As you know we celebrated Labor Day yesterday, a chance for all of us to take an extra day off. It used to be that schools began for the year after Labor Day, but they also didn’t have Fall Breaks, and the school year ended in June. We, on the other hand, begin our fifth week of school this week and mid-quarter grades are determined on Wednesday. Hard to believe we’re already at the mid-quarter mark!
If your grades aren’t what you want them to be, it’s time to take a deep breath and examine why.
For some of you, JPII is difficult, and even if you work hard, you’re going to struggle in some classes here. I have great respect for those of you in that boat—so do your teachers--and the truth is, your drive and determination will turn out to be something that will make you very successful in life, even if your grades are not always what you want them to be.
For the rest of you, it’s time to take inventory. Here are three practical questions:
1) Are you doing your homework and turning it in every day? I did a quick survey of grades last night: two out of every three of you who have failing grades have missing assignments, which our grade book program averages as a zero. It’s hard to overstate how crushing a missing assignment is to your mathematical grade point average. Let’s say you’re tearing up a class and make a 5/5 on the first homework assignment, 5/5 on the second, 5/5 on the third. Your current GPA is a 100%, or A+. But then you decide to give yourself a night off, and you don’t turn in the fourth assignment. What’s you’re grade now? It’s 15/20, or 75%, or a C. You go from A+ to a C just for taking one night off. And if your grades weren’t perfect before you skipped the assignment, the results are even worse. So, if any of you have missing assignments, my advice to you is to go see if your teacher will allow you to turn in missing work for a late grade, even if there is some late penalty. If, in my example, a teacher allowed you to turn in that fourth assignment late and only gave you half credit, your overall grade would be 17.5/20, or 88%, a B+. Some teachers may not allow you to do this—as is their right. But for the ones that do, you’d be foolish not to take them up on it. Go see them this week and see if it’s possible.
2) How’s your attendance? At JPII, we have three periods a week for each of your classes, compared to five periods a week in most schools. This means if you miss class in a traditional school, you’re missing 20%, or one fifth, of the classroom content for that week. But at JPII, you’re missing 33% of the class, or one-third. But it’s worse than that: As you know, our classes here don’t slavishly follow a textbook, as if you could make up the missed class by reading pages X to Y in a textbook. Rather, classes here are marked by discussion, questioning, debating, and group interactions with your teacher and your classmates. If you're in class and active in those discussions, that cannot be duplicated by copying someone’s notes or reading a textbook. These facts are borne out by another quick look at Veracross: I took the top ten of you with the worst attendance at JPII so far this year and averaged your GPA to date: The ten of you have a GPA of just over 2.0, compared to a school wide GPA of 3.4—almost a point and a half less!
We do understand when you’re sick—there’s nothing you can do about that except do your best to catch up. But when you leave school early for a trip, or come late to school because you just didn’t wake up on time, or check out of school because you’re simply tired, you’re really hurting yourself.
3) Are you getting the extra help you need? I think some of you look at tutorials as a punishment. You think: “I’ve been in school all day, and I am not about to go see a teacher on my own time.” Or maybe you say to yourself: “I’ll figure it out at home.” But here’s what happens: Many times, you go home and waste hours trying to figure something out when if you asked your teacher, her or she could show you how to do it in ten minutes. Ask your teachers! Seek out their help! They want to help you, but they’re going to respect your freedom, and if you’re not asking them, they’re not going to force themselves on you. I can’t track this stat on Veracross, because we don’t record every time a kid attends tutorial, but I suspect this is true: if a student is faithful in going to tutorials, he or she generally does well here. They’re getting the help they need. It’s that simple.
So doing your homework, attending and paying attention in class, and seeking extra help when you need it are the three keys to success here. Do you know what all three of those things have in common? With the exception of when you’re truly sick and unable to come to school, all three of those things are a function of work ethic—NOT ability. You can decide to do your homework-that’s a decision, an act of will. You can decide to tough it out and attend school if you’re merely tired or not 100%--assuming you’re not truly sick—that’s called gutting it out. You can decide to ask for help.
And that’s good news—really, it is! It means that YOU have control of how you do here. YOU have control of what you become. If doing well here was purely a function of genetics—how smart you were—then how far you could go would be predestined by biology, how God made you. We’d all be doomed to say at that level for the rest of our lives. But the core message of the holiday we just celebrated—Labor Day—is that we don’t believe that biology is destiny as Americans. We believe that the American dream is possible for all of us, as long as we have the guts and the drive and the courage to labor for it.
May we all have the guts and determination to achieve our dreams!