Wishing for a great school year

During a Pittsburgh Pirates game over the weekend, the broadcast featured clips of ballplayers talking about their favorite school time memories.

Infielder Neil Walker said he looked at the first day of school as a new beginning. How right he is.

It’s fun to look back through old school photos – the annual head shots are moments of time captured in yearbooks and scrapbooks, and now even Facebooks.

For many, the memories are good ones, featuring great friends, fun times and hopefully an accomplishment or two along the way.

But for others, school years bring back memories better left forgotten, reminders of loneliness, hurt feelings and immature cruelty. Today’s teenagers seem to have it harder than ever.

Looking at the nature of our culture, and particularly the extensive use of technology in social development, it must be tough to be a teen.

In the old days, we clipped our high school careers out of the newspaper such as home room assignments, honor rolls, sports photos, etc.

While those coveted clippings are still tacked onto refrigerators and taped into scrapbooks today, there is a whole other online world documenting the lives of today’s students.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the new scrapbooks. But unlike the captions we wrote in our yearbooks of years gone by, millennials are subjected to the constant and instant scrutiny of their peers. Are they “friended?” Are their comments “liked,” or “shared?” Or are they just ignored?

Technology has created a whole new level of bullying and an even greater need for leadership qualities among today’s teenagers. That leadership can be cultivated on athletic fields, in music rooms and through team and club participation.

A survey by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that students who are involved in extra-curricular activities, including sports, performing arts, publications and honor societies are less likely to miss school and more likely to achieve academic success.

The study overview states: “These activities offer opportunities for students to learn the values of teamwork, individual and group responsibility, physical strength and endurance, competition, diversity, and a sense of culture and community.”

It’s perhaps the community part of extra-curricular activities that is the most important. Athletics, music, clubs all create team atmospheres and a sense of belonging to something bigger than one individual.

It is the sense of isolation – of not belonging, not fitting in, not being accepted – that can create so much sadness for some teens. So the best way to battle those negative feelings is through inclusion – belonging, fitting in, being accepted.

Here’s hoping for those good feelings for students returning to school this week. May our athletes be leaders both on and off the field in fostering kindness in our classrooms and our locker rooms. May your school year be filled with good friends, positive experiences and fond memories.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.