School’s out (almost)! And if you’re a student getting ready to graduate from high school, you’re probably ready for some well earned down time, right? And if you’re headed off to college or university in September, you probably want to make this summer count. Spend time with your friends. Party a bit. Maybe spend time at a cottage, or just chill somewhere. Honing you academic skills is likely the last thing on your mind. But…if you truly want to meet your potential in college or university, there are some things you should do this summer that can’t wait until the last minute, which will keep you sharp and on your game, will prevent your skills from getting rusty, and will allow you to start this next chapter of your academic career with some momentum. It is absolutely true that “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, so here are some things you can do over the summer to maintain your edge:
Keep reading! It doesn’t have to feel like homework. Read anything that interests or inspires you, or sparks your interest. Read at a level that’s fun for you. Read magazines, or newspapers, or trashy novels if that’s fun for you, but read! And if you want to challenge yourself a bit, try listening to audio books, or try a novel using that text-to-speech software (Kurzweil, perhaps?) that’s been gathering dust on your laptop. The whole point is to keep your mind active and stimulated by giving it new information to process.
Keep writing! Nobody’s asking you to produce 10-page papers every week, but you can keep your writing skills sharps by doing something as simple as maintaining a daily journal. And no…texting does not qualify as the kind of writing you need to be good at. In college/university you can’t write using acronyms or emoticons (LOL), so keep your skills up by practicing the kind of writing that you’ll be required to do when you get here. Go old school and write a letter to your Aunt Daisy in Newfoundland, or a thank you note to Uncle John in Red Deer. Journaling, letter writing, whatever you do, find a reason to write frequently throughout the summer. You may even want to do this by experimenting with the Dragon software that is sitting alone and lonely on your laptop.
Learn your technology! Many high school students with learning disabilities have access to technology and assistive software that they never use. Take some time this summer to learn it. Post-secondary students routinely use programs like Kurzweil, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and Inspiration to level the playing field and to achieve at their academic potential. And with very few exceptions, every student at this level is using some form of technology. Get comfortable with your technology and be ready to put it to use when you get here. You’ll be glad you did.
Learn your self! Part of that self is the small but important part that is your learning disability. This part should never define who you are, but ignoring it won’t do you any good either. So, start by reading and understanding your IEP and assessment (if you have one). Understand your diagnosis and what it means. Understand and be able to explain why you get the accommodations that you get. Take responsibility for developing an understanding of how you learn, and what the learning strategies are that empower you to reach for your potential. The more you are able to do that, the more independent you become, and the more effective you will be in advocating for yourself after high school.
Maintain a schedule! One of the biggest potential stumbling blocks high school students encounter in transitioning to university is with time management. In high school, your schedule was largely determined for you, but in university…not so much. In most cases you will determine the number of courses you will take, when they will be, whether or not you will attend, or whether a social event with new friends will take priority over your academic responsibilities. This kind of independence and responsibility can seem like freedom, but it can become a curse if you let it. So get a handle on your time management now. Plan and stick to a routine over the summer. Set an alarm and get up on your own. Figure out when you will work out, when you will spend time reading and relaxing, when you’ll hang out with friends, when you’ll take time for college /university prep, and how you’ll do all of that around the summer job you may have found. Put all of this on a schedule and stick with it, in preparation for the new time management demands you will find after high school.
Get ready for your courses! Look for course information online, and get the lay of the land as early as you can. It’s much better to start the first day of class having already established an overview of what will be required. You may even be able to buy your books ahead of time, and if you can do that, there’s no reason not to scan some of that material as part of your summer reading program. And to the extent that it’s possible, learn your new campus. Explore it if you have the opportunity to do that. Figure out how to find the offices and services you may need, and get comfortable with navigating your new campus well before class begins. One less thing to worry about once class actually starts.
Make early contact with the Office for Student’s with Disabilities! As we discussed in a previous blog post (Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University), the process for being accommodated at a post-secondary level is very different from what you may have become used to in high school. So…it is never too early to start the process. Meet with a Disability Advisor at your new school, who will spend time with you reviewing your current accommodations and documentation. Many high school students require an updated assessment when they move on to college/university, and an advisor can facilitate and guide you through a process to ensure that you are appropriately accommodated when class begins.
So enjoy your summer, by all means, but don’t neglect important aspects of yourself in the process, and don’t stop building on the solid academic foundation you established in high school. Use some of your “down time” this summer to build yourself up, preparing your body and mind for the new journey that lies just ahead. Have fun, but make sure you don’t arrive at the first day of class with an empty tank. Get proper rest, and exercise, and nutrition, and nourish your mind in some of the ways that we’ve talked about. Nourish your spirit too, by spending time with people you love, and who love you, and who inspire you somehow to be your best self. Have a fun, safe and productive summer, and plan to arrive at your new school with a full tank of gas, fully prepared to head out on the road to success.
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