Sunday, May 31, 2009

Graduation, 2009

Last Sunday we completed our seventh year as a school. It was my first full year at JPII and my 20th year as either principal, president or headmaster. I want to thank everyone for the wonderful year that it's been. My family and I feel blessed to be here.

The baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies were great. Many people asked me what I liked best about the end of year graduation exercises. For me, it was the senior choral members singing together for the last time in the downtown cathedral at the end of the baccalaureate mass. Thanks to our new admissions officer, Gail Greene, we have it on tape:

For more video of our graduation ceremonies, you can go here.

God bless you, seniors, and stay in touch with your alma mater.

Have a great summer, everybody!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Tips for Testing

Congratulations! We’ve made it to May, which means that the end of the school year is right around the corner.

Standing in the way between now and then are a battery of tests—May is, in fact, the month of tests. We began A.P. testing today—right now, students are taking our AP Government exam, and many of you will be taking one or more of the other 18 AP exams we’ll give here before next Friday. Some of you took the SAT test on Saturday, others are signed up to take the ACT’s in June. We teachers have an annoying habit of squeezing in chapter tests before the final exams just to add to your merriment.

You are probably aware there is a whole industry out there that will sell you ways to do better on tests. If you’re taking the ACT or SAT, for example, you can purchase the Princeton Review for $19.95. Peterson’s Guide ($24.95) will help you A.P. tests, or you can even take an online Kaplan course to prepare for the ACT for $400 or use Kaplan to get you a private tutor to prepare for $3600.

While there are some benefits to these programs, they pale in importance to taking a good, demanding curriculum from a teacher that pushes you to do your best over the course of an entire year. You do that already by virtue of being enrolled at JPII. Beyond that, I’d like to offer a few more suggestions that will help you do well on the upcoming tests you face this month:

First, make it a priority to get a good night’s sleep before the test. The scientific research is clear: a good night’s sleep triggers changes in the brain that help improve memory. Because of the advances in magnetic resonance imaging, scientists have been able to literally watch what happens to our brains as we sleep, and in laymen’s terms, it appears that sleep is crucial in transferring information from short term to long-term memory. Additional studies indicate those who have had proper sleep are better able to recognize a “big picture” connection of ideas. Participants in a study were given a math puzzle to figure out. Half were introduced to the puzzle in the morning, the other half in the evening. Those who were taught in the morning were asked to tackle the puzzle 8 hours later, without sleeping in between. Those who learned in the evening went to bed for the night before re-engaging 8 hours later. The group that slept in between solved the puzzle at twice the rate of those who had not slept.

What the research indicates is the worst thing you can do before a test is “pull an all nighter” or cram for a test the night before if that means you are stealing sleep to do so. Sleep more!

Second, do some exercise the morning of the test. Before you come to school the morning of the test, take a run around your block a few times. Exercise clears the head, relieves stress and improves brain functioning by increasing blood flow, oxygen and glucose to the brain. The stress you sometimes feel when you have to take a big test is often an inhibitor to functioning at your best, and exercise will go a long way to tackling that stress. If you can’t wake yourself up 30 minutes or so to do the extra exercise, run the steps off our parking lot by the baseball field a few times before walking into the school. Yes, your friends may tease you, but the scientific evidence is clear: it’ll help you think more sharply that morning.

Third, eat a good breakfast the morning of the test. There’s truth to the statement that some foods improve brain performance, mostly because they provide brains the nutrients and acids the brain needs to function at peak. Breakfast foods in this category include eggs, cantaloupe, milk, oatmeal, wheat germ and oranges. My wife always prepares a big breakfast the morning before any of my 4 children take a standardized test. It helps!

Finally, ask God to help you. I commend that to you because God commends it: He tells us “Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7) God is pleased with us when we ask him to help us with important things, and like a parent who loves us, he is eager to give us what we need. In asking God for assistance, we also help ourselves calm down a bit, which helps us deal with our stress.

So, study hard these next few weeks. Nothing outshines good, hard work. But in addition to studying, be sure to get a healthy amount of sleep and exercise. Eat well, and bring your worries and concerns to God. May God bless you and may you do exceedingly well on all your exams.