Back to School

The older you get, the shorter your summers seem to be.

What began in elementary school as a glorious stretch of vacation to swim all day, hang out with your friends, go to camp, and stay up past your bedtime gets taken over in high school by part-time jobs, summer school homework, babysitting your siblings and reading a multiplicity of college brochures thrust at you by your parentals. When I was growing up, the approach of September also brought with it a series of rituals; i.e., getting a new wardrobe, buying binders, pens and three-ring notepaper, embroidering my name on my gym suit (as if anyone would want to steal it), and – if it were a different campus – making a map of where all my classes were so I wouldn’t be late the first day. This month’s lesson plans are all about heading back to the halls of academia.

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TABLE TOPICS

These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.

1. Was there ever a summer vacation you wished would never end? What was it that made it special?
2. What’s the best part about going back to school?
3. What’s the worst part about going back to school?
4. What’s the most important thing you personally need to have on your first day back in the classroom?
5. What’s your favorite extracurricular activity (and why)?
6. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever kept in your locker?
7. Do you always cram the night before or set aside time to study in the days leading up to a big test?
8. Have you ever worked with – or been – a tutor? What was the experience like for you?
9. How many schools have you attended since first grade? Which was your favorite?
10. Are you looking forward to graduation? Why or why not?

ADVANCED SWIMMING? SERIOUSLY?

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When I was a senior, I had a very possessive boyfriend named George. My mother found this endearing. I found it annoying. He was also dumb as a rock and barely squeaked through graduation with straight C-minuses. As Fate would have it, we’d be attending the same community college and, since I was going to be out of the country during the month open registration was held - George offered to sign us both up for classes. I gave him a specific list of what I wanted. George, however, didn’t want me out of his sight for even 50 minutes and, accordingly, signed me up for the only classes he was qualified to take himself; i.e., Advanced Swimming, Remedial English, Introduction to Math.

Your assignment: In this comedic reversal, it’s the heroine of your YA sitcom that signs up her jock boyfriend for all the classes that appeal to her; i.e., Interpretive Dance, Culinary Arts 101, and Early Childhood Education. Write a three-page scene in which she presents him with their upcoming class schedule and he reacts…badly.

STUDENT, INTERRUPTED

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I love seeing pictures of “mature” graduates – smiling octogenarians with white hair, wrinkles and walkers as they proudly cross the stage to accept a long-overdue high school diploma. The stories that accompany these milestone events often involve an upbringing in extreme poverty, unplanned pregnancies, stints in the military, and working a succession of low-paying jobs to keep food on the table and wolves away from the door. When they finally get the “me” time to go back and pick up where they left off, there’s rarely a dry eye in the house. When such stick-to-it resolve shows their much younger classmates the proof that truly anything can be possible, it’s a lesson well learned at any age.

Your assignment: The elderly protagonist of your story has been chosen to be valedictorian of her/his graduating class but has no idea what that speech should be about. Write a four-page scene in which s/he gets advice from an unexpected source.

THE DO-OVER

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At some point in your adult life, you’re going to look back on your experiences in high school and start asking yourself questions. Questions such as:

• Why didn’t I try out for band?
• Why did I think the popular kids were so cool?
• Why didn’t I spend more time studying for the SATs?
• Why did I wait til the last minute to buy my prom dress?
• Why didn’t I apologize for hurting my best friend’s feelings?
• Why did I ever date a doofus like George?

In 1986, Francis Ford Coppola directed Peggy Sue Got Married, a dramedy in which the title character faints at her 25th high school reunion and awakens in 1960. Since she knows that marriage to her high school sweetheart, Charlie, will eventually end badly, she decides on a pre-emptive strike to break up with him in their senior year and avoid all the heartache.

Your assignment: The lead character in the movie you want to write just spent an amazing summer following graduation by being in the chorus of a musical theater production. The producer is now taking the show to New York – every young thespian’s dream of a lifetime! If s/he goes, it means putting off college indefinitely to pursue an acting career. If s/he stays, it means going to college locally and taking a job in the family shoe store. Write two one-page synopses – each of which shows the consequences of your lead character’s choices, the relationships they make, and where s/he is 25 years in the future.

THE COMPOUND
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One of the sobering realities of inner city public schools is that no matter how much optimistic messaging is reinforced in the classroom, the students still go home every day to an impoverished environment replete with substance abuse, gang violence, and crime. Absent the influence of positive role models and a safe, secure sanctuary on evenings and weekends, what will it take to slip the toxic bonds and pursue a meaningful life?
Your assignment: The protagonist of your movie has funded a multi-billion dollar compound that is a combination private school and dormitory. For the four years that students would traditionally be enrolled in high school, they will live full-time (and free of charge) at this facility, have nutritious meals provided, receive a quality education and career development training, and have a full array of recreational activities. Scheduled family visits will be onsite. Write a six-page “press conference” scene in which your protagonist defends the wisdom of keeping students isolated during the most vulnerable period of their lives.

Extra credit: Experiment with two or three different genres and see how it affects the dynamics and tone of the dialogue.


ChristinaHamlettAs part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at  or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 31 books, 157 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.