As School Days Approach, Leading Educators Revive Theirs

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Happy Labor Day weekend! It’s a wrap for summer vacation. We’re now just days away from back to school, a time when we’re all a little nostalgic for #2 pencils and square pieces of pizza. So we asked education officials in Northern Michigan if they had to start all over again – relive a school year knowing what they know now – what would they do differently? How has being a student changed over the years? And what advice do they have for today’s children?

Camille Colatosti, Provost, Interlochen Center For The Arts (photo, left)
If you had to go back and relive a school year, what year and why?
I would choose my senior year of high school and enjoy it more. I would describe myself as an “old soul”. I worked hard at school and, of course, had fun. But now, if I could experience it again, I would relax more, knowing that everything would be fine.

How is your experience different from that of the students entering this class today?
I was in school before the internet, a long time ago. The internet and social media have changed things so much. Many of these changes are for the better. Communication is faster and more efficient. It is so easy to find information. But there is more social pressure for young people to integrate. There are many ways to use social media to tease, criticize and judge. This made being a teenager even harder than it was before; harassment can be very intense and, on social networks, it can also be anonymous.

That said, there is a lot more acceptance of differences among young people today than I remember there was when I was young. Many have found their “people” and don’t really care about their integration. I see a level of confidence in young people that I really admire.

Young people today are also much smarter than we were when I was that age. They have more access to information. They have a strong sense of values ​​and understand who they are. That’s nice to look at.

What things have stayed the same?
Young people today, just like when I was young, are fun and full of promise. They have big dreams and plans to make the world a better place. I love this!

What advice would you give yourself at this age?
I would advise my 17 year old self to relax more and have fun. Make choices related to your values. If you do, everything will be fine. Life is a journey that you won’t take exactly as planned, but with this solid focus on your values, the journey will be good.

Nick Nissley, president, Northwestern Michigan College (pictured, center)
If you had to go back and relive a school year, what year and why?
I would like to redo my first year of college. It was a train wreck! I was unprepared – academically and emotionally. As a first-generation college student, I was unprepared for college and struggled to make it work financially. I felt alone — in Vermont, miles from my home in Pennsylvania — without family support. And I didn’t know how to get in touch with college support resources. Simply, I waded.

How is your experience different from that of the students entering this class today?
Unfortunately, many first-generation students have similar difficulties today. The good news is that colleges have gotten smarter, providing resources and support for these students. Like the NMC Commitment Scholarships, which not only help financially but also seek to help students achieve a successful college entrance.

What has remained the same?
Again, unfortunately, today, like my experience in 1984, the price of a college education remains an obstacle. I took out loans, worked full time, and struggled to fit in with the more privileged students. At the time, I had never heard of community colleges. I did not know that such institutions existed. Community colleges are much more accessible in terms of the cost of education. They help reduce the barrier of the cost of education.

What advice would you give yourself at this age?
Be open to support from caring adults: teachers, coaches, and all of the college support resources: counselors, tutors, success coaches. There are so many people who are there to help you, who care about your success. Look for them and accept their offer of a “helping hand”.

Patrick Lamb, Assistant Superintendent of Vocational and Technical Education, Northwest Education Services (pictured, right)
If you had to go back and relive a school year, what year and why?
I would choose my senior year in high school. At the time, I wanted it to go fast so I could graduate and go to college. If I could do it again, I would slow down the year and really enjoy all aspects of high school. My high school experience was a wonderful time in my life, and if I could relive it, I would relish my friendships, my teachers, and the sports teams I participated in.

How is your experience different from that of the students entering this class today?
Technology and cell phones. I remember fighting with my brothers for time to talk with friends on the landline, just hoping for some privacy away from other family members to talk on the phone. I also remember passing many notes between classes with friends, instead of texting or using social media apps like Snapchat.

What has remained the same?
I like to think that friendships and relationships stay the same. They sometimes look different, but personal contact between friends and groups seems so important today. This seemed to be true during COVID and quarantine, when it was clear that students were missing the friends and relationships they had at school. Even with the technology available, the desire for face-to-face interactions and to establish personal connections and community with others has not changed.

What advice would you give yourself at this age?
I would advise myself to slow down, enjoy the time, the friends and the memories. Try not to stress about things you have no control over. Look for positive mutual relationships, where you appreciate and care about your friends and they do the same. Worry no more about impressing others and no longer worry about enjoying your real friends and family.

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