Moffat County students return to classes confident, unafraid

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Most teenagers experience some fears and anxiety as they begin a new school year. Right?

They worry they won't be able to remember their locker combination.

They fret that older, popular students will think they're geeks.

They agonize over getting lost trying to find the cafeteria.

Right?

Evidently, not in Craig.

"This year we think we're mighty, so we have no fears," said Kacey Snowden, an eighth-grader at Craig Middle School (CMS).

Her classmate, Jessie Moon, nodded in agreement and added, "It's not as bad as you think."

Matt Prince, a sophomore at Moffat County High School (MCHS) said, "Not much peer pressure."

Jon Davis, a senior on the track team, said, "The senior year is pretty easy going because there's a lot more freedom."

So where's the anxiety? Perhaps Franklin Roosevelt's expression rings true for Craig students: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

And fear-itself seems to have a low profile here at least in the high school, where the most visible students were upperclassmen. Where were the freshmen?

According to Anna Nitschke, administrative secretary at MCHS, "We've had a few lost freshmen, but that happens every year."

And that is precisely what gives the middle school eighth-graders the shivers. Most of them are scared about what happens next year, when they have to go to that big black hole called "high school."

Middle school is just that the fine line between childhood and adulthood. The challenge for parents and teachers is figuring out which side of the line a student is on during any given day. For some, like eighth-grader Shanna Reglin, it could be one of those agonizing "No gum" days. Or a day with too little time to do homework, or not enough time to scramble to your locker and rummage through your backpack before the bell rings and you have to run to the next class. Or a day when you don't want to leave school because it feels safer here than it does at home. Or a day you cry in the bathroom because of the dress code.

"The toughest years are the seventh and eighth grades because the students are changing so much," said Gary Tague, a math and physical education teacher at MCHS. He also coaches middle school football and high school track.

CMS Principal Steve Wiersma punctuates Tague's comment. "In general, this age group is facing a lot. There are great social challenges as they are changing, developing, and moving into adolescence. They're also experiencing quite an intellectual change their reasoning powers are developing, and they are making decisions and learning about the consequences of the decisions they make."

Family counselors tell us while 12- and 13-year-olds want independence, they need guidance more than ever. Students this age often say they don't care about something, when really they do.

When they hear the term "locker-anxiety" students respond with that "duh" look. But, according to student surveys conducted by the National Council of Middle Schools, locked lockers are new middlers' biggest fear. Students are very anxious about feeling humiliated in front of their peers as they struggle to open their lockers. Just because they flash a "no sweat" attitude or are silent doesn't mean they're anxiety-free.

"On the first few days of high school, the freshmen tend to congregate in a group, mostly out of fear of the unknown," said Tague. He's been teaching here for 23 years, and has earned a reputation for having good rapport with the students.

At the start of the school year, everyone's in the same proverbial boat. A new school has a whole new set of fears. Freshmen are less likely to admit it, but they are afraid of getting lost, being late because they can't find the classroom, forgetting where their lockers are, forgetting their locker combinations and measuring up. It's no longer just "their little group," where they knew everyone. Now there are hundreds of students. At Moffat County High School (MCHS) there are about 825 students.

MCHS Principal Joel Sheridan believes high school is a time for students to take ownership of their education.

"Incoming freshman or new students need to adapt to the new environment and to new procedures," he said.

He advises students to "get back into good habits after the summertime" and learn how to organize their day and plan time for all activities. "In high school students need to be a little bit more responsible start getting prepared for life outside of school," he said.

Tague said, "Seniors are not very jittery at the beginning, but at the end they are. At the end they've got to go out in the world. It's kind of up to them, then their world becomes bigger."

Autumn Daniels, a senior, confirmed Tague's observation. "The biggest jitters I had in starting this year were all the new faces; most of my friends last year were seniors and they graduated." But her real fear is adjusting to what comes next year. "I don't know where I'm going to college or what to major in it's scary."

Advice for students

Here's Tague's advice to students for surviving the anxieties:

n Keep a low profile at first Feel out the atmosphere and don't spout off to upper-classmen right away.

n Locate a teacher you can trust and confide in on an instant basis Some teachers have a reputation for being good allies to students; check them out.

n Join something Find a strength in something you enjoy; it doesn't have to be sports there are multiple opportunities to have fun, make new friends, and express through other extra-curricular activities.

n Learn coping skills Part of growing up is developing some emotional maturity: learn to deal with difficult people or those who don't treat you with respect.

Advice for parents:

n Talk with your children often, listen, spend time with them, and go places with them. Listening is so important; sometimes the student just needs someone to listen to them.

Do Craig's teenagers feel pushed by back-to-school fears?

Not really. Energy, confidence and promise light their eyes, not fear. As Maegan Mosher, on the track team and a junior at MCHS, said, "If you make good choices in the beginning, the year will go by easier."

And it appears we're off to a good start. Just ask Anna Nitschke she sees daily streams of students through MCHS's front office. "These first few days have been real smooth," she said. "One of the better years since I've been here."

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