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Tighten your seat belts, high-school freshmen
Scripps Howard News Service


August 10, 2005

Millions of American children will soon be back to school - if they're not already, in this era of early-August starts to the educational calendar.

The youngest of them will be tackling kindergarten and, by extension, elementary school for the very first time.

A slightly older crowd will get their first taste of junior high or middle school (check local listings for what your area calls it).

And a group even older than that will be introduced to a place that seems like a parallel universe. It is a realm unlike no other, where fortunes change from day to day and life itself can seem oppressive. I'd even argue that this place could be labeled an extension of hell itself.

I'm talking, of course, about the freshman year of high school.

There's no other step in the educational process I found to be more difficult.

And from talking to friends - many of them nearly 15 years removed from the experience, like me - I find that's a common opinion.

In kindergarten, there were a number of teachers around to help with all of life's problems. Snotty nose? Holler for young Miss Jones to fetch you a Kleenex. Head lice? Well, sure, that's traumatic, but you didn't have to do all the laundry.

Junior high?

Recess suddenly goes away, but for the most part you're still seeing a number of the same people you've known since you were old enough to drool on a plastic teething ring. And aside from that, they're sending students to so many different teachers in elementary school now that changing classes in midstream each day is no big deal.

But high school?

Oh, high school.

Your voice changed in junior high, and you thought you'd really hit a growth spurt.

Then you show up for the first day of class, 5-foot-5, 150 pounds of nothing, and the guy in front of you in the lunch line is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound linebacker who's being recruited by Penn State and Michigan.

Get to know the guy.

Odds are he's going to yank your shorts down in the middle of the hallway before Christmas.

Here's the other tough part about trying to stack up, physically, with the 18-year-old guys roaming the halls: Very few of the freshman and sophomore girls are going to choose your scrawny, can't-drive-a-car-yet rear end over them.

Once you get out of the social realm, there's still the academic pressure to deal with.

Want a college scholarship?

The game clock starts ticking the second you walk in the door. There's a transcript they'll be keeping on you until the second they hand you a diploma. And the people who hand out the college money want to see it.

Don't try loading up on basket-weaving and fourth-grade-math classes to shelf a bunch of A's, either. The colleges want to see what you can do when it comes crunch-time in the tougher subjects - calculus, physics, advanced composition and chemistry.

So there you go, freshman. The next four years of your life, should you choose to live them right, will be a mix of trial, tribulation, disappointment, embarrassment, frustration and, at times, loneliness. The key?

Find loyal friends. They'll supplement your existence with happiness, positive reinforcement, love and nurturing.

Good friends will be like the safety bar that keeps you from flying out of the roller coaster when it's going 90 mph.

Up and down, up and down.

Hang on tight.


Ryan Reynolds is an editor at the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press.
Contact him at ryanr(at)


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