The college application season is fully underway and seniors across the country are madly collecting recommendations, gathering information about schools, and crafting essays about the meaning of life. As anyone who has been through an application process knows, it is an intensely personal and humbling whirlwind of an experience.
Amidst this mad dash, a process given an almost insane amount of weight – will their location at age nineteen, in fact, be the most important determinant of all future trajectories? really? – they almost certainly have a few other things going on. They probably are attending school, doing homework and classwork, and possibly taking one or more honors or AP classes. They might have extracurricular activities, such as music, sports, art, or spiritual study. I hope they have family responsibilities and are, at the very least, responsible for making their bed and washing a few dishes. Given that they are adolescent, they are doubtless spending a significant portion of their time thinking about friends, relationships, and themselves.
No wonder they sometimes look dazed. As a teacher who has spent many years offering a temporary refuge to overwhelmed seniors, I offer the following ideas about supporting your neighborhood senior over the next few months.
- If possible, let them be. Offer a comfortable seat and, better yet, food and then let them be. There are very few places where they can simply and quietly breath for a few minutes.
- Keep toys handy. Slinkys, yo-yos, bouncy balls, wind-up toys, marble ramps . . . any toy that can allow the student to become legitimately lost for a few minutes.
- When they seem open to talking, ask them how they are. Then listen.
- Offer a laugh. If like me, your own jokes have been, ahem, called into question, I recommend keeping props. My stack of Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Deep Thoughts books have been so well loved over the years that many have had to be replaced. There is something magical about seeing an anxious-looking senior pick up a comic book and begin laughing out loud.
- If you are extremely lucky, and the senior offers you a chance to ask questions, ask good questions. Resist any urge to ask where they are applying – they are turning this question over in their head and with their college counselor ad nauseam. Instead, take them by surprise and ask something like:
- What survival skill do you think you might need to master before next year – laundry? Biking with a full backpack? Living with snow/humidity/rain?
- If you could only take one book with you next year – what would it be?
- What change are you most looking forward to next year?
- What are you most apprehensive or unsure about?
- It is your tenth high school reunion – who do you run into that you wish you had stayed in touch with? (Side note: this one always draws a laugh and, “Whoa! I’ll be, like, SO old!”)
On behalf of the class of 2013, I urge you to practice patience. Help the seniors you know to take a moment to relax and take a load off. Then, after a few minutes, gently ask them one more time to pick up their dirty socks and finish their work and get in bed. As Calvin points out, “Sometimes it seems things go by too quickly. We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take the time to enjoy where we are.”— The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
Stephanie Rafanelli is both a school coach and a parent education facilitator for Challenge Success. Stephanie has been a middle school science and math teacher for nineteen years. In addition to almost two decades in the classroom, she has served as department chair, both academic and also grade level Dean, a parent and faculty educator, and a leader of curriculum reform. She has founded and run several summer and afterschool programs such as Sally Ride Science Camp for Girls and Menlo Summer Explorations. Stephanie is an educational consultant for multiple organizations. When she is not thinking about education, Stephanie is usually creating chaos with her three children.