Coming into March 2020, most high schoolers had the rest of the school year mapped out: Spring Break, state tests, prom, finals and maybe more tests like APs, SATs, ACTs, and Subject Tests before the long-awaited summer vacation. No matter what you planned, the global pandemic of COVID-19 delivered a stark reminder of Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke’s oft-quoted insight: No plan survives contact with the enemy.
This reminder resonates at a time when our greatest enemy may be uncertainty. As I write this, we have no idea when closed schools will resume or if any spring sports or activities may be salvaged or written off as losses. We know that the April ACT and May SAT have been cancelled, but will the June SAT and ACT run? Will those online AP exams carry the same weight as the traditional ones? We honestly have no idea what next week holds, let alone the next few months.
However, immediate uncertainty should never obscure immutable truths. Unless the very underpinnings of civilization shift, education and accomplishment matter. Students must learn and, when possible, excel in their studies for future educational and professional success. The tests you expected in April and May will come eventually, so you should make every effort to be ready for them.
Basically, today’s high schoolers find themselves with far more free time–and far less instructional guidance–than any of their modern predecessors. The classic oversubscribed 11th grader carrying sports and activities every season on top of honors classes now seems to have nothing better to do during the day than catch up on videogames and social media. A better plan–because a plan is what these challenging times require–follows the wisdom of William A. Ward:
Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.
Most teens are looking at another month or three of free play. Most academic assignments are being presented as suggestions, while many districts have committed to not teaching anything new. Some students may be thrilled at the essential cessation of guided education, but they should be aghast instead at the prospect of facing their futures with learning deficits. The only teens likely to benefit long-term from school closings will be the ones who learn the most during this fallow period.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Outliers about how The gap between rich and poor kids doesn’t open up during the school year, but rather over the summer. Gladwell asserted that privileged students get a lot of help over the summer from access books and resources that advance their knowledge to enrichment activities like camp. My friend and colleague David Blobaum of Summit Prep further clarifies the lesson everyone should take from this example:
“Summer, not the school year, provided the best means for advancing and gaining an advantage. Which makes sense: every student learns during the school year, so it’s relatively difficult to gain an advantage over one’s peers when everyone is learning. Thus, the greatest determinant of who will advance is when most students are not studying. Those that are studying at those times… will gain an immediate advantage.”
If nobody else is studying right now, how can high schoolers gain an advantage?
- Do the maximum amount of work to continue their schooling independently to stay on track for next year.
- Begin an intensive course of study for the June SAT & ACT (current 10th and 11th graders)
- Prepare for the May online APs, which may be the easiest path to free college credit ever (all relevant subjects, even if not in AP-level classes)
- Engage in daily reading of physical books beyond what teachers assign.
- Master supplemental academic and productivity skills like organization, note taking, and time management
- Continue with college planning, including virtual campus visits and application essay writing
Nobody can guarantee what will unfold over the next several weeks, but we know (as hard as this may be to believe) that life will go on. Life went on during the greatest tragedies, crises, and wars in history: students went to school, graduated, pursued higher education and careers, and did everything else that people do. Will you or your teen face this uncertain future unprepared or way more prepared than others?
Contact us if you’d like to discuss how to make the most of school closings for your high schooler.