Tag Archives: education

For teens who want to write a better college application

Take five, relax, let yourself think about who you want to be.....

Take five, relax, let yourself think about who you want to be…..

 

Before you read further, you need to know this.

I am not a college advisor, consultant, or guru.

But I am a mother of two who gave her kids and their friends some advice in how to best present themselves on a college application.

My experience as a career consultant, evaluating and helping others write thousands of resumes helped prepare me for the task.

Whether due to my editorial help or not, thankfully, my kids got into the colleges of their choice.

I can relate to the intense pressure right about now that teens face in finalizing applications and putting the finishing touches on that all-important college essay.

With the upcoming flurry of activity surrounding Thanksgiving, I’m sure most teens will not be really, truly thankful until the last application has been sent off to the seeming abyss of the college admissions office.

Although much of the focus might be on the college essay, you might want to pay equal attention to how your application (or resume) reflects the story of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

Yes, you need to squeeze meaning out of every word so your essay (in addition to meeting the new 500 word upper limit for the Common Application) must be attention-grabbing. However, you can be equally thoughtful and creative with factual information.

Many teens overlook how they appear on the application or college resume.  Consider these points before you tackle the job:

  1. Know who you are. This is the most crucial thing you could do right now. Some call this ‘branding’, and although I may not love the term, thinking of yourself in the third person, as a brand so to speak, will help you define more carefully what you want to present. What are your interests, hobbies, skills? Are they reflected accurately in your activities? Could someone figure out what’s important to you by seeing the totality of your activities? If not, you may either have too many activities listed or too few. No one says that you have to write about every single thing you’ve ever done. If need be, edit out those things that don’t add meaning to your presentation. Being a marginal member of a group for a few years won’t add to the portrait you’re trying to paint.
  2. Learn how to write a resume. The experience will help focus you and help you limit your words. Make sure you use action words and show results where possible. For example: “created unique fundraiser that engaged over 70% of students, raising $5,000 as the most successful event that year.” is way better than “planned or chaired school fundraiser.”
  3. What experience can you share that will set you apart from the crowd?  Try to not to list things that are general, but instead show off your specific contributions. For example, “contributed to a monthly blog for the school paper that received regular reader comments….” instead of “wrote for the school paper” or “was a reporter for the school paper”. Similarly, if you list commonplace activities that all of your peers are also listing, well, it’s just ho-hum. Think hard about what you do that others are not doing. For example, taking additional academic courses shows that you’ll be able to handle a challenging course load in college.
  4. Show a commitment over a long-term to some activity, cause, youth group, camp, or educational experience, that perhaps led you to take on a leadership position. If you can articulate that, even better. For example: “participant in youth group for three years, taking on successive leadership positions and am now Vice President of Membership.”
  5. Make sure your language is colorful, descriptive, and not boring. Hopefully your personality will shine through and you’ll get to the college of your dreams!

Please comment if you have additional ideas to add, everyone will benefit!

 


What 7 of today’s top headlines tell you about teens today

Where's the good news?

Where’s the good news?

When it comes to teens, it seems that “Headlines” are usually “Dead Lines”….yes….news about deaths, teenage thugs, bullying, and more.

I’m tired of reading all this bad news about teens.

You might ask: “So, just look for the good news, what are you complaining about?”

It’s not that easy.

I get news alerts from Google and Yahoo sent to my Inbox, and generally what comes up, almost on a daily basis, is what you see below.

News

Tired teenagers may need a new mattressFree Malaysia Today  – 20 hours
The researchers found that teenagers’ mattresses were often too small to accommodate their rapid growth. Moreover, they were often worn out …

Teenage thugs locked up after brutally attacking cyclist for being ‘ginger’Manchester Evening News  – 25 minutes
Court is told that the four teenagers launched an ‘unprovoked attack’ on the cyclist as he stopped at lights in the city centre.

New wearable tech Ringblingz to help teenagers stay connectedNew Kerala  – 16 hours
Washington, Feb. 09 : A new wearable technology has been reportedly launched that helps teenagers stay connected based on the social media …

Teenagers held over car theftsThe Herald  – 2 hours
TWO teenagers have been apprehended by police and three stolen vehicles recovered after residents raised the alarm about suspicious activity.

Two Tucson teens arrested in murder plotFOX 10 Phoenix  – 11 hours
Two Tucson teenagers are facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder after Pima County deputies say they were plotting to kill an …

Cincinnati Police arrest four teens in weekend aggravated robberiesFOX 19 Cincinnati  – 14 hours
Cincinnati Police have arrested four teenagers in connection with two aggravated robbery offenses during the past weekend in Northside.

Russian teen project charged with “gay propaganda”Scoop.co.nz  – 9 hours
“The Children-404 project is being prosecuted for “gay propaganda” because it provides sympathetic, supportive advice to isolated, bullied, …

dam nearly finished

I’m not saying that teens are not often a troubled lot, or that teenage rebellion is something we should be surprised about.

After all, James Dean, Catcher in the Rye, and all that…..we’ve all been sensitized to the plight of the adolescent.

However, it is worse now with bullying occupying a virtual limitless space and even bigger social platforms where often teens feel unwanted, unloved, and ostracized.

I’m just saying that I need a break.

So please, to all of you out there working with teenagers or reporting about them…..just write more of the good stuff, if only so it takes up more space in my Inbox.

 

 


Teens: Cheating on Standardized Tests?

No digital devices in sight

No digital devices in sight

The Los Angeles Times reported that California is coping, almost feverishly it seems, with new measures that require students to turn in digital devices before taking standardized tests.

“The proliferation of cellphones and their potential use for cheating has prompted heightened security measures on this year’s administration of standardized tests in California schools.”

In the previous year, students posted 36 questions from standardized exams on social media platforms.  The consequences were serious for those schools where the posts were from. The 12 schools are not eligible to receive academic awards the next year.

I’m sure that other states will soon need to create their own guidelines to prevent just such a thing.

So, what is the news here?

This is almost too obvious–taking away cell phones and digital devices during a test?

Teens would say “no kidding.”

What I found remarkable about the article, was that although very specific details were given of the egregious acts, the article did not mention that there was a concerns over so many teens engaging in cheating behaviors:

“In all, 249 individuals posted 442 images of test materials that were linked to 147 schools in 94 California school districts.”   (To be fair, “Most images were not of actual test questions.”)

There were no consequences mentioned in the article for the teens who posted the images or content.

However, we do know clearly the measures being taken to prevent such a thing in the future:

  1. Signage in the testing room warning students not to use digital devices
  2. Better proctoring of exams
  3. Strong suggestions to teachers to move around the room to monitor students

But we’re still left wondering if anyone is asking the big questions tied to these occurrences.

Specifically, was there any follow-up with the teens themselves?

What was the intention for these posts?

What are the ethical implications of these behaviors?

Did the students involved do this as a joke?

Was this an act of rebellion?

Or even the most primary question: Did the teens even think this was cheating?

I wrote some time ago about our role in guiding students toward moral clarity. At a later point, I wrote about how teens view cheating, and how shocking their experiences were to me.  This is an issue that won’t simply go away. It will get worse.

I remember not being surprised when corporations, in the realization that so many ethical issues were on the line, and after so many improprieties and illegal allegations, began hiring Chief Ethical Officers.

“The position of ethics officer is of relatively recent vintage, first appearing in the early 1990s, according to Forbes.com.

The job descriptions for Ethics Officers insures accountability between a code of ethics and actual operational procedures.

It’s not a bad idea to institute this position in some school districts. An even better idea is starting to think that way now.


“But I’ve already been to the museum!”

Negotiating with teens when they say "been there, done that!"

Negotiating with teens when they say “been there, done that!”

The entire school was taking a trip to the relatively new National Museum of American Jewish History, located in Philadelphia. The museum, with thousands of historic treasures, interactive exhibits, and multi-media presentations, has caused many people to say that they could spend days there and not see everything.

Yet, we heard that one student, when he learned about the trip, went home and confidently told his mother: “I don’t want to go. I’ve already been to the museum once.” 

The comment above is not specific to the museum. It is a catch phrase for all things that kids think they’ve already done, if they’ve done it once.

I remember working with a student on his course selections for the coming year. I suggested a class that I thought he’d find really interesting, based on his background. He didn’t ask me any clarifying questions, and without missing a quarter-note, told me assertively: “I don’t need to take that class, I’ve already taken Talmud!”

Put in whatever word works for you here, so that the comment would be equally humorous:

“I don’t need to take that class, I’ve already taken engineering.” (architecture, medicine, fine arts, or any area of study that could be endlessly interesting if someone had the interest).

So, how as parents and educators do we get past the “been there, done that” syndrome?

With patience, explanations, and the confidence that we know better. 

We should never assume because someone is in school, that there is a deep understanding of the process of learning.

We need the confidence to communicate that when it comes to learning anything, revisits are important and necessary. Gaining depth of a subject matter, seeing things again from a new perspective, is a good thing.

Let’s think about that, and let that very thought bring sweet smiles to our faces when we meet at our Seder tables and hear “But we did this last year!”


Teens Report What Really Happens In Classrooms

Teacher

Teachers and Classroom Behavior Photo credit: tim ellis

I read an eighth grader’s blog (!) today that resonated with me, and it triggered a memory of what Jewish teens shared with me in a discussion about bullying.

Back to the blog. This young teen wrote about derogatory and mean comments that kids said in hushed tones to others in her class. What they said was either whispered, written, or mouthed out—-all while the teacher’s back was turned.

Can you imagine the effect on the ‘victims’? Just thinking about it will probably tug at your heart.

Instantaneous changes of emotion. Heads bowed. Backs rounded. The day ruined.

And then—-thoughts of a system that offers no corrective action.

The talk I remembered having with my 10th graders was similar. They experienced or witnessed as a bystander, all kinds of inappropriate behavior by teens that was not done at recess, not on the school bus, not on the playing field, but in class!

In most cases, the teacher’s back was turned. 

Want to be shocked?  The students affirmed that sometimes, the teacher was not facing the board, or doing work at the desk.

“What happened during those other times?”, I asked.

“Ugh, the teacher just pretended not to hear or see.”

Can we think of a more challenging environment for our students?

Some feel that they are constantly the ones to point out flaws, misbehavior, or teacher concerns. They’ve told me that when they’ve actually brought these incidents to the teacher’s attention, the information is not even acted upon. And there certainly is a lot of negative feedback the teens get for doing that. (The cultural pull of not being a tattletale comes to mind).

A while ago, I wrote about our schools being Safe Havens, and reading the blog today made this fact even more potent.

No one should deduce that all teachers ignore bad behavior.

But neither should we assume that the teacher is always equipped to manage bad behavior. Or that the teacher gets support from the administration on these issues.

We can rise to the occasion, be better listeners, better mentors, and better teachers of Jewish values.

But that won’t change the system.

Creating students who want to become activists just might.

Supporting their efforts as parents and teachers is what we have to do. And oh yes, we can’t let them give up.


Current Events: did your teenager’s eyes just glaze over?

taken by משתמש:Hmbr

Mention “Current Events” to a group of teens and just watch what happens.  Their eyes seem to glaze over.

As if talking about something that isn’t in a textbook is a violation of protocol.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but to some students, reading a newspaper might seem like reading information in a foreign language.

I’m not sure how much today’s teens are grappling with the issues of the day.

How can this be?

Easy. It’s not in the curriculum.

Sure, when something really big happens, it gets some class attention.

However, the stories that are important, but not part of breaking news, are literally another story.

Where are our students getting the depth of a story?

My experience with Israeli teens has always been the opposite. They are intimately involved in the politics of the day, and those conversations happen informally: in the taxi, on-line at the movies, everywhere.

The article in the link below notes that according to a Pew Research study, 49% of people were getting their news in digital form. Good for them. But are today’s teens using their apps for news?

Try an experiment. Ask someone you know, under the age of 18, what news they’ve heard recently. Chances are it’s the new sensational story with the glitz, gore or glamour that way back, was called Yellow journalism.

So, what will change? You.

Have conversations about what’s important to you as a parent, and it will trickle down. Be broad about subject matter.

Don’t wait for a family dinner (those are in short supply). Talk about current news anywhere. In the car. On the line at Target.

Try to make those little moments count for some ‘thought’ time.

Those teenage brains need a workout, and our teens are capable of great thoughts.

Time for that may not always be part of the school curriculum, but it can be part of yours.

photo credit: Wikipedia


Teens: Got a bad grade? Work it!

Life Stinks

Image via Wikipedia

Getting a bad grade, especially when you expected something else entirely, pretty much stinks.

It’s hard enough being in high school when so much of your life seems to be defined by grades. When the grades don’t match up with your expectations or your output, it must feel lousy.

Though I have issues with the idea of being defined by grades, we’re not going there now.

So, you can either sulk or use this life event to get some feedback.

Think of this as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with your teacher about your work. I know, it’s tough, but give it a try. You can:

  • learn how to advocate for yourself
  • begin to see yourself the way he/she does, and take the opportunity to self-correct
  • figure out what the teacher really wants before it’s too late in the year
  • impress the teacher with your willingness to engage in this type of conversation
  • practice asking for clarification of a decision, which is a skill you’ll use later in life
  • demonstrate your interest in the subject matter
  • cut yourself a break.
  • learn that despite what you’re feeling now, this doesn’t define you
  • feel great about asserting yourself!

The 500 word college essay

600x750mm sign intended to match the specifica...
Image via Wikipedia

My blog posts rarely ever make the ideal 250 word count mark.

I read somewhere that the perfect blog contains just that amount for readability and the average attention span. 

I try, really I do, but my posts seem to hover around 320 words no matter how I shave and trim.  When editing, I habitually wince before checking out the word count total at the end of the page.  I slowly drag the scroller thing and catch a glimpse at just how off the mark I am.  Oops, failed again.

 So, I can relate to all those teens trying to squeeze meaning out of every word so their essay meets the new 500 word upper limit for the Common Application, as reported in the NY Times .  

What would you write about in under 500 words that would get you into college? Really, think about it.

What experience would you share that would set you apart from the crowd?  What would you say that would deliver just the right amount of punch and pizzazz? They have a daunting assignment.

We held a program for our students on how to navigate through the college application process.  The college consultant recommended that they not write about the obvious: trips to exotic locations, family drama, emotional trips to Israel, or Jewish camping stories.  That gives you a clue as to how competitive topic choices have gotten.

My undergraduate college essays were not that inspired. I think I wrote about why I wanted to attend that school. What I really did was to purposefully pore over enough promotional material so I could figure out how to tell them what they just told me, only more convincingly.

That seems quite lame when I compare it to the essays students have shared with me. Most have amazing and life changing stories to tell.

So, what would you write about?

Me? I’m glad I’m just posting and not putting my future on the line every time I hit ‘publish’.


what I learned about marketing from working at a Jewish Community High School

You would think it would be easy to market a product that has intrinsic long-term value, is priced well, offers tremendous flexibility, is an intellectual challenge, offers social experiences and networking opportunities, and even looks good for college.

You’d be wrong.

Welcome to my world where marketing a great product  is a struggle.

Here are just a few reasons why, with more to come in future posts:

1. The ‘point of sale’ is often at a synagogue Hebrew school, where we present options for further Jewish education. Need I say more?

For these 7th grade students, they’re in a year bursting with Bar/t Mitzvah invitations and parties.  Peeking over the horizon they can see the glimmering opportunity to be ‘outta here’ (as some  parents have promised them)…well, you get the point.

2. If students decide to come on board in 8th grade, it might be because they feel compelled  (internally or externally) to continue their Jewish education.  The choice to attend a community school could mean there were either no appealing options for further education at the synagogue (which may or may not have Confirmation Programs ending in 10th grade) or this student is really, really motivated.  Synagogues who have their own Confirmation programs  work very hard to keep their students there.  More about Confirmation programs later.

3. The ‘product’ we’re offering is impossible to explain to these students.  It’s like describing what college is like to a high schooler. You just don’t get it until you go.  Which is precisely why so many colleges have figured this one out a long time ago and created pre-college programs for 11th graders. The ‘try it, you’ll like it’ programming through free visits and orientations works.

4. Aha! you say, what about Orientations and Open Houses?  These programs do help when conducted at our school sites and both programs capitalize on the fact that potential students need to experience how great it is to sit in on classes, feel the ‘vibe’ at break time, have Q & A opportunities (mostly questions related to their fear of  ‘fitting this in’ ), and meet tons of teens who have made the choice to continue and are obviously happy.

5.The difficulty is getting the word out about these options. Synagogues that have their own programs can’t promote it. There are no advertising dollars to spend. Federations, straddling both the synagogue and communal worlds, can’t really get in the middle of this either.

6. Back to Confirmation programs, instituted as a life cycle ritual by synagogues to retain students after the infamous Bar/t Mitzvah drop-off year…all with good intentions.  What’s happened though, is that the end point has just been moved up, but it’s rare at that point for students to continue to 11th and 12th grade (for exceptions, read here).  Yet, that is exactly the time when teens are ready to engage in Judaism with some maturity, insight, intellectual rigor and curiosity.

7. When these students think that they’ve gone beyond all expectations in continuing even to this point, up to Confirmation…..imagine how hard it is to ask them to sign on for two more years?  This is also precisely the time when they are also at their busiest, participating in gobs of outside activities and prepping for college.

More school anyone? How about on a Sunday morning?

Yet, we’re doing quite well despite the above. Go figure.

I believe in what we have to offer–strongly–and as a result, marketing and promotion have become part of my job.

Imagine what impact we could have if we didn’t have such an uphill struggle.

How would you deal with any of these challenges? I’d love to hear suggestions, ideas, or expert marketing advice.


Today I am a Brand

credit to uglydoggy.com

We live in a visual world. I get it. I’m the first to admit that I love looking at logos and the idea that the essence of a company, drink, food, car —almost anything— can be captured in a visual.  Come on, aren’t you tempted to name the brands pictured here?

Hashtags? Great. If only our program could attract thousands of Jewish teens by using  #Jteens. 

The idea of “branding” has been in my airspace for a few weeks.  It started when I read a blog about the viral video “Friday” and how it catapulted Rebecca Black and her now ex-friend into instant stardom (not familiar with the story? see wikipedia ).  

Then, I read a study about the rise of fame and its implications , some of which I’ll quote very briefly:

“Greenfield’s Theory of Social Change and Human Development posits that, as learning environments move towards high technology, as living environments become increasingly urbanized, as education levels increase, and as people become wealthier, psychological development moves in the direction of increasing individualism, while traditional, familistic, and communitarian values decline….” (italics mine). 

So, the desire to individuate comes with the territory. Is it any wonder that this study found that fame grows in prominence as a goal among tweens? If the teen years were tough before, it’s more complicated now. How do we as teachers and parents begin to work through this?

I attended a workshop a few days ago sponsored by Moving Traditions and we discussed the fact that teenage girls see themselves as ‘brands’ when posting on their Facebook pages.  They think about themselves in the third person and how their presenting image will be perceived by others.  They think about how to ‘enhance’ their brand by who they ‘friend’ and the clothes, music, and tech toys they buy, presenting an additional teaching and parenting opportunity. This issue goes across gender and is not limited to teenage girls.

Another tongue-in-cheek blog asked whether Rabbis would be more effective if they were ‘pitchmen’ and might be more successful if incorporating brand names into their sermons.  I have not worked this all out yet.  On one level, I definitely buy into the branding idea and think that we, who work in the world of Jewish teens, could certainly learn a thing or two about ‘branding’ with an image overhaul.   If we just had more marketing dollars, or could find a sponsor, or a brand to partner with….oops, there I go again.

In this world of visual overload, I am fine with working on communicating a clearer message as long as it’s an authentic one.  I guess that’s the advice I would give to a Jewish teen approaching bar/bat mitzvah age as well. Go ahead, think about who you really are. Make sure it reflects your true self, incorporates core Jewish values and ethics, then go ahead, brand yourself as the most special person you are.


My Experience with In-the-Box Thinking in the Jewish Community

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I read the article “Employees are faster and more creative when solving other people’s problems” by Daniel Pink with fascination. It turns out that we think more creatively and abstractly for others than for ourselves.  

The solutions are more concrete when working on things that affect us personally. 

What does this have to do with Jewish education?

Plenty,  it turns out. I’d like to share just two experiences with you:

1. Recently, a group of four synagogues wanted to brainstorm solutions for their Hebrew schools’ declining enrollment.  Among them, there are about 30 students in the 6th grade (daled) class.  The brief summary is that after several meetings they were unable to generate any alternatives. Why? Because each one did not want students to go to another location.   While discussions are still taking place, they did  agree to joint programming several times a year (locations to be determined).

2. Two synagogues down the road from each other recently joined efforts to create a ‘collaborative’ Hebrew High school, which sounds like a very good solution.  Because each one did not want students to ‘leave the building’ they alternate locations every six months.  The programming definitely seems creative.  At the outset this seems  like a terrific compromise between two ‘competing’ synagogues.  Except for the fact that less than 500 yards down the road sits a Jewish community high school. The school was never brought into the conversation, and the conversations leading to this change were facilitated by the community’s Jewish education agency.

Based on the study Pink quotes, he recommends disassociating ourselves from the problem when trying to solve it.  How would this work in the Jewish community?  How would the scenarios above play out differently? What if we could really think creatively?


Teens and the Road to College

Finding your path

This year, thousands of high schoolers will be entering college. Sometimes I think they have things way too figured out, and am not sure whether that’s good or bad in the grand scheme of things.  

For example, I was interviewing an internship candidate who just completed her junior year in high school. I asked her what she thought she’d enjoy taking in college. Her response was not a version of:

 “I’m not sure yet” or

 “I haven’t given that much thought” or

 “I have no clue, just feeling good about finishing out the year” or

“I’m waiting until I get to college to work that out”

She proceeded to tick off two to three very specific careers she was thinking of pursuing: pediatric dietician work, or pediatric emergency medicine, and a third which I can’t remember because I was still in awe after hearing the first two.

Although she hasn’t yet selected a college, she’s pretty sure of what her path will be once she gets there.  What is wrong with that? Don’t we want our youth to be focused and thinking ahead? I doubt this bright young junior is the only one who has these things all worked out, yet it seems to me that the time of exploration and wonder has been way too condensed.  

College used to be the place that you could spend a year or two sampling courses, musing about majors, optimizing degree outcomes, and generally taking some time to work things out.  It was like experiencing an all-inclusive educational buffet and sampling a range of offerings.  Now it seems that the pressure is on to have a career path in mind before you arrive. 

There are all sorts of reasons why this has occurred, many of them economically driven.   Many colleges, complicit in this, pressure students to declare an early major.  The risk of not doing so may mean thousands of extra dollars spent on courses that may not ‘count’ toward the final destination. 

Overall however, we might be pushing our teens too hard and not letting them swim in the soup of indecision long enough.