Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Academic Failures at Lakeland

Notice: This entry is aimed at the students of Lakeland Jr/Sr High School in Jermyn, Pennsylvania. Most of the advice issued in this entry may not apply to other schools that have different curricula. However, it may still help, so please do not be turned off from reading this just because you do not fit into the main audience aim. 

Many students take education for granted. These students survive in school by taking steps to undermine any advances in their learning, such as copying homework, getting questions/answers from a test in advance, etc. However, there are the students who do want to succeed by putting in their best personal effort needed in order to get the most of their learned education. I wish to write up an informal guide to lead these specific students into the right direction and I hope to intervene early enough in their educational career to be of vital influence before it's too late. If you barely pass in ninth and tenth grade and hope to improve your overall GPA so that colleges will come begging you to go to their universities, then think again. You're doomed. I'm not going to be a lying optimistic and say otherwise. You need to start strong from the start and even surprise yourself. A lot of what I hope to tell you (unless that headache that has been sickening me for the last few days hinders this writing process) has probably already been issued forth from teachers, guidance counselors, and possibly even the administration, but I believe that hearing this from a fellow student, a high school senior that is in the top 1% of his graduating class in rank, would mean a lot more to you. Those guys may like to shoot the bull with you, but I'm going to be as frank as possible. 

Lakeland does not have a middle school. Sixth graders stay at their respective local elementary schools (as Lakeland has two) while the seventh and eighth graders enter the facility that also houses ninth to twelfth grade students and moldy ceiling tiles. Before I continue, I would like to disclose that anything I say past this point may no longer apply as I am recalling all of this from memory and not from today's actual classes since a lot has changed over the years that I had attended Lakeland, such as teachers coming and going. Also, I'm going to assume that you're a student that is in all of the advanced classes (besides AP English and AP biology -- as the former is a joke in terms of the teaching and the latter is a very rigorous class that ones with weak hearts should not take . . . and well, you won't have to take these until senior year so this really won't apply to anything I have to say anyway). 

Seventh grade is a very important, but overlooked, year of schooling. Seventh grade offers classes that will build the foundations for the rest of your high school and even college learning, such as pre-algebra and . . . well, that's pretty much it. However, this does not mean that geography is not important! What I meant by building the foundations is that you're going to learn more on the subject matter and build onto it. Pre-algebra is just the beginning in your math career. Solving for the variable 'x' may seem difficult at first and the concept of negative numbers may blow you out of the water, but you can do it! Once you're in AP calculus, algebra will be as simple as basic arithmetic. However, yet again, I must exclaim that geography is a very crucial class to pay attention in and to learn the material! I am ashamed that I took this class for granted at the time. It's embarrassing when you don't know the capitals to the states of the US, or where Portugal is in respect to Germany. It's embarrassing to some who study a foreign language and cannot identify the mother nation of their second language on an unlabeled map. It's embarrassing studying world cultures or American history and not having a clue what's going on in the context of some war because you cannot visualize the distance one army traveled to fight another. Even though none of this happened to me as I developed a keen interest in maps over the years, I cannot stress enough that you should freaking pay attention in geography! Most seventh graders are too young and naive to understand that things they are learning now are important for their future education and understanding of concepts!

Continuing in my ranting about seventh grade, you may ask me, "Well, what about the other classes like reading, English, science, art, music, etc.?" While you have to take English every year of your life in high school, seventh grade English, from what I remember, may be the most important of them all. Actually, any English class that is more based on grammar rather than literature is very important in my book. While it is vital to read and learn about the various types of literature and literary topics, I can't stress enough that you'll be writing for the rest of your life, and knowing how to write will make writing that much more easier. I probably have more than a handful of grammar errors in this entry and every entry I ever wrote because I took these grammar lessons, yet again, for granted. Over the years I have purchased an array of grammar books to reteach myself the fine points of English grammar, yet I never finished one so . . . anyway, what I'm trying to say is: pay attention and learn grammar when you're forced to in class! Even if the teacher tries to poke in literature, such as the overrated and I'm-sick-of-seeing-this-year-after-year story of the Odyssey, you shouldn't turn off your pay-attention button as whatever you learn this early on in the game will surely shape your future educational career. 

What about seventh grade science? Well, we had earth science (or something like that) at the time. The teacher was a babbling buffoon that would rather give lectures to us on the late Pope and varieties of pickles than to teach us about earth science. This class is sort of a prelude to biology, which is taken in tenth grade, but since the gap from seventh to tenth is so large, don't stress about retaining the material. Science at Lakeland is hard to build upon, because once you build a foundation, there's no more raw materials being supplied for the rest of the building until a much later year. Even the gap from pre-chemistry in ninth grade and AP chemistry in eleventh grade hurts. So in terms of science, just do it. Learn it if you have an interest in it or you plan on majoring in it, but otherwise, do it, get A's, and run. 

Reading class? This class stressed on reading books and learning vocabulary. Maybe this class exists so that English can focus more on grammar than on literature? Who knows? What I do know, however, is that this class is another joke. I do agree on two things that this class does preach -- read a lot and learn vocabulary. If you're not a reader, then become a reader. The SAT has a reading, writing, and math section, with the writing section barely considered at most colleges nowadays (yet this may change by the time you're applying for schools). The reading section tests you mostly on reading passages and answering analytical questions based on them, and answering questions that could only be answered by understanding the words that they ask you to place in the blank or do something else with. Therefore, by reading and exposing yourself to words and how they fit in with the context of one another, you are actually studying for the SAT. Now . . . the school will stress at first that you should read to do well on the PSSA. The PSSA is a joke, in a sense, as the school wants you to do well on it because it makes the school look good and they receive some sums of money based on your test scores. Do well on the PSSA in eleventh grade, however, as getting 'advanced' scores on the respective test sections can get you exempt from taking any English, math, and/or science midterms and finals -- Lakeland's treat to you for doing well for their prestige. However, the SAT is for your own personal benefit. When it comes down to getting $2,000 more dollars in scholarship money at a university by getting ten more points on the SAT than what your current score is, then you'll understand why you should've put more time in preparing for these tests. Preparing for the tests the same year that you take them is, considered to me, cramming, and you probably won't do as well as you could've if you started off on the right foot all the way back to seventh grade or even elementary school. Yet again, I'm ashamed at myself for not doing this. However, I'm grateful that I was able to get a 1200 on the SAT which led me to be eligible for more scholarship money at the University of Scranton. 

Art and music? Never took them again after seventh grade, unless you count the course 'Music Appreciation' that I undertook in ninth grade which, may I add, was an easy 100 for the year and looked nice on my report card with my other 100's. I understand that there's more courses now such as a computer class and a library class for seventh graders, but those classes came along after I moved on from seventh grade and therefore I have no comment on them. 

Eighth grade? I don't recall much. There was American history. Pay attention in there -- knowing about your nation's history is a very important part to being an American citizen. There are aliens who want to become legal US citizens and must past questions on tests that question them on our nation's history. Another thing students, including myself, took for granted! Yet again you had your English and algebra. Um . . . that's all I want to stress for eighth grade. 

Ninth grade is where your record begins. The grades you got in all the previous years of your schooling no longer apply. It's like a fresh start, but don't screw it up! Many students think they tried hard and did great the last two years so they're going to slack a bit. Ninth grade is where you want to actually start playing the game. When you're a senior sending out your transcript to colleges during the applying process, your ninth grade grades will be on that transcript and looked at by the admissions personnel. Actually, surprise yourself. Try hard and do well and then waltz down to the guidance office two weeks after the second marking period starts and see what your class rank is. I remember going down to see what my ranking was with a group of other people without knowing what this ranking really was -- I was just following my friends for a walk. Upon requesting what rank I was, and to find to my surprise that I was ranked first in my class, a ranking that I still hold to this day, I was shocked. I didn't try that hard in school and to me I felt like I was barely getting by, but here I had this lady at the desk in the guidance office telling me that I was numero uno. So . . . the moral of the story is: strive for excellence and beat everybody else in ranking as it opens up the door for scholarship money and college acceptances. 

I'm done here. If I were to cover the latter years I'd just be repeating myself. However, I do want to stress one final thing: pay attention in geometry! Geometry was my most hated class and I struggled in it to understand the concepts; concepts that I soon forgot the summer following ninth grade. Geometry will come back to haunt you for the rest of your life. When you're doing a derivative problem in AP calculus and it assumes you should know the equation for the area of a circle, you better darn well know the equation for the area of a circle. Geometry will also haunt you in physics. Also, pay attention to trigonometry. Yet again, this will nibble at your behind a lot in calculus and physics. 

Now I'm done here. I hope this column helped you in some way. Have a good day and enjoy learning! 

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