Editor’s Note: ‘Tis the season of giving, eating and reflecting, a time to look back on 2016 and to make bold predictions about what next year may hold. In our fourth year-end personal statement roundup, we’ve again asked thought leaders to share their outlooks on education, but with a twist. They have to frame their thoughts as a response to some of the finest college application essay prompts, inspired by the very same ones that high school seniors are feverishly working on now!
Here’s what Jennie Magiera, CTO for School District 62 in Des Plaines, Illinois had to say.
What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give younger siblings or friends (assuming they would listen to you)?
When I was asked to write a piece that responded to a college essay prompt, I was equal parts intrigued and intimidated. I was filled with nostalgia for high school senior year, remembering how it felt as if I was at the doorway to my future. I was also filled with extreme PTSD from recalling the pressure of composing a college essay. However, just as I did years ago, I took a deep breath, poured a cup of tea and got to it.
The prompt I chose was: What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give younger siblings or friends (assuming they would listen to you)?
And here are my thoughts… Hey kids—Growing up today is full of incredible possibilities! You have access to infinite stores of information and platforms to reach global audiences or connect with new people and ideas. It’s amazing that you can go on Instagram Live and sing carols to friends and family near and far at 2am (something my cousin did last night). Yet as these tools make the world seem smaller and your voice more powerful, there are a few digital traps to be aware of as you traverse this landscape of opportunities.
First, beware of living in a digital echo chamber. Check out your Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat feeds. Do see a diversity in ideas and perspectives? If not, you don’t necessarily have to recreate your friend lists, but consider subscribing to blogs with differing opinions or seeking out new connections. Respectful debate and conversation helps us grow, and can even help you build more well-rounded arguments for your convictions.
Second, audit your news sources. As the fake news phenomenon is growing, so must our diligence to check sources, and verify credibility. I’m especially impressed by students who are taking steps to not only call out fake news for their own benefit, but build solutions to help others. Four college students created a Chrome extension to classify Facebook posts as verified or non-verified using AI. As we strive to stay informed about our world and society, we need to make sure that information is reliable.
Finally, consider how to use your power for good. Connectivity can be fun, but it can also be constructive. Sure, take a night to sing songs with friends on an Instagram live feed. Then the next night jump on a Twitter chat to discuss ways to support those in need. Or share a Snapstory about a positive aspect of your community. You could even use YouTube to spread awareness about a cause you believe it.
It’s an exciting time to be growing up and finding your way. The world is literally at your fingertips - a 4G or WiFi connection away. So take advantage of your tools, but be mindful of how you use them. Afterall, life goes by in a blink of an eye. One day you’ll wake up and this time in your life will be but a fond memory - and you might find yourself writing college essays just for the fun of it.
And just for fun, I answered one of the other prompts...
The President just called and is asking for advice on shaping the U.S. education technology agenda. What do you say?
It’s been a year of division. Technology, if used well, can help bring us closer together but if used poorly, can tear us further apart. So how can we focus on creating digital connections to those with new ideas and perspectives? How can we encourage our students to start and continue productive conversations? How can we amplify powerful messages? The U.S. education technology agenda already has a focus on connection and collaboration. However, as educators perhaps we need to begin building more concrete programs to immerse these objectives into all schools - not just pockets of innovation. Through these efforts, perhaps we can raise a new generation who are better than we are—and isn’t that something we all want for our children?