Dear Jackson

I write to you, but I also write to all the Jackson, Jacks, Julias, Juliettes out there. I write to you, the seniors, the class of 2020. The class with the coolest name, after, of course, the class of 1999 who had their own Prince theme song…just saying.

But putting coolness aside, your class was one we educators dreamed of. What would the class of 2020 bring? And what would you be offered in a new decade?

You had a unique experience from the start. You were offered loads of issues none of us adults would have imagined, in addition, to new worlds that we could not fathom. A high school experience like none before.

You were a class that walked out of classrooms demanding the end of school violence as you saw or heard accounts of your peers slaughtered in schools across the nation.

A class that lived through the admissions scandals that made you wake up at a young age to the reality that your hard work and study may not be enough.

A class that grew up with the internet and free knowledge. You had the ability to learn without “teachers.” You had opportunities none of us could imagine. 

A class that connected digitally as well as in person. Created social networks that made our childhood villages look like huts.

And you WORKED hard in school as the stakes got higher.

 The statistics so unpromising. Would I be one of the 5% that gets into Harvard?! Would I ever be able to make a living to offset my student loans? Are my SATs high enough? Why the hours of homework? How do I stand out in this rat race? Is this what “winning” is supposed to feel like? 

But you played and played well.  

And there was supposedly a reward. A second-semester senior year full of senior pranks to be followed by the DREAM, college. The land where beer and books combine to make a four-year experience of laughter, friendship, and lessons. Or at least that is the narrative you have been sold. 

However, you have been robbed like so many others in this pandemic.

Robbed of us adults watching you throw your cap while in gown skywards. Cheering you on as you move future bound. And maybe not everyone is recognizing that. It is hard to complain about a prom when people are dying and it may be hard for your adult to put your feelings first as they deal with putting food on the table in a time of financial uncertainty. But your concerns are real. Your anger real. 

But know this, as your former teacher and friend, I hear you. I hope by just acknowledging that it is a bit better…maybe a bit?

So Jackson, Jack, Juliette and others, let’s get real. Some of you have reached out during this time. 

One of you asked what I would do if I were you?

I would defer and below I share my thinking for you.

College is 75% experience and 25% (at most) learning. This is not a knock on college. It’s just the reality of how college is currently designed. I would argue its value lies mostly in the sports teams, the pep rally, the dorms, and the quad. The real learning is not around a table with professors but around a table in the cafeteria. The learning is in your decisions that happen void of a parent’s praise or condemnation. It is about YOU making decisions and living with the consequences. No, there won’t be your adult calling to argue with your teacher on your behalf. And there is VALUE in that experience. And the cost of college is also 75% experience. The operational costs of a college would make your head spin. That quad doesn’t mow itself. 

That may make you question…is college worth the price if only 25% is learning? That is a fair question and in the age of distant learning, the colleges are questioning that too. College applications are dwindling and more and more colleges are forced into bankruptcy. Prior to the epidemic higher education has been in crisis and now its in turmoil. 

As everyone keeps saying tomorrow will bring a NEW normal. Education is no different and a field that should embrace change (we claim to be about learning from mistakes). This epidemic is pushing colleges to rethink how they can restructure education to meet the needs of their students and the changing economy. This was ALREADY happening, but slowly. Many models have been thrown out there that capitalize on the SOCIAL importance of the college experience but move the education model into the reality of today.

So in my opinion, it is time to take a GAP year as Colleges need to GAP too. Give your college time and get your value out of the experience that is more than learning in a classroom. Let the world heal and see what the new order will be.

And remember…those who take a year and GAP, out PREFORM those who don’t. This data below is representative of kids who take a year off before going to college. This data includes those who HAVE to take a year off to work and save money. 

And I can feel your eye roll. I know many of you class of 2020, and eye-rolling is your thing. 

And you are right, you can’t go to Ecuador to learn Spanish. You can’t go to India to do service-learning. There will be no travel Gap year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create something exceptional. 

So give yourself a GIFT. The gift of not being robbed of the collegiete experience.  A gift of SLOWING down and learning a bit about the world and things not covered traditionally in school so that when the world does settle, you will know what narrative YOU will choose. 

So what will your GAP YEAR be like?

That is the very question I’ve been working on all day. After several job offers this week from schools and organizations asking me to create distant learning solutions for K-5, it is you, the seniors, that worry me most. It is this problem that is most pressing (in my opinion).

How can society use these thousands of children to better the world during this time? How can they continue to develop and grow?  I don’t think you, class of 2020, will be the only students “taking a year.” I know of sophomores and juniors thinking of doing just the same as they don’t want to lose a year of the experience of college at the price of just the education piece. This could possibly mean 100,000’s of smart, driven, young adults who jumped every hurdle and played the school game, looking to better themselves for a year. Looking for direction. 

I would love to hear from you all. I would love to hear your thoughts. What can we create together?

It is only two questions, I promise!

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