High School Survival Guide
How to successfully get through high school!
High school is an exciting but challenging time for many people. Teenagers are experiencing puberty, relationship problems, family issues, a new environment, obnoxious teachers, lots of homework and assignments to complete, and work problems. That is a lot for a teenager to handle at one time.
For me, high school was a very rewarding but extremely rough experience for me. I attended Weston Collegiate Institute, which is a public high school in Toronto, Ontario. It is located in the Weston Road and Lawrence area, which is a low-income and multicultural neighbourhood in Toronto. Many of the students that attended Weston Collegiate Institute came from marginalized families, so there were many services such as free counselling, breakfast programs and an opportunity for underprivileged students to receive a lunch voucher. Many of these things are novel experiences that not many high schools provide for students. Since many of the students came from South Asian, Asian, Caribbean, African and Hispanic cultures, I also had the amazing opportunity to build friendships and network with students from around the world. Many of my friends and acquaintances came from Somalia, The Carribean, Nigeria, Ghana, Vietnam, Korea, India, El Salvador, Pakistan, Syria, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Turkey, so I really enjoyed the multicultural aspect of my high school.
I took many interesting courses and did academically well in the majority of them. However, there was the odd course that I did not succeed in. That did not stop me from getting the Honours Roll in Grade 10 and receiving subject-related awards for the English, Geography, and Social Sciences courses I took. I always went to class, whether I liked it or not. I was never one of those "bratty kids" that would hang out in the washroom during class, or smoke on school property. Many of my friends were geeky and intellectual. I never got in serious trouble with the principal and my teachers. I had my moments in which I did not always make the best choices, but they were never severe enough to get me suspended or expelled.
I got bullied by this low-income clique of girls that were in the same art class as me. They would pick on me in the washroom, beat me up, and call me vile and pejorative names. I was the one who was always determined to succeed and made sure that I was with the right kind of people. They were the ones who received the most discipline. Eventually, my mom got one of the girls expelled after she threw wet toilet paper in my face and laughed at me while I was in the restroom. Those terrifying and disturbing experiences did not stop me from going to class, getting good grades, being with my friends, going to the library, and attending clubs. It did affect my mental health over time, but I was strong enough to go to school every day.
For anybody who is starting high school or is currently in high school, I have some smart ways for you to successfully complete this important chapter of your life!
1. Always go to class
Nobody likes to be forced to go to class and listen to a teacher talk for an hour. Nobody likes to be forced to read a textbook and get told they cannot be on their phones or laptops playing Candy Crush Saga or Tetris in class. There are going to be some classes that you will love to death, some that you will simply like, and some that you will hate for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, there will also be classmates and teachers that you will adore, like and abhor. But hey, that is the start of the real world!
The best thing to get through this is, go to class! Whether you like the class or not, it is better to face it than avoid it. Skipping class will just worsen things, not ameliorate things. You will have to redo certain assignments, retake the class if you failed, and it can even lead to suspension or expulsion. There were days when I wanted to skip class and go to the library. But, I had the ability to tell myself that I would rather force myself than to face the ramifications later on. A great way for you to force yourself is to tell yourself that it will be over before you know it!
2. Pick your battles
Interesting and typical teenage activities such as dating, partying, smoking at the park, gaming, and watching reality TV shows are not unusual things to pursue in high school. Some teenagers aren't even into those common "teenage" things and would prefer to do purposeful activities like reading books, studying in the library, and spending time with their families. No matter what "teenage group" you belong to, you will always have homework, assignments, volunteering, work and exams to worry about as students. Thank god, I was never a party animal, a smoker, a drinker, an excessive gamer, or the one who always had a boyfriend beside me. I was indeed the opposite of those features!
It's tempting to not ditch the textbooks and go out to a cafe for a night. The sad reality is, life does not get that simple in high school. Especially during exam period, high schoolers are encouraged by their educators and parents to reduce the amount of times to go out and study hard for your exams. Nobody wants to find out that they got the big huge F on their exams. Nobody wants to get grounded for two weeks and not go to the cinema to watch their favourite movies with a group of friends. The best way to avoid these gruesome and terrible consequences is to PICK YOUR BATTLES! Some things are worth stressing over, and some things are worth putting on hold until you have fulfilled your duties. If I could get through exam period, you can as well! Just put your mind to it and imagine how you would feel if you got a sweet, juicy A or a big, fat and ugly F.
3. Take breaks when you need them
The high school years can be stressful and overwhelming, so it is important that you look after your mental health. Mental health is just as important as your grades. If your mental health is not good, you will not be able to function academically and socially. Some days, you will experience burn out to the point where you just want to sleep and not do anything after completing that difficult and big math assignment you were told to finish for homework. Social dilemmas such as fighting with your boyfriend or best friend at the lockers can create a high degree of mental burn out to the point where you do not even want to associate with anyone except yourself.
To help you manage your stress, take constant breaks from school work. Make a to-do list of what assignments you need to complete for the week. Spread it out, so you don't overwhelm yourself. Complete the assignments that you have to do for the most interesting and enjoyable classes you take, so you can become motivated to complete your school work. When you like the course and your assignments, you will have an easier time completing your schoolwork. Take regular breaks to grab your favourite nutritious snack, spend five-ten minutes on your favourite hobby, enjoy a family meal, spend time with a friend, or get some exercise outside or inside at a facility or your own home. Taking breaks will make a huge difference in your academic abilities and stress levels.
Some of your friends are also worth a break from time to time. It does not necessarily mean that you can never see them again. It just means that you may need to take a break from each other to reflect after a huge altercation or fist-fight. Focus on yourselves, because you matter just as much as your friends and family. Don't be ashamed of being who you are, just because some of your peers might not agree with who you really are. When I needed quiet time during lunch period, I would not mind retreating to a quiet corner and doing some of my favourite activities like reading books. One of my friends were criticize me and would think that I was "moody" or "introverted". I was not moody or introverted. I just needed some time away from people, because classes would get chaotic. No matter how many times she would make those comments or judge me, I still did it. I knew that I mattered just as much as my friends. At the end, I was satisfied and embraced being "the girl sitting in the corner".
4. Surround yourself with the right people
This may not be simple at first, but it is vital! Teenagers meet all kinds of people through mutual friends. Some students might attend the same classes together. You will always have some exciting and strange encounters with people in high school. Most people are willing to start and maintain a meaningful and healthy friendship with you. Some will be acquaintances that you will only have cordial interactions with in school. Some will not be in your "good books". Some will deceive you into being their friends, when really they are just seeking inappropriate and unwanted attention. It is crucial to surround youself with the right crowd and choose your friends wisely. Some situations are unavoidable, but do the best you can to pick your crowd wisely.
I have had many encounters with kids in my high school. The majority of the interactions I had were positive and worthile, while some were negative and toxic. Many of my friends were gamers, artists, bookworms, music lovers and would study in the library when they were not attending clubs. I had some negative and unpleasant encounters with a few punks, gangbangers and low-class children who were often the ones to get in trouble and sent to the principals office. When you have a group of supportive, positive and caring friends, it will help you navigate these tough situations you are in.
5. Join clubs!
The fun part about high school is clubs! Depending on the high school you attend, there are some interesting and engaging clubs that you can join for free! Many high school students value these opportunities and see this as a means to make new friends and squeeze in some recreation into their day. Some clubs are offered during lunch period, and some are offered after school. I personally loved the ones after school, because it gave me a break from a few school bus drivers that I was not a fond of. It also gave me a break from some of my friends who I got into arguments with. Sometimes I could not attend the after school clubs, so I took advantage of as many lunch hour clubs as I could.
There are clubs that cater to every students interests, strengths, needs, abilities, cultures and lifestyles. Whether you are a superstar athlete or an avid chess player, you will always discover something interesting to participate in! I was a part of Best Buddies Canada for five years, but I also enjoyed being a part of the Art Club, the Huddle Up Anti-Bullying group, Urban Arts, and the Vegetarian Club. These clubs gave me an opportunity to network with people from around the world and build more meaningful and healthy friendships. I have made some amazing memories from these clubs and with the people that I was able to network and keep in touch with. Trust me, you will not regret joining a club or two during your high school career. It will be one of the best experiences in your life!
6. Get support!
We all need support, no matter how old or how intelligent and resilient we are! We cannot navigate life without a support system. There are always people to assist you during stressful and challenging times in your high school career. We need people that we can reach out to and talk to about our personal matters, especially during our teenage years.
Your parents and teachers are the main people in your support system. Other people such as your friends, doctors, therapists, community workers and spiritual workers can also be an addition to your support system. Essential services such as in-school or private tutoring is also a fantastic option to consider for extra educational support. My parents were always by my side, in addition to the great amount of loving and supportive friends that I had. I also attended regular therapy sessions and had many supportive teachers that were always there for me emotionally, academically and mentally. I was never alone!
Having a support system does not liberate you from the problems you will be facing. All it means is that you will always have people to assist you, which will make it bearable for you to get through high school.
7. Take some interesting courses
The beauty of high school is having the freedom to pick your own courses. That is what I personally adored about high school. During the first two years of high school, you do not get as much course selection. The majority of your courses are compulsory and would need to be completed in order for you to graduate. The freedom begins during your senior years of high school. You are no longer obligated to take Science classes after the 10th grade, which can be a blessing for people that dread Science classes. After the 11th grade, you are no longer required to take any Math classes, unless you have a valid reason to. I no longer wanted to pursue Mathematics after passing Grade 11 Math, because I knew how much I did not need it afterwards. At one point I wanted to pursue Veterinary Care, so I took the initiative to take Grade 12 College Biology to open that door. It was not obligated, but I wanted to have it in case I applied for Veterinary Care at one point. I was not really fascinated with Science, but I had a penchant for Biology. One of my favourite sub-topics of Biology was Genetics, because I loved learning about how living things are made and produced. I also enjoyed learning how to do Punnett Squares, because I was a puzzle lover! Punnett Squares were like puzzles to me. I am still into Genetics, even as a 23 year old adult.
Depending on what school you attend, there are endless courses in a variety of topics and subjects. Arts and humanities courses such as Fashion Design, Dance, Graphic Design, African History, Vocals, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Home Economics, Family Studies and Psychology are some of the most common courses that are offered at various secondary schools around the world.
I went to a high school where they had a wide selection of history, arts, mathematics, science, technology, social studies, literature and geography courses for students to take advantage of. Unfortunately, they did not offer dance, culinary arts, or any of those crazy and fun courses that I wish they offered. Weston Collegiate Institute was known for it's amazing World Studies and Technology program, so a big portion of the students took and enjoyed a great variety of World Studies and Technology courses such as Welding, Woodworking, African History, World Politics and World Issues. I personally loved Writer's Craft, Visual Arts, Photography, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Parenting, Social Sciences, Cooperative Education, Travel and Tourism, and Ancient Civilizations which I fell in love with. I did very well in the majority of those courses and I had some wonderful teachers in those courses. I will always remember the fun I had, as well as those fantastic teachers that I think very highly of.
Regardless of what secondary school you attend, take advantage of as many electives as you can. This is the time to explore what you want to do after high school. These courses can also help you pursue more interests and discover many fantastic things that were previously unknown to you!