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  • The Hand of Compassion
  • Happiness Begins with Rainbow Colors
  • Life Turning the Tables on Senioritis

The Hand of Compassion

Jacqueline was the epitome of a young girl full of life and energy. Butterflies covered her bedroom walls, a pink comforter adorned her canopy bed, and coloring books were scattered around her room. Her light-as-a-feather figure gracefully captured her free spirit as she danced around her Barbie playhouse. However, during a tea party with her dolls, Jacqueline’s fate changed with a single terrifying phone call. This bubbly, blue-eyed six-year-old would trade her golden locks, porcelain complexion, and strength for endless days of chemo and radiation treatments, forcing her to face the mirror and see the reflection of her opposite: a sad, lonely girl with sunken eyes and an intravenous line hooked into her arm. Nothing in the English language changes a child’s life like the six-letter word cancer.

An unfortunate series of many broken promises began with her parents’ assurance that everything would be okay; no shots, no pain, no worries. Each second felt like hours as their little angel was imprisoned in a sterilized room with equipment making rattling sounds and doctors wearing hygienic white coats. Whimpers of discomfort emanated from Jacqueline’s throat, sending the two people she trusted most to collapse into prayer, asking God for help. They waited alongside their fragile daughter, held her hand, and knew that as much as they wanted to scoop her up, take her into their arms, and release her suffering, they simply couldn’t.

The nausea and churning torture Jacqueline felt eventually weakened not only her physical state, but also stripped her vibrant personality. However, faith for a better tomorrow became a reality when a spark of hope illuminated the room in the form of a young volunteer. Jacqueline’s somber “I don’t think anyone knows I’m alive” attitude was erased the moment a red envelope was slipped into her tiny, fragile hands by a bubbly teenager with a contagious smile. Jacqueline eased her index finger through the seal and pulled out a fuzzy bear card that instantly transformed her into a wide-eyed girl with enough energy to bounce on her hospital cot while singing out loud.

As a volunteer, I spent countless hours at the age of fifteen strategizing my wins against Jacqueline in Monopoly while watching princess movies with butter-crusted popcorn fingers. Our connection evolved into a sisterhood where doctors, nurses and technicians referred to us as “joint-hearted sister queens.” During these roller coaster years – treatments, remission, relapse, more treatments – Jacqueline fought this deadly beast with an optimistic attitude knowing I was her greatest cheerleader.

Kids confined to a sterile setting suffer from the absence of interaction with others, which causes their condition to decline. Outside observers see a child with deep bruises, but they don’t see or understand the bruised heart that medication cannot heal. Doctors can’t prescribe love; it’s typically left to a volunteer to fill this prescription by restoring the patient’s dreams. Volunteering shouldn’t be another chore that needs to be checked off the to-do-list, but instead an opportunity to give time, energy, heart and spirit to someone in need. Children like Jacqueline all around the world can have the same spark of inspiration if we have more teens open to volunteerism.

Teenagers begrudge the desire to volunteer because schools have made it a requirement to complete seventy-five hours to graduate. Students don’t see volunteerism as an option because it has become another required form of involvement. Instead of fudging their volunteer hours, mumbling about not being paid, and walking into scenarios with a negative attitude, teens should consider the benefits earned from making a difference. Unwilling gestures of contribution will only harm the process of changing a crying, scared child into a happy, fun-loving kid. Teens need to realize this isn’t a race where whoever completes the most hours will receive an award and extra recognition on their resume. As volunteers, we have the ability to ease other individuals’ agony of pain and make their day brighter.

Devastating setbacks coupled with small victories is what transforms teenage volunteers into compassionate, humble young adults who understand the real meaning of living life to the fullest. Youthful volunteers can change the outlook of a dark situation by stepping into someone else’s shoes to learn their perspective. Showing concern for an issue is where the passion of curiosity mixed with giving allows students to get involved with people through volunteer organizations. Feeding the homeless, teaching at inner city schools, helping as an assistant sports captain or volunteering with children in the pediatric oncology unit are vital roles in making the community successful.

It has been two years since Jacqueline has been cancer-free. “Now, I see a rainbow, but what a storm it was – you never left my side,” she told me. Those crucial moments in the hospital gave me the courage to squeeze her sweaty palms, gaze into her eyes, and through silent communication show empathy that provided the security blanket of warmth and hope.

You never know where you’ll be tomorrow. Volunteer today to make an impact on someone’s life, and tomorrow someone else could be volunteering to help you.

Happiness Begins with Rainbow Colors

My mental preparation is at its peak, while I stressfully embark on the journey of a lifetime as ‘fresh meat’ on the uncharted campus of high school. Brain waves are thumping diligently knowing that my conscience has written a laundry list of items that will help me achieve the stardom of being the cool ‘it’ girl. Now it’s time to let my hair down, and play with the pro females upon entering this “dog-eat-dog world” where we fight to have the hippest clothes, best physique, inner wild tiger personality, drama queen attitude and most importantly, attract the turning heads of the opposite sex. This hard-core four-year experience was about me wanting to be the popular chick that receives an A+ in social life compared to the old me.

This strategic planning is going to be put to the test. I prepare my first step out of the car with my high heeled leopard-print shoes that match my brown lace leggings worn under a denim mini skirt, with the Hollister logo hanging out, while wearing a short cropped jacket over a plain cami. No reason to panic, I laid this outfit out three days before August 9, 2005 to make sure all my accessories and combinations fit the description of my new attitude. The “old me” cared about my education throughout elementary and middle school while the “new me” was so vulnerable to do anything no matter what the consequences were just so I can hang and be apart of the ‘it’ crowd. Then just my luck, traffic was a bear so I was dropped off in a rugged crumbling redbrick alley, which led to the main campus. My dad blatantly rolled down the window to say, “Have a nice day, honey.”

I mumbled under my breath, “Oh my gosh . . . did this forty year old aging bald headed man really admit to the universe that I was his biological daughter?” Every second seemed to be getting worse until I entered Chemistry. . . a.k.a tango for meeting smoking hot guys, but before rubbing off some of my Chanel perfume the bell rang for English. I rigorously focused on the assignment given to me by the upper gods who invented the ‘oh, so f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s flip phone’ to improve my short hand communication. My fingers fly like the wind using “LOL,” “TTYL,” and “ILU” to convey the importance of my network of ruling the schools fan club. The intensity of being the drama queen is extremely exhausting and takes constant planning to feed my inner senses. I wrote out topics that my clique could discuss the next day. Having the entire school rapped around my finger seemed amazing. Yet this “new me” was actually me portraying another character while I was living in my own body working tremendously hard to change my inner soul, intelligence level, outside appearance to fit the mold of popular. This week long affair was violently jolted by a morning that pierced an evil addiction of attention out of my blood stream forever.

One overcast morning, I was strutting my runway walk that inadvertently caused enormous blisters on the balls of my feet and dry callous skin to turn into raw flesh. As I quickly approached the bleak alley it resembled a spitting replica of a recyclable landfill littered with cigarettes, pipes, and plastic bags that added to the overwhelming stench of fumes burning my sleepy eyes. The more I worked the alley to my advantage I’d hear “Oohs” and “Awws” from lean-mean-muscle-making-men that contributed to me adding another skip into my step. From a quick glance, a sandy-blonde guy wearing a polo shirt, recognizable as the cultivator of the ‘it’ posse leaned against a filthy brick wall, while giving me a wink. Before I could read and develop the mixed signals I was receiving, he mumbled, “Do you want to buy some?”

My eagerness came out in a preppy high-pitched voice exclaiming “So are you selling skittles? What’s the fundraiser for? Is it for crew, football, basketball, the band or what? Well, skittles are my favorite candy because you can taste the rainbow! Just one bag of skittles for me.”

My elated interest carried my feet ten inches from his face where I saw stone cold piercing, red-veined eyes, but at that point nothing mattered because I was on “my babbling high” with a cute guy.

My elated interest carried my feet ten inches from his face where I saw stone cold piercing, red-veined eyes, but at that point nothing mattered because I was on “my babbling high” with a cute guy.

“Well, can I please see the stuff you’re selling before I buy it?” At this point the conversation was going downhill faster than a roller coaster. His enraging muscles flexed as he pulled out a bag and shoved it in my face.

“Well, can I please see the stuff you’re selling before I buy it?” At this point the conversation was going downhill faster than a roller coaster. His enraging muscles flexed as he pulled out a bag and shoved it in my face.

“Oh my gosh. NO! I say no to drugs. No, No and NO.”

“Chick, get your mother freaking butt off our turf. This is for the cool crowd and you don’t belong here!”

My heart sped up as if I was running a triathlon. At this moment, all I wanted was to run home, snuggle up in a pink blanket and read a book to escape the reality of my encounter. I knew I couldn’t act like a child so I started holding back my tears until I went to a bathroom stall and allowed them to drain out of my tear ducts. Spurts of snot, mascara and lip liner ran down my face and after a good cleansing of the soul I realized I couldn’t acknowledge who this train-wreck of a teen was. It didn’t resemble me.

This thirty second dialogue gave me the rude awakening that being cool by adapting the title Miss Wild Child is not worth jeopardizing my future ambitions, morals, or health. Most importantly, I don’t want to risk losing the image of being a role model citizen representing our youth of tomorrow. It felt as if a twig sized steel bolt went through my skull, making me unconscious. Jolts of memories came as snapshots reviving me to turn back into the girl next door that recently graduated from eighth grade with a passionate heart full of giving. That day dragged on and each time I saw my reflection or looked in a mirror I whispered with disgust, “Come on Kaitlyn, you’re better than this. You’re a leader who has the quirky personality that thrives on rules to help prove your independence and maturity. You need to STEP IT UP! . . . . Ok – it’s time to go to class for the first time as nerdy fourteen-year-old, Kaitlyn Anne Chana.”

From that day on, tossing round, colorful rainbow candies into my mouth has helped me reflect on how my life changed dramatically through the shades of the rainbow. In my elementary days, I was known for being the scrawny blonde student carrying an oversized Barbie backpack and eagerly saying hi to everyone. I was the girl who would get to class early so I could line up my pencils, crayons, and erasers on the right side of my desk and perfectly position my spelling homework in the center before the teacher wrote “Good Morning!” on the board. When she was instructing our lessons, my eyes would never leave her lips, while my ears hung on every word and I positioned my hand to lift off when a question darted into in my head. During recess, I took the initiative to clean the lens of my blue sphere glasses that mimic Harry Potter’s look, sharpen my pencils, and organize my desk so it looked pretty when I sat behind my name tag. These traits carried into my middle school years. I looked forward to class especially the end of the period when they assigned homework. That’s right, I enjoyed spending hours reading, studying, taking notes and working out math problems more than swimming in the pool or watching TV. Being a youngster that loved to fuel the brain with knowledge paid off when I got straight A’s on every report card throughout middle school. Students would pick on me; ultimately left scarring tissue on my heart which pushed me to hate “old Kaitlyn” and helped me to search for a noticeably “new me.” This drastic change came because all the hurt of not being accepted.

Now, I’m honored and proud of my dorky traits that define me. I’m thankful for the stuck up abrasive popular boy using negative verbiage that reminded me of why I want to follow my aspirations and never look back. Being embarrassed of what people say and speculate about me is so yesterday. All I care about is how I feel on the inside. I’m an independent, confident and self-disciplined young adult. The biggest gift is the gift of realization, which happens to come in a finger sized cinnamon red bag that tears open to the colors of the rainbow.

Turning the Tables on Senioritis

The year of celebrating a student’s departure ends with high school seniors throwing graduation caps into the air. Before this life-changing ceremony takes place seniors sit through 180 school days so teachers can prepare them for college. Even though this is the case, most teachers need a few lessons of their own before mandating the classroom with assignments. Peers are counting down the minutes to scurry out of planted desks while teachers wrestle with giving instructions that orchestrate pointless class activity. High school senior year is not preparing students for college; the curriculum and regulation policies need to mimic classrooms in a ‘Junior College’ setting, which prepares students for college readiness.

Administration should introduce contemporary concepts, which give key components to help seniors’ transition into an easier academic college life. This issue is not establishing a new trend; instead it is an updated format that resembles what high school seniors need to learn. Senioritis should be yesterday’s issue, as a new “Senior High School-Jr. College” should include changes that prepare students to be ready for university curriculum. Chait and Venezia states, “About 83 percent of high school graduates enroll in some form of postsecondary education, but only about 52 percent of students complete their freshman semester” (Chait and Venezia 2). This is evident that the current philosophy is inadequate and has not provided the developmental skills expected from an incoming college freshman. Teachers are setting up students to fail by allowing their senior year to be relaxed with less structure. Having collaboration, collegiality and adaptation needs to be stringent within the classroom to achieve success. Students perceive school as a series of brick walls for them to come in; some of the walls are mental barriers, others are lack of knowledge, but the end result is having teachers fix these gaps through irrefutable teaching by incorporating a new curriculum (Burke 174).

Having a new curriculum and instructional strategies will give numerous educational reforms that will improve student’s skills for college. Although this means a change in content, educators will have a diverse and current portfolio full of clever tools that can improve the classroom operations. Here is a snippet from an experience I encountered with my English teacher. She allocated a group project where we did a presentation that consisted of an elaborate scene of The Kite Runner using quotes, pictures and symbolization. This assignment should have easily taken two hours, which included a 3-D poster board, but she gave us a full week to ‘diagnose’ the writing and two days for the class to present. This task shows, participants not using their intellect to further their knowledge instead seniors are chilling in class with their friends. This defined problem is the stem of common obstacles and shortcoming of how educators need to refocus by using new adaptations in rigorous academic standards.

School management needs to take the initiative to plan and prepare students by having their senior year be equivalent to “Junior College.” In fact, advising teachers to take inserves at local universities will help fuel their mind with compound expectations of what professors are seeking. Sparks and Hirsh declares, “that each plan must include a vision statement, needs assessment, goals, a training plan, follow-up activities, a mid-year progress check, an evaluation component and an end-of the year feed back process.” (Sparks and Hirsh 24). This boot camp for teachers will allow them to return to their classrooms with constructive skills to implement and create a successful atmosphere for students.

Regardless of one’s views on regulation policies in the classroom, the issue of high school seniors not being prepared for college demands attention. I believe we need to add a syllabus that allows students to be fully aware of teacher’s expectations into the curriculum. This will confirm their scheduled plans so students don’t veer off the path with alarming excuses. Stepping up the intensity level of rigorous course work is a must because students need to learn how to focus in class through active hands on discussions, assignments, Power Points, and notes. Due to these complicated materials, which replace busy work, we need to strive for longer class periods. Having 45 minutes to be in an intense learning mode will not push the students critical thinking to greater depth. Altering the agenda to allow classes to follow a block schedule of 90 minutes will have teachers creating a similar college atmosphere while simultaneously watching seniors develop into incoming undergraduates. This work in progress of tightening schools standards will improve student’s educational practices.

During the course of my study, I realized the importance of having educators teach basic skills on how to take notes. As a graduated senior, I never took notes because my teachers gave handouts that covered the subject in detail. It didn’t require me to lift my pen. This vital skill of how to write the overall concept from Power Points, lectures or textbooks is the surviving tool for college readiness. Considering the senior year as a Junior College sets the core foundation of how students will stop summarizing articles and begin annotating materials. Inferring the meaning through similes, metaphors and comparisons will demonstrate comprehension and application of knowledge. Learning tools such as these nested components will improve personal enhancement to studying for exams.

Based on statics, by Neal McCluskey, of CATO Institute, he accounted for, “31 percent of recent graduates had to take at least one remedial college course” (McCluskey 1). The preceding evidence illustrates that students do not know the components of how to prepare for five exams that configure their grade. Learning mechanisms that teach students how to study for large consumptions of materials will release some stress and anxiety. This policy is abrasive, but sternness is key when preparing seniors for college reality.

My research shows that a free invigorating atmosphere where students are treated as adults through extra privileges creates an inviting hospitable environment that is trustworthy. Being looked upon as a human with feelings, emotions and intelligence rather than a robot that mechanically maneuvers around releases positive energy. During college discussions, students do not raise their hands to speak they express their opinions openly with no interruptions. In a university setting, there is no such thing as hall passes that bound students to a limited number of minutes out of the classroom. The freedom to leave discreetly and enter when finished is your personal business. This eliminates the holding hand effect, which in turn allows students to have the capability to react and think on their own without guidance.

Critics say as incoming freshman they are responsible for learning the required assignments even though some of their misunderstanding will inevitably turn into failures with a promising lesson. Receiving a higher education enables students to stretch themselves by gauging their limits and experiencing the true definition of responsibility. (The state of being accountable or answerable.) For example, on Monday if your professor assigns the course work for the week then it’s your job to complete each task without being reminded on a daily basis. No late work is acceptable. This course of action needs to be refined in high schools so students take the responsibility upon themselves instead of relying on teachers. Having this freedom is enlightening, but young adults entering the college arena need to make sure they understand that they’re the ones at fault for their actions.

In a general sense, Boiarsky explains, “learning to learn means that students can enter a classroom and regardless of the teacher’s style or subject matter being taught, students will know how to select appropriate strategies to understand the course content sufficiently to discuss, read and write about it” (Boiarsky 25) If we accept the findings of linguists then we can realize that having senior year turned into a Jr. College will allow an easier transition. By the time students enroll they are expected to recognize the strategies, heuristics, attitudes and knowledge that enable them to take responsibility for improving their higher education. (Boiarsky 26).

The fact remains that teachers of high school seniors have not done an adequate job of preparing students for the overt, instruction given by professors. According to these sources, I have found that this new approach will make the academic transition to college a great one. Structured curriculums in high schools allude to a Junior College atmosphere will navigate students to progress successfully into an adult with a degree.

As justification for others viewers who think the connection to unpreparedness stems from students not wanting to physically do school work. If we accept this argument, then are we saying high school seniors want to fail: have no future job, no active connection to the community, no relationships and have no sense of identity? Well this may be a case for a small percentage, but expert McCluskey says, “eight-one percent of graduates endorse the idea of having a harder curriculum that would alleviate the problem of inadequately prepared freshman” (McCluskey 3). Yet in our debate we will still have people disagreeing, but it is vital to have an effective administration working to enhance school regulations.

The ability to have teachers redesign the senior year of high school to better train students properly for the upcoming college experience is an extremely hard task. Using effective programs that give systematic and ongoing attention to eliminate learning gaps for students will result in better outcomes. Having the objective to involve students in thinking about the over all picture other than about each lesson will increase the high school readiness for college.

I found the proper way to improve high school readiness is through administration. Adjusting the curriculum and policies for seniors by mimicking a college setting and having senior year become known, as junior college is the way to introduce the next steps to higher education. The current decline in preparation is geared towards old strategies not being efficient. If teachers learn how to redefine the classroom agenda then students will be prepared to conquer the college curriculum.