A couple of weeks ago I asked new high school seniors to give their advice to incoming first-graders on what the next 12 years will be like. I wondered if I’d get much response. It turned out the problem was having enough time to read them all.
We got more than 200 responses to the “12 to 1” project, from schools all over the Charlotte area. A few teachers made it a class assignment; other students wrote in on their own. The first several of these will appear in the printed paper soon; I've added a bunch of other replies here, and will put in more over the next day or two. Some responses are edited for space or clarity. I apologize for all the weird fonts and font sizes -- this was a lot to corral. Feel free to add your own advice in the comments.
Hold on tight
To tell you the truth, I don’t remember starting first grade. I wish I still held those precious memories of the playground, coloring, learning simple math, and good old snack time. All of those memories have been replaced by sports wins, getting my license and fun times with my friends.
Those years, especially the great ones, go by so fast that you will wish you could have held on just a little longer. I mean one day you will wake up and there will be so much hair on your face, so much muscle on your arms, and best of all so much knowledge in your head that you won’t know what to do with it. -- ShaMal Brown, West Meck
Be true to yourself
In the first grade, I was given a chance to be myself, and I failed miserably. My teacher asked the class to draw an animal to represent each of our family members. I chose a cat for my mom, tiger for my brother, and a bear for my dad. The only problem was the bear. I did my best to make every line on the bear perfect. After multiple crumpled up papers of attempted bear drawings, I couldn’t help but to cry and ask my dad to draw the bear for me.
The next day at school, the other students’ drawings were creative and bright with color. Then there were my animals, perfect in every way, but missing color and creativity. I chose trying to turn my pictures into perfection rather than using colors that I liked and represented me. The moral of the story is, first grade is your chance to be creative, different, color outside of the lines, and be yourself. -- Brittany Leffler, Piedmont High (Monroe)
The friends along the way
It’s been a long road to 12th grade and I have lost every friend I have known in elementary but... I found out that the more you lose the better friends you’ll find. I still remember my mom walking me to my first-grade class and as she was giving me my money and kissing me goodbye I cried and begged her to take me back home. But as much as it hurt her to leave me there crying, she knew that I had to learn how to be strong and meet new people. And even though my mom doesn’t walk me to school anymore I think it’s my experiences in elementary that made me who I am in my life now. -- Christian Garcia, West Meck
Love thy naps
Learn to ALWAYS enjoy naptime. You should believe in naps like you would believe in the Bible. Try to take naps religiously. At first I couldn’t fathom the idea of going to sleep in the middle of the afternoon, but the idea of napping soon became second nature to me.
Once I entered higher grade levels, classes and the amount of work I had to do for these classes became so brain tiring. I have stayed up late to do homework and then wake up early to go to school once again. That’s why I am telling you to embrace naptime. Once you get older, you won’t have naptime, but you will wish you did. -- Lauren Brizendin, Piedmont
Savoring the sweet
Half suffocated by my Pikachu costume/death trap, my vision was failing due either to a lack of oxygen or exhaustion after wandering for miles through uncharted neighborhoods. The king-size 3 Musketeers I so desperately craved wasn’t going to find itself…
A few houses later, I decided to give up and began the long walk home. Though I had more than enough candy to last me ’til Easter, I wasn’t satisfied because I didn’t have even a single 3 Musketeers bar to my name.
Noticing the sad look on my face, my dad inquired as to why I was feeling down on my favorite night of the year. “Because Dad, out of all the candy I have, I didn’t get what I wanted.” After I said this, my dad reached into the plastic pumpkin bowl which housed our give-away candy and handed me a king-size 3 Musketeers.
This being said, I only have one piece of advice for first-graders: cherish Halloween and the people who make it possible. Before you know it, you’ll be the one handing out king-size 3 Musketeers instead of receiving them. -- Drew Ryan, Charlotte Catholic (photos below)
Time is an object that can’t be controlled but only used. The middle school years will fly by like a bald eagle over the horizon, while freshman year creeps up on you like chickenpox when you’re 6. That tree you see outside in front of the school will grow and blossom 12 times in your educational career, while that bully you see in lunch who bothers you will soon cross that day when he experiences fear. Finally you grow up to be a wonderful senior just like me, who constantly reminisces on old times and wishes being 5 was something he could be. -- Jamil Ali, West Meck
You don’t know what you’ve lost 'til it’s gone
Often as a child people tend to be in a rush to grow up and act older than their age, but as they become adults they wish that they could enter back into their childhood years. Growing up in school I was always anxious to move to the next grade level, in hope that it would be easier and that I would have more fun. But little did I know that as I progressed through school things would get tougher and harder. As I look back, I realize that my elementary and middle school years were the most fun years of my life. -- Aja Purkett, Harding (photos below)
I was in a country named Vietnam when I started first grade and I was very nervous. My daddy walked me to school on the first day and he was holding my hand the whole time. After he dropped me off to my class, he hugged me, kissed my forehead, and told me he loved me. He said to always behave myself.
School in Vietnam is so different from schools in America. My school had three classrooms: a kindergarten, a first grade, and a second-grade classroom. It was all built by wood and we had no air conditioning. The classrooms were always very hot. My classroom had one window with no glass and the floor was just dirt. The teachers spanked students that were being bad with a very big ruler.
Being nervous is OK, but try talking to another student. You never know: They might be as nervous as you, maybe more. Everyone needs a good friend, so be one. -- Chi H, West Meck
Embrace your mistakes
When I entered first grade I was 6 years old; now as I enter my last year of high school, I am 17. It feels like just yesterday I was sitting in my uniform at East Elementary learning about the solar system and the state capitals. There was no pressure to fit in, to be thin or to figure out the future; we just simply did what we were told.
I would tell you not to worry about what other people think, to be who you are because nobody really cares. I would warn you that you are going to get your heart broken, but to not let that stop you, to give your all to somebody when they come around because that is how you figure out who you are. But the most important bit of advice I could share with you, little first-grader, is to not give up. Everything is going to go by fast and you are going to be grown up before you know it, so do not be afraid to make mistakes because it is in those mistakes that you find out exactly who you are. -- Shelby Vegoe, North Iredell
I used to know a young girl who was just like you. She was coming into the first grade at a new school and didn’t know anyone. She was even moving to a new state. She was scared. This little girl was me. My mom just moved to Georgia and I was from North Carolina. My mom taught me a few tricks: walking up to a group of girls playing and join in, introduce myself on the playground when they were playing a game that I liked, and just being myself. It worked. I quickly made new friends. First grade became a breeze and flew by because I was able to have so much fun. Be yourself because people will love you for that. But when you are feeling down, just remember Dory’s song from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.” It will be great. I made it all the way to my senior year and so will you. -- Victoria Flowers, West Meck
The start of school is the start of your life, where you start to become an individual, where you meet new people and meet important and meaningful people along the way. 1st grade is where you start you having your most memorable experiences. It’s hard to leave your parents that you love, but they want the best for you and your future. Have you ever thought about what you wanted to be? A nurse? The President of the USA? A fire-fighter? I remember that I’ve always wanted people when they were hurt. I am now close to reaching my goal and that is because I went to first grade. It inspired me to be the person I am now. You will meet new friends and develop long term friendships that last a life time. When I was in the 2nd grade I met a friend and for 10 long years we continue to be friends. Amazing, huh? School will be your 2nd home and what it has to offer us is amazing as a whole. It will fulfill your dreams. You just have to have faith in yourself, and you can go anywhere you want if you just believe in yourself and never give up.
-- Cindy Fuentes-Diaz, West Meck
Back in the day when I was young the first grade seemed like the Boogie Man was becoming real. The Boogie Man, though, is not real, just like the first grade is not going to bite you. My first day in grade school I went the wrong direction and ended up in the fifth grade hallway. No, they did not hit me or laugh at me. One of them actually walked me to my classroom. I was so scared I just about peed my pants, but then I realized that they knew how it felt. At one point in time we were all first graders. So this year along with ones to come, hold your head up high and be who you are, because you belong.
-- Jenny Cornwell, West Meck
Mistakes have no age limit, whether it’s a middle school girl walking into the boy’s bathroom on the first day of school (which was a BIG mistake), or even a high school student spilling her drink in the cafeteria (which isn’t fun either). Anyway, mistakes are just a part of life; you live and you learn, and in the end you always do better! Nobody is perfect, which is why pencils have erasers! So always remember, you can’t learn if you don’t make a mistake. I wish you the best mistakes so that one day, you will be an inspiration to another.
-- Sarah Venn, Piedmont High (Monroe)
Dear First Grader,
Color outside the lines. When I was in First grade my class had to make and color houses. Well I had my mind made up that I was going to make a house made out of chocolate and have it guarded by an army of “Guard Penguins.” When I finished designing my house, I was so proud of it. I showed it to all my friends, and they thought it was the coolest house. When I ran up to show my teacher I expected her to take it and tape it to the wall like the other students’ houses. However, when she saw my house her exact words were “Oh, you didn’t make your house right. When I said your dream house, I meant a real dream house. Sorry.” She then grabbed my drawing and drew what the house should have looked like (according to her standards).
For the next couple of years whenever the class was supposed to create something with our creativity, I asked the teacher each time what it should look like. That was until I reached the fourth grade when the teacher gave me the same advice I am giving you now, “Use your imagination, think outside the box, and color outside the lines. You can make it any way you want to.” Remember this: Don’t live too cautiously, you only live once.
-- Jacob Sechler, Piedmont
Instead of writing a boring letter, I'm going to tell you a story. This is a true story about a girl going into the first grade, and she was scared to go to school. But, why was she scared? Well, she had to make new friends, see a new teacher, and learn a lot of new things. When the first day of school came around, guess what happened to this first-grader: she had a blast! She loved first grade, and she found out that it wasn't so scary after all. Well friends, I was this little girl, and here I am now in 12th grade...with new friends, new teachers, and plenty of new homework. I know going into a new grade may seem scary at first, but try to relax! If you do your homework, listen to your teacher, and be nice to your classmates, trust when I say you will have an awesome year.
-- Aniyah Pendleton, West Meck
I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t want to go to school, I want to stay home and watch cartoons with my mommy.” I felt the same way when it was my turn to start school, but look at me now. I’m a senior in high school. My school years are almost over! As you look toward school it may seem like forever and a day to finish it all. But when you get to my point and look back on it, going to school was the best time of my life. Also the best thing that my parents could have made me go through. I got to meet lots of people and make plenty of friends in the process. I’ve had great opportunities like going on field trips to places I never knew existed. Accompanied by all my different and wonderful teachers. School gave me so many experiences I never would’ve known if I stayed home watching cartoons all day. I’m here to tell you, school is not the worst thing in the world. Sure it may seem that way after having all that time at home and now having to wake up early in the morning and doing work. But school helps you grow, and what better way to start than in the first grade. It expands your imagination beyond what that tv can do for you. If you really think about it, the man that made the tv went to school first. The twelve years you have coming will be long, but worth every minute. No matter how old you get you always remember what you used to do in school. Ask your parents, they’ve been through it before. The world is hard without the knowledge of a teacher in mind.
-- Keyondra Johnson, West Meck
As somebody about to graduate from high school, I know how it feels to be in first grade. I remember being scared and excited at the same time. I couldn’t wait to get to class and meet all of my teachers and classmates but I was so scared I was going to get lost. Luckily I didn’t. Looking back I remember how fun elementary school was, but now that I’m all grown up, I can have even more fun.
I know twelve years might seem to be a life time away, but trust me, it will fly by before you even know it. School and life won’t always be easy, but stick it out and it will all be worth it in the end.
-- Merideth Wardwell, West Meck
I hear school has started for you and that's great. This is the beginning of a glorious and hateful experience. School has it highs and lows. The best part of school is all the friends you'll make that share the same interest as you. Don't worry, its ok to be shy on the first day because that will all change once the year progress. The worst part of school is school itself and all the work that comes with it. In the end, School is a place where you will make lifelong friends and find your true identity or calling.
-- Martin Eban, West Meck
Hello upcoming first grader, my name is Connor McCullough and I am in the 12th grade at West Mecklenburg High school. I know that you are probably excited and/or scared about going into the first grade. Well believe it or not, I was in the first grade too. I can remember the very first day, my mom walked me in and I had no idea where I was. I didn’t have any friends in my class either. Soon I started to play with the other kids and have a good time. Not too long after that, I even wanted to live at school because I enjoyed it so much. Going into the first grade is not as bad as you may think it is though. Just remember, be a good student, be nice, and do all of your work. If you make sure you follow those three rules, you will be on your way to being a big, tough 2nd grader.
-- Connor McCullough, West Meck
I knew older kids that were in high school and they gave me advice about school and encouraged me along the way to become who I am today, a senior in high school. So the advice I would give to a first grader is to listen to your teachers and your parents because they are here to help you. Always do your class work as well as your homework so that you don’t fall behind in school. Strive to do your best and be the best person that you can be. Keep dreaming because dreams mean that you have goals in life and the only way to achieve those goals is to stay in school and work hard. Make school your priority, focus and study. If you do those things, then you will succeed!!
-- OliviaStinson, Mallard Creek High
You’ve never met any of those students before, and your teacher is not the same one from preschool, but she still smiles at you and greets you as though you’re the best of friends. It frightens you at first, and you shy away.
There are other downsides to the first grade, for one, play time is not the same, there is no more nap time, and now there’s this new thing where your teacher gives you work to do at home—how strange? First grade seems like a whole new world to you. An alien world and you wish you could go back to preschool.
In a few days’ time, you’ll get used to the new environment of the first grade classroom. You’ll grow to love your classmates and your teacher. Many wonderful memories will be formed inside of this classroom, such as your first time learning to read! You’ll grow to love first grade, and soon you’ll be looking forward to second grade.
Your Elementary years will fly by and suddenly, your middle school and high school years will have arrived. You’ll then be anticipating your senior year, the year you’ll graduate high school. The year you get your diploma and start your life as an adult!
But that’s in about twelve years from now. And though you’re only in the first grade right now, you’ll realize how important of a grade it is, as are all of the other grades that you will pass through. So, hold on, because this is only the very beginning of the ride. These next twelve years will be the most memorable and the most important years of your life.-- Tatyana Washington, West Meck