Category: Susans2Cents

Back to School – Get off to a Good Start!

Back to School – Get off to a Good Start!


Back To School

New classes, new clothes, new school supplies, new friends, new teachers, and new challenges! The start of the new school year brings excitement as well as anxiety for many students and parents. From students in elementary school to those heading off to college for the first time or returning to college after a summer break, there are lots of challenges ahead.

Elementary Students

Picking an outfit to wear the first day of school and making sure the shoes still fit are just a couple of the items parents have to grapple with this week. Endless amounts of paperwork as well as long lines collecting lists of supplies adds to the drama. Finding just the right backpack and lunch pail is always critical. Most important is getting your student ready to face the new challenges of another first day of school. A new teacher and new friendships to be formed. Encourage your student to make a good first impression with the new teacher by paying attention and following classroom rules. Do not forget to say please and thank you, be neat, be respectful, raise your hand, follow directions, and work hard. Welcome the new students who may not have been at your school last year! Volunteer to show them around. Do not get frustrated if you are not with the teacher you thought you wanted or with a group of friends from last year. Classes are organized to maximize your learning and there is always a reason behind assignments.

Middle School Students

This is definitely a big transition for many students, especially those entering 6th grade. Staying organized is absolutely critical and first days can be confusing as students move from class to class and struggle to remember five or six different teachers’ names as well as encounter many more students than in elementary school. Keep a copy of your schedule with you at all times. Listen carefully to teacher’s instruction the first day and make a positive impression by following classroom rules and minding your manners.

High School Students

Another big transition especially for high school freshmen. Classes are more challenging and if a goal of college is in your future, everything counts! Yes, some colleges focus on grades earned in 10th through 12th grades, but there are many schools that look at all grades earned in 9th also. Keep your options open by doing your best in each of your classes. Attend all classes and get to know your teachers. Be on time to class and pay attention. Take notes and complete homework as assigned. Make sure all summer assignments are completed and ready to turn in on the first day of school. Keep your phones out of sight. Sit in the front of the class and avoid sitting next to friends who may distract you. First impressions are very important. Make the right one!

Best wishes to parents and students for a successful new school year!

Test Taking Tips & Strategies

Test Taking Tips & Strategies


Quizzes, tests and final exams spell anxiety for many students. These examinations show your teachers what you have learned as well as how you have grasped the concepts taught in class and whether or not you can apply these concepts to various test questions. Scores on tests also tell a teacher how well they have taught the material and whether or not concepts have been properly learned.  Sometimes your entire grade in a class can come down to your performance on one test. Quizzes and tests usually cover material taught over a short period whereas final exams cover topics covered for an entire quarter, semester or school year.

Exam Days

It is important to be on-time for exam days. Many a student has slept through an important exam! Set several alarms if you have difficulty getting up in the morning, arrange for wake-up calls, and ask parents or friends to help make sure you are awake. Get a good night sleep several nights leading up to an important exam and make sure that you eat a healthy breakfast before your exam. Protein is great, but avoid a huge breakfast if you do not regularly eat breakfast. Having six Red Bulls or energy drinks for breakfast is not an option.

Start your day with a shower as it will wake you up! Being clean will help you feel like a competent, put-together person. Brush your teeth. Be prepared for all weather types by wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt under a long-sleeved shirt and bring a sweatshirt. The key here is to be comfortable and to wear layers that are easy to remove, if need be. It is not a fashion show! Wear an easy to read watch (digital recommended). Avoid any noisy jewelry or bracelets. Girls, pull your hair back out of your face. Have water and snacks with you, if allowed, especially for long tests.

 Make sure you have all materials with you including pencils, pens, calculators, and reference material allowed. Avoid last minute cram sessions on the day of an exam. Hopefully, you have properly prepared and you can just review any final notes you have made. Avoid conversations with other students, especially those who tend to panic and can confuse issues at the last minute. Choose your seat wisely.

Taking The Exam

When the test is handed out, take a few minutes to glance through all pages of the exam to get a feel for the individual sections. Take a look at how the points for the exam are distributed and schedule your time accordingly. For example, if there are multiple choice questions and an essay each worth 50 points, then split your time evenly to make sure you maximize your score. Being aware of what an upcoming essay question is about as you complete other parts of the test can come in handy. Perhaps you will see topics covered or vocabulary used that can be useful in writing the essay. If you see a particularly easy section, you can start with it to build some easy points as well as gain some confidence.

Always read directions carefully as well as test questions. Watch for the dreaded “NOT” or “EXCEPT”. These words catch students all of the time. Make sure you are answering what the question is asking. Remember teachers often spend as much time drafting incorrect answers as they do drafting correct answers. If you are stumped on a question, skip it and come back. Spending too much time debating an answer on a difficult question can keep you from getting to five easy questions. Pace yourself. Always take all of the time you are allotted to take the exam.

Guessing intelligently can be easier said than done. For multiple-choice tests, eliminate as many answer choices as possible and then make your selection. Your odds of guessing the correct answer go up with each elimination. For true-false questions, you are looking for an example that makes the statement incorrect. Think of one and you have your answer. Be aware of any penalties for incorrect answers. Mark questions you have guessed on and then go back and review if you have extra time.

If your test includes an essay question, carefully read the prompt and directions for writing the essay. The material should be familiar to you. Always begin by planning your essay and preparing a brief outline. Know where you are headed before your start writing. Always include an introduction with a well thought out thesis statement, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Vary your writing style and vocabulary used; always include specific examples. Write neatly and legibly. Skip lines between paragraphs.

Feeling Panicky

First, try to control your breathing. Second, you can use positive visualization. Imagine moving through the test question by question, and skipping and coming back on any question that gives you grief. Imagine finishing the test and being able to enjoy the rest of your day or week with the test behind you. It will all be just fine. No one test will define you! Tell yourself you can do it, because you can!


If your results on a quiz, test, or final exam are not what you expected, make sure you schedule a time to review the exam with your teacher. Where did you go wrong? Did you make careless errors, not answer the question asked, or perhaps you did not know the material. If you have missed too many classes, not completed assigned reading or homework, short-changed class room assignments, you are not setting yourself up for a successful exam performance. Move into the next chapter, quarter, semester or school year with a renewed purpose and goal. Attend all classes, do all assigned work, ask questions when confused, and you will have more success on any quizzes, tests, and final exams you take!


Manners, Respect, Responsibility, and Social Media: A Message For Our Children

Manners, Respect, Responsibility, and Social Media: A Message For Our Children

I have been increasingly disappointed by the behavior of many of the students I encounter on a daily basis. The subject of this week’s “Susan’s Two Cents” is a review of basic manners as well as a discussion about respect and a bit about social media. It is a huge topic and one I will revisit further in the future.

Good manners can have a significant impact on everyone we encounter in a day. Those with good manners are kind and treat those people they meet each day (parents, teachers, friends, classmates) with respect. Showing respect means treating people with kindness and showing consideration for their feelings. Compassionate people are thoughtful about the needs of others, not just their own needs. Individuals who exercise good manners will find kindness, respect, and friendship with others. First impressions are very important and those exercising good manners will always make a great first impression. Your good manners and respect should also carry over to how you behave on social media.

Saying hello, good morning, or good afternoon to those who come across your path is one of the easiest manners to practice. Smile! Make eye contact. Respond when spoken to. Share with others. Hold a door open for those entering a building behind you, offer to help someone in need, and picking up litter you come across seem like simple tasks. Let someone behind you in line go ahead of you. Ask your parents or friends how their day has gone. Clean up after yourself without being asked. These are thoughtful things to do and will make you feel good. Those with good manners treat everyone with respect regardless of how different they are from you. Never forget to use the simple words: Please, Thank You, Excuse Me, and You’re Welcome.

People who exercise good manners receive respect in return. It is as simple as that. You can show respect for others by standing when you meet new people. Make eye contact and firmly shake hands with people you see for the first time. Being on time to appointments, classes, and family meals shows respect. Carefully listening to those who are speaking to you, whether a friend, teacher, parent, or other adult, is a sign of respect. Do not interrupt and never, ever, speak disrespectfully to others, especially your parents. Show interest by asking follow-up questions. Do not use inappropriate language. Dress for success (a topic for another day!). When I was growing up, talking back to my parents or using inappropriate language meant serious trouble for me. Times may be different today, but behaving respectfully is still important.

Over the last twenty years, we have seen significant changes in our world as a result of social media! Today, we can communicate with friends and family all over the world practically instantly. As hard as you may find this to believe, I survived high school and college without a cell phone, computer, tablet, or calculator! If I wanted to talk to friends, I called them on the one land-line that existed in our house (in the kitchen, where everyone could hear your discussion). Conversations occurred at school or when friends met up. Occasionally, we might write notes to each other, but for the most part, we communicated face-to-face. If we said something hurtful or inappropriate, we could immediately see the reaction of the other person. We learned social cues through this process. A great lesson from this is for you not to say things on social media (including via text, e-mail, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) that you would not say in person to someone. If you have something nice to share, great! If not, keep it to yourself. If you would not want your parents to see something you are writing, then do not write it. Use that as a guide.

There are a few other thoughts that you should consider important and respectful when it comes to using your cell phones, e-mail, and social media apps. Keep your phone on silent or off when interacting with family and friends. Keep your phone out of site when in classes and when attending important meetings. Always be polite and courteous when answering your phone. Talk in a respectful tone and use appropriate language. Be safe and do not correspond with people you do not know. This also applies to correspondence via e-mail or your social media sites. Do not friend people you do not know. Do not send texts, make posts, or send pictures you would not be comfortable for your parents or the whole world to see! Always use good manners when communicating via text, e-mail, phone, or posting on social media sites. Remember, others may take pictures of you in compromising situations and post for the world to see. It is very hard to erase something once it has been forwarded to the world!

Exercise good manners daily, show respect to those around you, be a responsible citizen at school, in your family, as well as in your community and with friends; use good judgement on social media and your destiny will be limitless. Remember the following quote from Lao Tzu:

Watch your thoughts because they become words.
Watch your words for they become actions.
Watch your actions for they become habits.
Watch your habits for they become character.
Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.

Finals Are Coming! What do I do?

Finals Are Coming! What do I do?


     For many students the school year is quickly coming to a close. Many college students have completed their academic year or are seeing the end in sight over the next month. High school students are wrapping up their academic year as well as middle and elementary students. Typically, the close to the college and high school courses entails a final exam or final papers or projects. Grades students earn in these courses can have a significant impact on the student. The focus of today’s “Susan’s Two Cents” will be preparing for high school finals.

The first step to this process is having your student take stock of where their grades are at this point in time. Are we sitting comfortably with high “A’s” as we move into finals – grades in excess of 95%? Or, are we borderline? Or, have we dug ourselves into a deep hole that may be difficult to dig out of? This is a time to be realistic and not dwell on the past several months or rehash how you find yourself in the position you are, but to look forward and be proactive. Carefully review your list of assignments and grades to date. Do all of your grades make sense to you? Are there missing assignments that you recollect completing that you have not received credit for? Are there class assignments you completed and turned in, but not received credit for? Perhaps the teacher has a box of unidentified work (you forgot to put your name on your paper!) and you can find assignments there. Maybe you were absent (approved absence) and need to arrange to make-up work or complete missing quizzes or tests. Be proactive! Request a meeting with your teacher to review where you stand and what you can do to improve your situation. Are there extra credit opportunities? If your teacher is difficult to meet with, prepare an email reviewing your concerns and questioning how you can improve your situation. Young high school students may seek assistance from their counselors as well as their parents. Teachers prefer meeting with students directly, but at times a parent or counselor must intervene.

Once you have evaluated where you are at, prepare a list of tasks you should complete by class to prepare for finals as well as stay on top of the current work assigned. Make sure you attend each class and pay attention to the teacher. Listen intently to class lectures, take notes, and complete all assigned classwork. If you do not understand an assignment, ask the teacher for help. Most likely, if you did not comprehend something, plenty of your classmates did not understand either. Turn in all homework assigned. Prepare and study for all quizzes and tests. Above all, make a good impression in classes by paying attention, staying off of your phone, and avoiding disrupting class by chatting with classmates. Make learning and participating in class your priority. The impression you make on the teacher can have an impact on the grade you receive in the class, especially if your grade is borderline. Positive impression – the final “rounding” may go in your favor. Negative impression – the final “rounding” may NOT go in your favor!

Once you have prepared a list of tasks you would like to accomplish to prepare for your exams, organize a schedule to get them done. Be realistic and spread the workload over each day. Get help to assist you with your planning and studying or to teach you material you are not understanding. Do not plan to review six chapters of Biology the night before the exam or to complete a 175 question math review packet in one sitting the day before the exam. No, you are not likely to be able to memorize 250 vocabulary words a day before an exam. Sleeping with your books under your pillow is not the best way to study for exams either.

Here is a brief plan by subject:

English courses – Review all books covered in the semester; review grammar chapters assigned, review vocabulary (utilize cards or Quizlets).

Math courses – Review all chapters covered during the semester and complete chapter tests (found in the math book) as well as any study guides previously assigned; set up a time to review your prior tests with the teacher to identify topics you struggled with.

Science and History courses – Reread or read (if you never read the book to begin with!) assigned chapters and take notes if you did not throughout the semester (a topic for a fall article!), memorize key material.

Foreign Language courses – Review the materials from the entire year as it all builds on itself including practicing speaking for oral exams, review all grammar and vocabulary.

Papers – prepare a timeline to complete the assignment including research, outlining, writing, and then reviewing. Do not plan to do this all in one day.

Please remember that studies show that we recall only 25% of information that we look at once after just seven days, but if we review material each day for a week, we will recall at least 80-85% of the information! A little every day can go a long way!




High School Students: What Classes Should I Take?

High School Students: What Classes Should I Take?

High School Students: What Classes Should I Take?

     Every year in the spring, students all over the country select courses to take in their upcoming year of high school. Schools must organize their course offerings and teacher schedules in anticipation of the requests. Counselors (in schools lucky enough to have sufficient numbers of counselors) meet with students and parents while agonizing over the decisions. Should my child take Advanced Placement (AP) classes, Honors courses, or regular class offerings? Who teaches these particular courses and are the teachers “easy” or “demanding”? Do colleges prefer seeing a “B” in an Honors class versus an “A” in a regular class? How will our college of choice view the course selections and will my student be poised to enter their first choice school? (Of course, not all students are college material, but this shall be a topic of another discussion.) The answers to these questions are not always simple, but exercising some basic common sense can be useful.

As a parent, it is important to be realistic when assisting your student make course selections. Most states have guidelines of minimum courses and topics a high school student must complete to graduate. These courses will establish the foundation. For example, four years of English and three years of Math. Three years of Social Sciences and two years of foreign language as well as several years of hard sciences including at least one year of a lab science. Many schools require students to take a year of art and a couple years of physical education or participation on a sports team. Whatever the requirements for your high school and state, these will guide your initial decisions. For many schools, a student’s performance in middle school will dictate whether or not the student will be allowed to enroll in an Honors course or Advanced Placement course. This makes logical sense.

But, there is always the parent who wants to ignore all recommendations, and insists their little Iggy be enrolled in the more challenging class. After all, it is a new start and even though Iggy performed poorly throughout middle school science classes and on any standardized exam administered to date, he loves science and will rise to the challenge of taking an honors course. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that over the years, but I can tell you that more often than not, the results are not positive. Let your first year high school student take courses they are recommended for and if they rise to the occasion and excel, increase the course demands in their second year.
Most high schools do not allow parents to dictate what teachers their students will have. There is always a teacher or two that parents hope to avoid and some parents will go to all costs to insure Iggy does not get the mean or hard teacher. This is not necessarily a great life lesson for Iggy. It is more character building to learn to deal with the challenging teacher as someday again he is likely to encounter a challenging boss or difficult neighbor. Learning to navigate relationships with different types of people is a lesson well learned younger than older.

Colleges prefer to see A’s in all classes attempted. If your student can handle the curriculum in Honors courses or AP courses, let them take them. Remember AP means college level work. Is it realistic for your high school freshman to be taking a college level course? For some, the answer is a loud “yes”, but for others it is an even louder “NO”. But, with that said, there are plenty of college options and trade school options for all students. Be reasonable (show reason and sound judgement) about the schools your student is aiming for. (A topic for another day!)

Bottom line, be realistic in choices you make and both you and your child will be happier.