Friday, January 23, 2015

How to Write Creative High School, College and Scholarship Application Essays

My middle school daughter is applying for one of our high school programs, called Distinguished Scholars. She spent several weeks before Winter Break working on two different essays. One that was to introduce herself, her interests and why she wanted to apply to the program. The other essay requirement was to set up a non-profit organization of her choice and explain why she chose that society issue to address. I thought she did a great job of brainstorming different ways to approach each essay and wanted to share that process for future high school and college essay writers.

Friendship First Essay (2 pages)

 I watched as for a week, all she did was plan out her non-profit, including detailing the programs it would provide so she would have a good understanding of what she was representing. She based it on the peer mentoring program she's in and mixed it with wanting to help kids with disabilities (her oldest brother has autism). But she took it from just being a middle school program to being a full school journey experience. Pages and pages of details, programs and ideas. It was inspiring! Then she decided to write a business letter to address that essay. Specifically, a business letter requesting a donation for her non-profit. Here's the non-profit essay. PS - I deleted the street addresses, etc for privacy.

MJ Ferguson
xxx Street
City, State Zip

December 12, 2014

Paul Williams
XXX High School
xxx Street
City, State Zip

RE: Friendship First
Dear Mr. Williams,
Thank you for your interest in the Friendship First Program. Our program helps children with disabilities feel like they fit in. Many students with disabilities are left out or bullied. We want them to be welcomed by their peers and enjoy positive social experiences.
In elementary school, we have developed a curriculum for teachers and school counselors to use. In the curriculum, there are short videos that model different disabilities and positive peer friendships. Teachers follow up with a series of questions to spark classroom discussion. The Friendship First website allows students to interact with animated characters that model friendships. The animated characters go through different situations and the students can make choices for the characters to do and see what happens. Along the way, students receive positive guidance.
The program changes as the students move from elementary to middle school. There is a Peer Mentor Program for incoming 6th to 8th graders who can apply to join. These mentors are matched up with special needs kids in their grade level. The mentors help with making friends, social situations, and stay buddied through middle school. The mentors train over the summer and through the school year. Ideally these friendships will follow into high school and even after that.
In high school, the Peer Mentor Program is continued but with an added social media aspect. On a Friendship First Forum, there are links for groups to chat with other students, with special needs or not. The goal of the social media addition is to teach teens to interact appropriately on social media. We also have events organized to get the mentors and students with disabilities together to create positive social experiences.
We hope that with this program, students with disabilities will be accepted in the student body, be bullied less, as well as teach the general student body to have more respect and understanding for working with people with disabilities throughout their whole lives.
This program came to be because I grew up with an older brother who had autism and to understand him, you either had to take the time and make an effort to get to know him or grow up with him. I know people probably look at him weirdly when he does certain things, but that is who he is. This program also came to be because when people act differently, the easiest choice is to either ignore them or even bully them to look “cool”. It takes a courageous person to stand up for them and be their friend.
I appreciate your interest in the Friendship First program. If you have any questions, you can contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

MJ Ferguson
Director of Friendship First program


Why the Distinguished Scholars Program (1 page)

This was the most difficult essay for MJ to write. She had a hard time adjusting from the attitude of focusing on others and not yourself to needing to brag about her talents, service she's given and her interests. Because really, that's what the essay is for. It's the judges/professors first glimpse at who you are. If they aren't excited or impressed with what they see, then they'll move on to the next person. MJ spent a few days organizing lists of the awards she's received, competitions she's participated in, her talents, service projects, and what specifically makes her interested in the program she's applying for.

*As a side note - this is a great document to create on your computer and continue adding to it every semester. This way you don't forget important activities or awards from earlier in your education career.

For this essay, MJ played with writing it as a serious essay, but it just wasn't working well. She brainstormed some more and decided to use her creative writing talents to make it into her own little fairy tale. I really liked how it hit all the requirements of the essay, but was done in a way that is so totally my daughter.

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Olathe, there lived a girl named MJ with caramel-brown frizzy hair. On hot and humid days, her hair looked liked Taylor Swift with an Albert Einstein twist. At least until she discovered the wonders of anti-frizz hair products!
One day in eighth grade, her teacher asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. MJ thought and thought and thought. But there were so many choices.
She loved going to the Kansas City Astronomy Club to view the stars through their humongous telescopes. But wait! She also loved hiking and adding fossils to her rock collection. But wait again! She enjoyed learning about the world and other countries’ histories. She was even in the Geography Bee twice and really liked it! Maybe she should study science and teach about the stars, the earth, or even the world.
Mixed in with all that geeky stuff was a very creative side, too. Oh so much creativeness. Acting and crafting and music – oh my! The frizzy-haired girl participated in three middle school plays (in one role, she even barked like a dog). Craving cinnamon rolls? She learned how to make the most delicious, moist rolls using potatoes. And music. Oh the joy! Singing, playing the flute, and bringing music to life on the piano brought her happiness every day. Not to mention books. MJ was a readaholic. Friends and teachers almost never saw her without a book in hand. She not only loved to read, but to also create her own stories. Attending writers conferences helped her learn about plot, conflict and how to make her characters interesting. Maybe she should be a baker, a music teacher, or a novelist?
Poor MJ’s head hurt from all the career paths she could take. How could she possibly choose? Then she heard about the Distinguished Scholars program and just knew it could help her explore her geeky side and creative side – and hopefully discover a way to mesh them together for her own happily ever after.

In Closing

A few things to take from this article are:
  1. Be organized and take the time to really prep before you start writing.
  2. Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Sometimes that's what makes you stand out above everyone else.
  3. Be creative in a way that is totally you.
  4. Start tracking all your awards, accomplishments, camps, clubs, etc now so you don't have to rethink all those years every time you write an essay.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Make Sunday School Class Journals

I'm a Sunday school teacher for the 13 year olds. It's become one of my favorite church classes to teach. In our congregation, we get a new class each January. As I thought about the upcoming year, I wanted to do something fun for my class. I took a few weeks to consider different ideas and finally settled on making Sunday school journals.

The benefits of class journals:

•    The kids have a place to write thoughts and promptings any time during class, rather than trying to remember it for later. My hope is that they'll develop a habit of taking notes on things that are important to them, as well as write down and follow through with promptings they receive.
•    If you have any kids with special needs in your class, the journal will help them remember topics when they return home and is a great visual for review.
•    I am planning to print out 3x5 cards with quotes to go along with the monthly themes and sometimes the individual lessons.
•    At the end of the year, the kids will have a book full of their own thoughts on gospel related topics.
•    And hey, no need to bring paper to pass out for writing activities. It does mean one more bag of stuff to bring to church. I let the kids decide if they wanted to keep the journal in their scripture case or leave it with me to bring each week. Half the class kept them and the other half preferred to have me keep them (as one kid said, to protect it from his younger siblings).

I'm not a crafty person, so I looked up several tutorials on Pinterest to find the best way to cover composition notebooks. This tutorial helped me the most, except I didn't use Modge Podge. A crafty friend of mine suggested Elmer's Adhesive Spray - which was seriously awesome.

A word of caution: It is uber sticky. Protect your crafting area. I covered my dining room table with a plastic table cloth from the Dollar Store. Then also used paper towels where I was spraying the glue so I could swap it out when it got too sticky. What I didn't realize is the spray kind of billows out. I ended up getting some residue on one of the chairs and had to do some clean up afterwards. Thank goodness for Clorox wipes!

Back to the journals.

I used 12x12 sheets of coordinating scrapbooking paper. 4 sheets (2 of one pattern, 2 of another). Then I cut an 8" wide strip, leaving a 4" wide strip. The 8" strips were the base pattern to cover the front and back of the composition notebooks. Then I added the 4" coordinating strip. 4 sheets will cover 2 notebooks. Then I added some awesome subway art scripture or church leader quotes. On the inside of the front cover, I also added a quote and our class promise.

Then I crossed my fingers & hoped the kids would like them. And . . .

They loved them! My hubby told me he even overheard some of the boys talking about them and showing them off to their friends. Score!  If you decide to make some Sunday school journals, I would love to see pics of them & your ideas.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Surviving a Broken Heart

Broken hearts come in so many different ways. Hurtful words. Lies. Betrayal. Physical pain. Being left behind.

Each can rip at you. Tearing away pieces of yourself. Your love. Your self-esteem. Little bit by little bit until all that remains is a lump of a person you don't recognize.

Not every broken heart goes to that extreme, but they are almost always accompanied by tears and suffering.

Eventually the pain lessens and becomes easier to bear, but each time, a sadness has remained with me.

Watching a friend go. A relationship change. Saying final goodbyes to a loved one.  Helpless as a dear one suffers. Pain and anger from gossip, lies, and consequences from choices.


Yesterday at church, we talked about loving one another. Serving each other. There was a beautiful quote read about how we should have a perfect love for each other. Never judging another. Always forgiving. It sounds so nice - but oh so unrealistic.

Or maybe I'm just too imperfect.

But I'm apparently not alone. A handful of ladies shared some perspective and thoughts about the quote read. One reminded us that while the gospel is perfect, the members of the church are merely humans, who make mistakes that may hurt others. Another shared how things someone says or does may not be related directly to you. Consider that there may be other things happening in their lives, frustration that has built up and unfortunately was released onto you with sarcasm, harsh words, or actions.

While I had heard these things before, today they came with comfort and consoled my heart.

A little piece was ripped away recently. I've been in tears, praying to find peace, forgiveness and how to handle the situation.  How to let it go. How incredibly difficult that is. But today, the ladies who shared their insights, words I've heard before, sunk in and glued back together some of my heart. Yes, I still hurt and am sad, but have found a tiny bit of comfort and am holding onto it, grasping it with white-knuckled fists.

Because while it hurts, knowing relationships will never be the same, trust that will be slow to be rebuilt - if it is ever rebuilt - I will move forward. I will be kind, respectful, but I will also guard my heart from being hurt by the same person again.

It will require a little spiritual CPR, but I will survive this broken heart.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Meanie Mommy Sparkle and Shine!

Tomorrow kicks off a 5 day "weekend" for parent/teacher conferences and in-service days - and I'm so excited!

Sure, about four years ago, these long weekends meant a chaotic, disastrous house. Sometimes some fighting, but often lots of laughing.

There's still some fighting, but mostly laughing - but now, now . . . My kids are old enough to actually do a good job cleaning! My munchkins know these long breaks now mean we do a little deep cleaning each day before diving into the "fun" portion of our activities. For the most part, they don't complain. They just get the work done and get excited about checking off their to-do list. Girly Girl cleans everything she can reach with the Clorox wipes (kitchen handles, knobs, outside of the oven, fridge, and dishwasher. Even the microwave.) Squirrely Girl cleans the bathrooms and windows. The boys vacuum and sort and organize all those Legos (that's a feat all on it's own). Hubby and I usually take on a project or two. Cleaning out the garage and other fun stuff to prep for winter. I may even hang some more pictures.

So my house gets to sparkle and shine!

Then we have fun, fun, fun! I'm hoping for good weather so we can make good use of our bikes one last time before winterizing them until spring. Thursday evening, we're having our family photos taken - so excited about that, too! Squirrelly Girl is into baking, so I'm sure we'll whip up some delicious treats. Have a game board competition - maybe even a dance off and I just might let my kids kick my butt on the Wii. (Simply because there's no way I'll win. LOL).

But most of all, I'm so happy to have five days of family time.

And that's the best sparkle and shine of all.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mismatched Socks and Mondays

Once upon a time, Mondays were a necessary evil. Dragging myself out of bed to drag my kids out of bed, throw together breakfast, outfits, cleaning off faces, overseeing the brushing of the teeth,  hunting, hunting and more hunting for matching shoes before piling into the van, double checking and triple checking that everyone is buckled in before dropping half of the kids off at that fabulous building where they get to learn and socialize. Then back to home where it was dump out all the toys time, snack time, nap time, clean up all the toys time, then repeat, repeat and pick up the school munchkins and go, go, go until I dropped into an exhausted heap on my bed.

Then Monday repeated itself over and over and over and over until finally it was Saturday. My day to sleep in and rest and let Dad take care of everything.

But now my kids are older, all in school including teenagers. TEENAGERS! Which means my Saturdays and Sundays are as busy as every other day of the week.

My Mondays have become my former Saturdays.

Yeah, I still drag myself out of bed, but now it's for family scripture study and prayer. The kids take care of everything else while I review my day. After dropping off everyone at their schools, I get to come home, chill on the couch, catch up on my favorite TV shows or a little Netflix love while I do laundry and did I mention chill? All day long. Well, at least until 3 pm when I get dressed for the day and pick up the munchkins again. At this stage of my life, my after school hours and weekends are consumed with my kids and their activities. I really love my kids and all their activities. But man, I'm so glad I have Mondays to recover.

So on this chilly autumn Monday, I'm enjoying the smell of Snuggle, watching a little Gilmore Girls, and sipping my favorite chocolaty cocoa.

Ahh, Mondays . . .

Friday, October 10, 2014

Shave Your Legs, Girlfriend!

My friend, Alison, has the oddest dreams ever. She often shares them with her friends on Facebooks and we all get a good laugh. Well, I was sharing a very weird dream I had with my daughter and realized it was Alison-worthy. And that my blogger friends would get a good laugh out of it, too.

So, there I was, prepping to run a 5K race. I went in to register and they wouldn't let me. I was very upset. "But why? Why can't I run the 5K? I've been training, I promise!"

The ruggedly good looking guy behind the registration table replied, "Ma'am" (that's never a good sign for a young chick like me) "You need to shave your legs."

Gasp! What? How dare he imply . . . I look down and holy freaking hannah!

My legs are hairy. No, no. Not just hairy. They are gloriously hairy, with long golden-reddish blonde hair. Thick and beautiful. Totally worthy of expensive hair products and a hair dryer after stepping out of the shower (cause there's no way you'd take a bath with all that hair!).

It was so long and beautiful and glorious that it put the hair on my own head to shame.

Which is so, so, so wrong.

So what did I do? I immediately went out to buy a men's industrial size electric razor to hack off the I'm-better-than-your-head hair. The you-look-like-that-furry-Star Wars creature hair. The hair that I couldn't figure out how to pull a pair of yoga pants over. It was terrifying!

Then I woke up, rubbed my legs and sighed. Because I had just shaved my very hairy (although not as hairy as my dream's legs) the night before. Whew!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Generation of Ungrateful Parents

A new home comes with new schools and consequently a new PTO. At a recent meeting, this new PTO discussed the upcoming Holiday Mart.

Do you remember Holiday Marts from when you were young? I totally do! My elementary school would put out all the trinkets - necklaces, mugs, note pads, pens, little plaques, and toys. I remember walking past the tables, making notes about what items I'd like to buy for my mom and siblings. Then returning with my envelope of money, showing my math to my teacher for how my budget would work. The thrill of excitement when I took my wrapped gifts home and placed them under the tree. How awesome it was when Christmas morning arrived and I truly had surprise presents for each member of my family.

My mom cherished those gifts. She wore the fake gem necklace and earrings occasionally, but even when she wasn't wearing them, I knew exactly where she kept them in her favorite jewelry box with her other favorite jewelry. I distinctly remember the World's Greatest Mom key chain I gave her, with a drawing of a woman wearing a crown in the center. It was always on her key chain, with her everywhere she went.

When my mom passed away, I inherited these precious items. No, they didn't cost a lot of money, but yes, they are precious. Why? Because of my mom's attitude. She was grateful for my gifts, for the time I took to consider what special item I would give to her - but most simply, because it was from her daughter.

So imagine my surprise when this new PTO expresses their very poor views about hosting a Holiday Mart for the kids. Oh, for sure they want all the vendors to come for THEM. The fun crafty booths, make-up and jewelry stuff, and yummy smelly candle stuff. Oh yes, all of that, they want. But a section for the kids? To buy what they called 'a bunch of junk'? No way! Instead, let's entertain the kids with mani-pedis and coloring pages while the parents shop. The principal even said she's received letters from students who said they wouldn't go to the Holiday Mart because it was a bunch of crappy junk.

Ungrateful parents whose terrible attitudes are raising ungrateful children.

Do these parents not see the value in their children learning budgeting skills? Or building their self-esteem when they surprise mom or dad with a gift they chose all on their own? Of learning to be independent?

No, apparently these children hear their parents calling the gifts 'junk' and a 'waste of money'. Shame on the parents who don't find joy from these precious opportunities and gifts from their children.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The worth of a gift comes from the receiver appreciating the giver's love and desire to give. It's not equal to the number on the price tag.

My cupboards are full of Queen Mom and Dad's the Best mugs. I have lots of glowy pens and multi-functioning tools with Awesome Dad emblazoned on the side. On my kids' beds are the stuffed animals they've purchased for each other.

Where did these fun items come from? Why, yes, our previous school's Holiday Mart. One day, those mugs will be passed down to my kids as gifts when they have their own children. Do you think they'll appreciate that Mom and Dad gave them such meaningful gifts? Or do you think they'll be looking for the price tag?

I'm confident the only thing running through their minds will be the memory of Mom and Dad unwrapping the gift one long-ago Christmas morning.
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