A handful of parents walked the snow covered paths and braved the bracing cold enroute to St. Luke’s Church on Wednesday night, Feb. 11, to learn from high school students what confronts their middle school age children when they enter East Greenwich High School next fall.
Eight students from two high school groups, Student Agenda and TLC, were at the center of a Teen Issues Forum conducted by Bob Houghtaling, director of the East Greenwich Drug Program. They fielded questions about dating, stress, toxic friendships, time management, finding alternative routes to success outside the road to college, peer pressure and distractions.
If one theme dominated the two-hour program charrette session it was for parents to not only listen to and watch their students but to ask them questions about each of those topics.
For high school senior Sam Rodriguez, who found herself in toxic dating relationship, her parents’ insight surprised her.
“Keep the conversation open,” said Sam, swim team captain. “I was in a negative relationship and it was hard to talk about and my parents weren’t asking questions, so I didn’t say anything. I didn’t hear a thing for two years and when I broke up with him my parents said, ‘We never liked him.’ I didn’t know that or I would have talked to them about it, obviously they have a lot more life experience than I do, but they never said anything.”
Dating was on the mind of Diane Smith, a grandmother who is raising her granddaughter, a Cole Middle School 8th grader headed to the high school next fall.
“She is a very social girl and I don’t want to push her in the wrong direction,” Smith said. She asked the students in one group, “Is there a lot of dating in high school?”
Zoe Hinman, who is busy running cross country, acting in the drama club and numerous other groups in school, said, “75 percent of the high school in is a relationship. It depends on the type of person you are. Just keep the conversation open.”
Many of the students advised that watching out for whom your children are hanging out with is critical.
“If they are hanging out with a bad kid and that kid is doing things that they shouldn’t then your kid will start doing those things, too,” Sam said.
Zoe contended, “It is important to respect adolescent emotions, but they are adolescent and noticing toxic friendships is important. You are creating friendships before you are creating relationships. If you can’t do that well, you won’t be able to form good relationships.”
Ryan Marshall, a member of the high school football team, started playing as a freshman and made quick observations of his teammates that served him well. The same approach would work for students in clubs and organizations at the high school as well as other sports, he said.
“I noticed right off who were the serious players on the freshmen team in practices and who were the guys fooling around and I stuck with the serious players and watched and learned from them and some of the varsity players,” Ryan said. “There were only four of us on that team who attended every practice and we were the only ones to go right on to the varsity the next year.”
Marshall contended that time management for high school students is critical and another way in which friends can be helpful. So picking like-minded and motivated friends is critical for students and something their parents should pay attention to, he said.
“There is no set way to get time management skills,” Ryan said. “However, as a senior now I am seeing how much I depended on my friends to talk to about assignments, how they get things done, about something that I didn’t quite understand in class that they can explain. Not everything is crystal clear in class; it helps when you are doing projects and other work to have friends you can turn to and they can turn you.”
Julie Horgan, a junior who is on the tennis and crew teams and in the drama club, was frank with the attendees in talking about stress.
“I did well in school until middle school when I lost my motivation. I didn’t want to do my homework or anything. I didn’t care,” she said. She was diagnosed with depression and stress and the illnesses are being treated.
As a result, she confronts and conquers by going on stage.
“I am nervous, anxious and I have stage fright, but once I am on stage I am not nervous and perform my role,” she said. “I have made a lot of friends in drama club.”
Josh Boulet is a senior who has enlisted in the U.S. Navy, preferring that path to college. He said his grandfather was a sailor in the Navy and then in civilian life built boats at Electric Boat.
“You have to let your kids know that there is more than one route to a successful life, that not everyone has to go to college,” he said. The other students agreed and asserted that the high school should spend as much time showing the opportunities available to the non-college preparatory students as they do to the future collegians.
Diane Smith said she was very satisfied with the answers she received to her concerns and hopes to direct her granddaughter to the clubs and sports that the students endorsed.
Newly elected School Committee member Michael Fain and School Committee Chairman Carolyn Mark joined in the charrettes and asked questions about what the students see as a need.
Many said the high school needs more guidance counselors and that guidance counselors should be available after school hours to meet with students.
Zoe said that parents “should encourage their kids to take risks and look into sports and clubs in high school that they might be interested in” because it can make all the difference between a good high school experience or a lost time.
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