August 11, 2023

‘God is calling you to greatness!’ and other tips for high school students

By John Shaughnessy

Joe Hansen has had a close look at the Catholic high school experience in the archdiocese from

two perspectives—as the father of three graduates and as a former principal of one of the 12 Catholic high schools in central and southern Indiana.

In the past nine years, Hansen and his wife Gina have savored the high school experiences of their three sons—Sam, Tommy and Luke—at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

In his 26 years as an educator, Hansen served as principal of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis from 2017 to 2022.

During that time, he was chosen as the archdiocese’s principal of the year in 2021 and its nominee for the “Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award” from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), for his dedication and commitment to excellence in Catholic education.

Now as an assistant superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, Hansen was asked by The Criterion to share some advice for high school students and their parents to make the most of the new school year. Here are his insights:

Best advice for students:

Show up.

“I used to remind students that the first step in a quality education is simply showing up,” Hansen says. “Research has proven a connection between attendance and academic success. Additionally, students need to believe that they are a vital part of the classroom culture and that their attendance and participation will enhance the learning experience for everybody.” 

Get connected.

“Join a sport, a club or participate in some sort of fine arts activity. Connecting with these opportunities early on is a great way to meet new friends and develop social skills and time management skills.”

Grow in your faith.

“High school can be difficult, but I promise you that God is with you every step of the way. Make time for prayer. Attend Mass. Keep the sacraments close, and ask God to use you. If you trust God and work hard, great things will happen. God is real. He wants to use you to do great things.”  

Lean into struggle.

“Struggles are inevitable, yet an important part of life. When we struggle, we grow. Leaning into struggle doesn’t mean to overwhelm yourself. It means that you should accept difficult tasks as opportunities to grow and get better.”

Show some school spirit!

“Each one of our Catholic high schools has a beautiful and unique history. Be proud that you are now a part of this history. Go to games, events and dances. Have fun making memories that you will cherish for a lifetime.”

Best advice for parents:

Encourage your child to get involved.

“From day one, encourage your child to get connected,” Hansen says. “If you are looking for opportunities, search school websites, newsletters and back-to-school meetings for information. All of our high schools offer great ways to explore sports, fine arts, clubs and many other options. Connected teens are much happier.”

Go to Mass.

“Sunday is a day of thanksgiving. Encourage your child to honor the holy obligation of Mass. If you’re non-Catholic, go to church each Sunday. If your family sets aside time to worship together each week, I promise your blessings will be abundant.”

Enthusiastically support the adults at your child’s high school.

“Our Catholic school teachers, instructional assistants, administrators, campus ministers, cafeteria workers, coaches, secretaries and support staff keep the ship moving smoothly even during the most challenging times. Get to know these fine people. Believe that they want to help your child to succeed and that they are on your side. Stay united.”

Encourage your child to ask for help.

“It is important for high schoolers to realize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. Teachers become teachers because they want to help. Explain to your child that learning to advocate for themselves is a life skill that will pay dividends forever.”

Encourage your child to dedicate time to prayer and silence.

“We live in a chaotic world, and sometimes it is hard to hear God’s voice. Challenge your child to put down their phone and dedicate some time to silence and prayer each day so that they can hear God’s voice and discern what he is asking them to do. God is calling your child to greatness—believe this!” †

Related: Tips for grade school students, parents

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