December 6, 2022

Back to School with the Educators

Local education leaders share memories and advice for 2022-23 students
By Northern Express Staff & Contributors | Aug. 27, 2022

Well, folks, that’s a wrap on summer vacation. Only a few days separate us from the start of the school year, a time when all of us get a bit nostalgic for No. 2 pencils and square pieces of pizza. So we asked education leaders in northern Michigan if they were to do it all again—relive a year of school 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 kids today?

Camille Colatosti | Provost, Interlochen Center for the Arts

If you had to go back and relive a school year, which year would you pick and why?
I would pick my senior year of high school, and I would enjoy it more. I would describe myself as an “old soul.” I worked hard in school, and, of course, had some fun. But now, if I could relive it, I would relax more, knowing that everything will work out.

What is different about your experience then from students entering that grade today?
I was in school before the internet—way, way back when. 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 fit in. There are lots of ways to use social media to tease, criticize, and judge. This has made it even harder to be a teen than it used to be; the bullying can be very intense, and, on social media, it can also be anonymous.

That said, there is among young people today a lot more acceptance of differences than I remember there being when I was young. Many have found their “people” and do not worry so much about fitting in. I see a level of confidence among young people that I very much admire.

Today’s young people are also a lot 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. This is beautiful to see.

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 to yourself at that age?
I would advise my 17-year-old self to relax more and have fun. Make choices connected to your values. If you do, everything will turn out fine. Life is a journey that you will travel not exactly as expected—but, with that solid focus on your values, the journey will be a good one.

Nick Nissley | President, Northwestern Michigan College

If you had to go back and relive a school year, which year would you pick and why?
I’d want a redo of my freshman year of college. It was a train wreck! I was unprepared—academically and emotionally. As a first-generation college student, I wasn’t prepared for college, and I struggled to make it work financially. I felt alone—in Vermont, miles from home in Pennsylvania—with no family support. And I didn’t know how to connect with the college’s support resources. Simply, I floundered.

What is different about your experience then from students entering that grade today?
Sadly, many first-generation college students have similar struggles today. The good news is that colleges have gotten smarter, providing resources and support for these students. Like NMC’s Commitment Scholarships, which help not only financially, but also seek to support students to successfully navigate their entry into college.

What has stayed the same?
Again, sadly, today, like my experience in 1984, the price tag of a college education remains a barrier. I took on loans, worked full-time, and struggled to fit in amidst more privileged students. Back then, I never heard of community colleges. I didn’t know 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 to yourself at that age?
Be open to the support of caring adults: teachers, coaches, and all the support resources of a college—counselors, tutors, success coaches. There are so many people who are there to help you, who are committed to your success. Seek them out and accept their “hand up” offer. 

Patrick Lamb | Assistant Superintendent of Career and Technical Education, Northwest Education Services

If you had to go back and relive a school year, which year would you pick and why?
I would pick my senior year in high school. At the time, I wanted it to go fast so I could graduate and move on to college. If I could do it again, I would slow the year down and truly enjoy all aspects of high school. My high school experience was a wonderful time in my life, and if I was able to relive any of it, I would savor my friendships, teachers, and athletic teams that I participated on.

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

What has stayed the same?
I like to think friendships and relationships stay the same. They look different at times, but the personal contact between friends and groups seems so very important today. This seemed to hold true during COVID and quarantining, when it was clear students missed their friends and relationships they had at school. Even with the technology that is available out there, the desire for face-to-face interactions and to build personal connections and community with others has not changed.

What advice would you give to yourself at that age?
I would advise myself to slow down, enjoy the times, friends, and memories. Try not to stress about things you have no control over. Seek out mutual positive relationships, where you value and care about your friends and they do the same. Worry less about impressing others and more about enjoying true friends and family.

David Roland Finley | President, North Central Michigan College

If you had to go back and relive a school year, which year would you pick and why?
I’m going to pick the third grade. I had an amazing teacher, Ms. Sewell, and she was beloved by all. In the classroom, we bettered our reading skills, learned multiplication tables, and held weekly spelling bees. All of this expanded my world, and I wanted to learn even more. On the playground, there remained an innocence, as the social cliques that would come in later years of schooling had not yet been established. I also recall finding a buckeye tree with intriguing nuts and shells along the school fence line. Fortunately, this fascination did not stick, as I would later become a Michigan Wolverine!

What is different about your experience then from students entering that grade today?
The advent of technology and social media has changed how students today see the world. Instead of using encyclopedias to find information, it’s now ubiquitously available on a smartphone or computer. Students can much more easily stay connected to distant relatives and friends. However, there are also downsides. Technology can become a crutch and used in place of real social interaction or come to be a young person’s only (or highly preferred) mode of play. I think that unstructured play remains vitally important throughout our lives.

What has stayed the same?
We’re blessed to have many caring teachers in the world today. Being a K-12 educator is not easy, and we are fortunate that these individuals choose to give of themselves to create a brighter future for their students and, in turn, our communities. Reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic (the three Rs) remain vitally important skills for all individuals to master to survive in our world today.

What advice would you give to yourself at that age?
Dream big! Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. A good friend and mentor once said to me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” We don’t get a second chance. There will be twists and turns in life, and most certainly bumps in the road, but you can overcome all of this. If you have a dream, give it everything you’ve got and make it happen!

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