Time for us to go back to school

It seems like fall comes a little earlier every year. Even as summer feels far from over, students throughout the region are getting ready to go back to the classroom: school supplies abundantly line the shelves of department stores, seasonal harvest spice cookies temptingly grace the bakery racks at Sheetz, and student-athletes are excitedly anticipating the opening week of high school sports in central Pennsylvania.

Driving around the region the activity is obvious: packs of cross country runners in fluorescent vests making their way through the streets; football players reporting to early-morning workouts, the first of two for the day; soccer teams booting balls around a busy practice field; the voices of cheerleaders and beat of the marching band drums echoing through campus.

Indoors, high school halls are spotless after their summertime deep-clean; the warm-weather smells seem different from that of the busy school-days. Soon these halls will be filled with students and teachers bustling from class to class, lunchtime, and extra-curricular activities.

This is such a special time of year: the dawn of a fresh start — new class schedules; for some: new facilities, and for all: high expectations — everyone is undefeated.

Students today may be more connected than in generations gone by: cell phones and computers foster constant contact between classmates and friends throughout the summer. But nothing compares to face-to-face interaction, particularly in an athletic arena.

As teenagers leave behind vacation memories, camps and summer jobs, they re-enter the high school community; and for many it’s a welcome return. But for others, the new school year could be riddled with social landmines, breeding anxiety and even fear.

That’s where athletics and other extra-curricular activities can be so valuable. Not only can students feel part of something — included — they can find many avenues toward leadership roles. For some it may be as a captain or section leader; for others the chance to serve in a supporting role, leading by example or by bolstering classmates. And these leaders, vocal or quiet, can collectively set the tone for a team, a class and even an entire student body.

I recently heard an administrator tell some teenagers that they, the students themselves, will be the ones to stop violence in classrooms: not just through enhanced security or intruder training, but through kindness and inclusion. Seeking out someone who seems alone; standing up for someone being bullied; calling out someone being cruel — even small acts of compassion and decency can have a huge impact in the life of a young person who feels like they’re on the outside.

And athletes should be leading the way. These high-profile students, who make newspaper headlines and television highlight while pursuing excellence in the athletic arena, also have a special opportunity to create a culture of kindness more impactful than any championship.

Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org.