she played softball, participated in musicals and worked part time at an

after-school daycare center.

“It’s hard, but you can be social and successful at the same time,” says Kristin, the

co-valedictorian of the Class of 2007 at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville. “You have to set time to do it. I planned how much time I needed to study. Sometimes, I stayed up [until] two in the morning to study for tests. Sometimes, you just have to do it.”

See the value in school Masses—We have school Masses, and I sometimes feel like I’ve taken them for granted,” John says. “They’re a good part of school. They’re a good time to get your worries out. Take advantage of them. It’s an important part of getting through high school.”

Make time to meet new people— Most people know that the start of freshman year is a time when students are quietly—and sometimes desperately—trying to make connections with others to help them through what can be a difficult transition. So the thought of extending themselves even further to unfamiliar people can be intimidating. Yet that’s what these three advisers recommend.

“Meet a few people every day,” Elisabeth suggests. “By senior year, everyone learns that they should meet more people and become friends with more people. If they meet the people now, they might not have the regrets later.”

Realize the importance of a good beginning—Those first weeks of school are important,” John says. “It [schoolwork] all builds on what has come before. If you don’t pay attention in the beginning, you’re not going to know what’s going on in the end.”

If a student does fall behind, John recommends seeking help from the teacher. He also suggests developing good study habits early in high school.

“All through grade school, it was easy for me. When I came to high school, it was different. You have to develop your study methods. If you don’t, it will come back to get you.”

Take advantage of retreats—A lot of people don’t see the value of retreats until their junior or senior years,” Elisabeth says. “I didn’t take full advantage of them until my junior year. I got to know myself better with God. Before, my faith was personal. With retreats, it opened my faith to a more community feel.”

Open yourself to new possibilities— “You shouldn’t care what other people think,” Kristin says. “You shouldn’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to open up. There’s something about being at a Catholic school. You always have someone to talk to. We were such a community. Everyone was backing each other up. You could see God in the school and the people.” †

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