A little more than a decade ago, I was preparing to graduate from a Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school, pack up, and head off to college at UNC Chapel Hill. I swore to my friends and parents, really anyone who would listen, that I was “over” Charlotte. I would come back on breaks from school—when I absolutely had to—but otherwise wanted to stay in my bubble on campus.
Completely disengaging from Charlotte and from the public school system here, though, would have been a mistake. Similarly, the thousands of CMS graduates who will receive diplomas this week have an opportunity to continue to have an impact on the school system. Here are four things CMS grads can do to give back to the district that launched them into the world:
Host a student for a college visit—and do more than party.
Most students who go off to school, whether it’s to the community college across town or to a large university states away, run across the opportunity to host a high school student for a weekend. It’s a great opportunity for younger kids to get a feel for the college lifestyle—to eat in the dining hall, watch a sporting event, or explore campus—but it’s also a chance to be so much more.
Maybe she wasn’t comfortable asking questions about campus culture on the official tour. Perhaps he wants to truly see if he can fit in. The leap from high school to college can be intimidating. The weekend I spent in Chapel Hill with students just a couple years older than I was helped me make an easier transition.
Graduates can tutor elementary-age children in summer programs before leaving to go to school. They can volunteer at church programs designed to prevent summer learning loss. Or they can spend time with the neighborhood kid who could use an older role model.
After they get to school, technology makes mentoring far easier than ever before. Skype sessions with a friend back home are an easy way to “pay it forward.” Throughout college, I copy edited essays for high school students back home, sharpening my skills while supporting students who needed help. It was one of the most fulfilling things I did.
Along with new found freedom, high school graduation brings new responsibility—the right to vote. All too often, students don’t engage in politics, especially at the municipal level, until later. But what better time to express an interest in government that will affect their daily lives: the cost of the water bill at their first apartment, for example. CMS students who have watched the district’s pupil assignment process with interest will have a chance to elect school board candidates who share their beliefs on the issue—whatever those beliefs may be.
If a student wants to remain registered at home, help him secure an absentee ballot. If she decides to register at school, email her a link to the voter registration application after she settles into her dorm. Encourage them to stay current on local news. Articulating their beliefs at the ballot box can have a profound effect on students’ transitions to adulthood.
Thank a teacher.
Midway through my freshman year in college, when I had my first front-page story in the student newspaper, I clipped it out and mailed it to the high school English teacher who helped me become a better writer. I was proud of the story and thought he would appreciate seeing it. I enclosed a note thanking him for helping me develop the skills necessary to succeed in journalism.
It was a relatively benign gesture, I thought, and was motivated more by my pride about the article than a sense of appreciation. Nevertheless, I won’t forget the note I received in response, which expressed profound thanks for the gesture.
“All too often, we teachers never hear from the students we send off into the world,” the note began. It took five minutes of my time and cost me the price of a stamp. And it is probably the most impactful thing I’ve done to stay connected to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools since I graduated.