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Do It Better: What Every High School Senior Should Learn Before Graduating

By Joyce Venezia Suss

High school seniors may act like they know everything, but the reality is that many of them will receive diplomas without knowing some important life lessons. Whether senior students plan to attend college or take a full-time job, they should learn basic skills to live independently. It’s even better if they start learning these as high school freshmen.

Teens who help with household chores may already know how to wash dishes, how often to change sheets and towels, and basic cleaning requirements for the kitchen and bathroom.

Kitchen skills include cooking on the stovetop, using the oven or microwave for baking or reheating, creating a shopping list, and checking expiration dates on food items.

New Jersey high schools teach financial literacy, but high school graduates must know how to manage checking and savings accounts before they leave home. That includes creating a monthly budget, paying bills and making deposits (electronically or on paper), using a credit or debit card, and keeping track of debt. They should memorize their Social Security number, know how to complete a W-2 form, how to write their signature in ink, and address an envelope properly with the correct postage.

Personal health care includes getting a prescription filled or refilled; how to use a thermometer and clean a wound; and proper dosing of over-the-counter medications for pain, colds, digestive issues, allergies, etc. Self-care is just as important. They should recognize signs and symptoms of stress and know techniques to relieve stress, such as exercise, meditation and/or seeking professional help.

Basic etiquette is one of the most important but seldom-taught skills. Senior students must learn the proper way to greet people using a firm handshake, making eye contact and offering a warm greeting. They should be able to hold a conversation and address a group. Bonus points if they can master the art of reading body language.

Even in the age of texting, they must learn how to make a telephone call using their voice, answer a telephone call properly and write a professional business letter in the proper format.

They should have a wardrobe with enough clothes to cover every occasion from casual to semi-formal, and for every weather condition. Kudos if they know how to shop wisely, how to sew on a button and how to remove a spot.

If a high school senior drives a car, they should know basic maintenance skills such using a squeegee and/or ice scraper to clean the windshield, what to do if a red dashboard light comes on, and how to pump gas if they leave New Jersey! They must also know what to do in case of an accident or traffic stop, and know where the registration and insurance cards are kept.

When packing for college or a first apartment, they should have some basic tools such as a screwdriver, small hammer, tape measure and pliers – and know the proper way to use them.

A lesson in basic organization can be helpful for seniors whose rooms are chronically messy. Provide storage boxes and labels. A weekly or monthly planner can help them keep track of assignments and deadlines. Some may like paper planners, but others may prefer an organizational app or learning how to create Excel spreadsheets.

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