The Arduous Path to Becoming a Well-Rounded Student

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

One of my favorite things about beginning a new school year is the determination on the part of my students to do better.

Nearly every student welcomes the new term as a fresh start, an erasure of past disappointments or failures, and a chance to make this the year to join the ranks of the successful, well-rounded students.

Unfortunately, few students are able to pull it off because they don’t know exactly how to do so. They truly want to improve their academic and extracurricular lives, but haven’t pinpointed methods to make it happen.

There are, however, some fairly easy steps that you can take to meet your goal of excelling this year. If you begin them in the next couple of weeks, when the school year is fresh, they’ll most likely become permanent habits with dramatic results.


First, get an inexpensive date book or academic planner; your school’s student store probably sells them.

Bring it to every class, every day, and write in it all deadlines for homework, projects, and tests. After all, the most brilliant essay means nothing if you’ve left it at home on the due date.

Next, spend at least 20 minutes on each subject every day. If you have no homework in a subject, then spend the time reviewing.

Also vow to seek assistance at the first sign of trouble in a subject. Your teacher can probably help, and may know of free or inexpensive tutoring.


You may have seen the bumper sticker that says “Kill your television.” While TV does seem to lure people away from their homework and other tasks, you don’t need to cut it out entirely. Just reduce your viewing time and finish your studies before you flick it on.

Try other kinds of programs, too. Catch at least one newscast a few times each week so you’ll know what’s going on in your neighborhood and in the world at large. Watch a PBS program now and then; try to find one about something you’re studying in school.

Use the time when you’re not watching TV to read for fun every day. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare; romance novels, science fiction or sports are fine. What matters is that you do it. The more you read, the faster a reader you’ll become, and that’s a big help in school.

Keep a journal, too, whether you write every day or just on especially good or bad days.


Starting an exercise program is wise, whether it’s a team sport or something you do yourself or with a friend, such as jogging or biking. Exercise is particularly helpful just before a study session because it clears your head and makes you more alert.

Try to excel in extracurricular activities. Join a club or organization at school; it’s a great way to make friends and makes applications for college and jobs more attractive. For some of the same reasons, as well as the satisfaction of doing good, get involved in community service. Find a cause you care about and help it along. You may find such organizations around your campus or neighborhood.

Take a computer literacy class (or at least typing) at school, regardless of your college or career plans. Keyboarding is required for an increasing number of entry-level and part-time jobs. Good typing skills will also save you a lot of time in college, where most assignments must be typed.

Finally, diagram a realistic and specific path to your dream college or career, including the kinds of classes you need to do well in now. Post it on a wall or door where you’ll see it every day to remind you of why you need to work so hard.


Of course, time constraints and family or work obligations may keep you from trying all of my suggestions. But getting an early start on doing a few of them can help move you closer to being a happier and more well-rounded student.