Middle and high school students seem to get a bad rap in this day and age. There’s a perception that they are always on their smartphones, are lazy, are disinterested in hard work, are selfish, and are quick to use and abuse drugs and alcohol.
Thankfully, most educators know differently. They see the success from their students: both day-to-day achievements and long-term progress. They see teens’ hard work—sure, it might take a different form than previous generations, but it’s hard work nonetheless. And they see how students inspire others, through coordinated schoolwide efforts, peer counseling or just being a good friend.
Alas, this student success often goes unnoticed. Finding creative ways to highlight this success can be a challenge, but it can be done—and your school will be a better place for it.
Teens Are More Than Statistics
Revisiting our introduction, the statistics about teenagers that permeate the media seemingly are all negative. For example, news outlets might focus on the fact that 33 percent of high school students drank alcohol in the last month. What that statistic also reveals is that 67 percent—fully two-thirds—of students didn’t drink in that time period. That number can be considered a success, the kind of success that gets overlooked when teens aren’t seen and valued beyond the statistics.
Highlight Excellence of All Sorts
Often, the types of excellence recognized at school is academic or athletic—the student who gets good grades or is named all-conference. Of course, this sort of excellence deserves to be highlighted, but students putting forth the effort to make their schools and communities a better place also deserve to be recognized as much as a straight-A student or a star athlete. For example, take the Red Ribbon Week campaign, of which Informed Families is a proud sponsor. Students are an integral part of making Red Ribbon Week a success, and if the messages these peer leaders spread inspires one student to make a positive choice when confronted with drugs or alcohol, the campaign truly is a success. This excellence is often overlooked amid the achievements of scholars and athletes, but it’s the type of success that should also be highlighted.
Ideas to Highlight Success
So how do you adequately and enthusiastically highlight student success? Some creativity might be in order—a simple certificate saying “Good job!” isn’t quite enough. Here are some ideas:
- Student spotlight: Highlight a different student each week on your school’s website and/or in the school newspaper. Better yet, enlist local media to feature a student each week—not only does this spread the word about the teen’s success, but it also reminds the community that your school is a positive, thriving place.
- Scholarships: Schools obviously can’t go overboard in offering scholarships to successful students, but even $50 or $100 gifts to apply to college tuition (or to help with tuition at private middle and high schools) recognize excellence.
- Perks: Small gifts from the school bookstore (such as hats or t-shirts) are a great way to recognize excellence and spread school spirit. Other perks could include free pizza for a successful student’s homeroom, or freebies from the community—sandwiches or frozen yogurt from local fast food restaurants, for example.
- Classroom contests: Individual student success is powerful, but imagine when whole classrooms work together to improve their schools. Classroom contests bring students together toward a common goal—with a little friendly competition thrown in. Contests might include which class can raise the most money for a good cause, perform the most community service hours, or contribute most to improving the school. Winning is not so much the goal as is inspiring students to successfully work together.
- Trading cards: This is a great idea from some schools in New Jersey. Successful high school students’ images and accomplishments are put on trading cards, which are handed out to elementary and middle schoolers as rewards. The high schoolers’ success is on display via the trading cards—in essence, they become role models for the younger kids. And the elementary and middle school students strive to succeed in order to earn more cards.
- More opportunities: Successful students are an asset to the school, and as such, should be given additional opportunities toward improving the community. Encourage students to become more involved, and support their ideas when they come to you looking for ways to contribute.
A great step for educators looking to promote and highlight student success at their schools is to become an Informed Families Ambassador. We provide the tools and support to spread positive messages and empower teens to make smart, successful decisions.