Q. Why do kids need to go to schools where they live? That seems unfair to me. I know kids my age who go to private schools. They get more attention from teachers and get to take classes my school doesn’t offer, like real art and drama. I know there are private schools for the arts, but I’m not good enough to go there and my mom can’t afford the tuition. I hate sports. So, here I am in a huge public school where I’m pretty much a “nobody.” What can I do?

– 15-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: You sound discouraged and frustrated. I hear you. It is discouraging to feel trapped in a school system where the educational focus doesn’t connect with your interests. I can understand your frustration as well. The question I think you’re asking is deeper than why you are required to attend school where you live, though. I think you’re really seeking a way to find your place at your school.

No one is a “nobody.” Each person is worthy. You are worthy. It’s awkward at times to reach out and connect with others. Start small with a few friends who share common interests. They are worthy, too. Please don’t sell yourself short. How do you know you don’t qualify for a private arts school? Have you auditioned? Talk with your mom and tell her your dreams. Tuition assistance is often available. Dreams are important, but we often need to work hard to attain them.

At 15, I am sure you have many gifts to share. Are you kind to others? Little gestures of kindness go a long way. Take the time to say something nice to someone every day.

There’s more to high school and life than sports. I believe there are places in your school where you can develop your love of art and drama, even if the school isn’t an arts school. There are many programs in high schools that aren’t sports related.

Have you spoken to guidance? They know all the classes available at your school as well as all the activities. If the classes aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, try something close in topic. I’m not sure what you mean by “real art,” but most schools offer a basic art class. Adjust. For example, if you want a class on painting but it doesn’t exist, can you find one on drawing? If you love art, draw, draw and draw more.

If you’re interested in drama, does your school put on a musical or a play annually? Can you audition for a part or get involved as crew? Our Peer Educators run a program called the Real Talk Performers. The Performers do original educational drama and create their own plays. It’s easy, free, and doesn’t require an audition.

Do you enjoy reading? Talk with your librarian about starting a book club. Just because your school doesn’t offer something you’re interested in doesn’t mean you can’t start your own club or after-school program. Are you into music? Talk with the music teachers at your school; you could join chorus or learn an instrument. Do you like science? Ask a science teacher to help you find a science competition where you can shine.

Think of others. You could volunteer as a mentor or “friend” with younger students if your school has programs linking high schoolers to junior high students.

There are riches in every school, but you may need to step out of your comfort zone to find them.

Most important, please don’t give up on you. Your feelings are real and important. Share them at school with an adult you trust and seek a place where your unique talents will be treasured.

You are always welcome at our Common Ground Teen Center (92 N. Main Street, Washington). Each night we offer a different program. We’re open Monday through Friday, from 3 to 7 p.m., with an extra hour on Mondays (D&D night) and Wednesdays (Peer Ed meeting night). The center is run by young people; I promise you will be “somebody” there. Connect with me again for more information.

I hope this challenging time in your life passes quickly. I wish you success in school and in life. May you look back on this time and realize you were worthy and somebody all the time!

Peer Educator response: Big schools can be tough. You can get lost in them. The Teen Center is a safe place, but you can find a place to fit in and people to fit in with anywhere. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. Every time you get involved in some way your confidence will grow.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at podmj@healthyteens.com/.

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