41 things for Black teens to experience before high school

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For Black teenagers, being prepared for high school consists of more than only being academically prepared. For them, street smarts are equally if not more important than book smarts, and social awareness is often the difference between making it to graduation or not. Times have changed. School is different and the negative influences of society are more easily accessible.

As an education professional, I’m optimistic, but as a high school parent, I’m terrified. Being the new Dean of Culture at a high school in the largest school district in Michigan, I know I am tasked with a big responsibility, one that exceeds school culture, academics, and programming. I am also tasked with helping students master the life skills not included in the curriculum.

In preparation for my 14-year-old daughter starting high school, I Googled “Things Black kids should know before high school” and I found lists suggesting teens wash dishes, clean their room, and other tasks. I found nothing on how to deal with the anxiety she would experience the first few weeks of school, personal responsibility or how to make friends outside of social media. With her help and the help of other educators, I made my own list.

I suggest joining your teen in completing this list. Use it while driving in the car, to start conversations, or anywhere else to connect with your teen. I check in with my daughter daily to see what she has checked off, in hopes she is building self-awareness, self-esteem, and a better sense of appreciation for her support system.

Here are 41 things Black teens should experience before their first day of high school:


1) Start a journal
2) Learn to use the calendar on your phone. Include work schedule, important dates, birthdays, etc.
3) Create a nightly routine that includes hygiene, journaling, planner review, reading and/or exercise
4) Set a time boundary on when others can access you via phone, gaming, social media, and in-person
5) Set a bedtime and wake up before 8 am for thirty days in a row
6) Practice a M.B.S. (Mind, Body, Soul) goal each morning in your planner

(Example: M(ind) - read an article, B(ody) - 30 minutes of cardio, S(oul) - read a scripture and pray)

7) Create a vision board with goals for high school
8) List 10 things you are looking forward to in high school
9) Discover your intelligence and use it to create art, a performance, etc.
10) Attend your freshmen orientation. Get familiar with different routes to and from school.
11) Set 90-minute focus times throughout the day with no phone, TV, or distractions.
12) Learn how to respond in an emergency (ex. fire, home invasion, health crisis).
13) Apply for a contest
14) Share your location with a trusted family member
15) Take a walk around your neighborhood (bring the dog, or a family member). Be aware of the changes in your neighborhood and your environment.
16) Learn how to manage a police interaction from a Black officer. What should you do If you are pulled over, are at a protest, or if you and your friends are stopped?
17) Memorize a family member's phone number in case of emergency
18) Research The Little Rock Nine. What was their impact on how we are currently educated? What freedoms have they made possible for us? How would this be received today?
19) Watch three movies about the Black experience
20) Read three books by Black authors
21) Spend the day with an elder. Ask them about their childhood and what it was like being in high school. Help them with tasks around the house such as with their tech needs
22) Spend the day with a younger person. Do the things they enjoy

Reading Recommendations: Won’t You Make Wudhu With Me? By Iman Khalid and Nyla’s First Day of Kindergarten by Nyla and Tenita Johnson

23) Plan a day of activities with your family or friends. Make an itinerary. Factor in time, travel, distance, and cost. Execute the plan from start to finish. Reflect on the experience.
24) Make reservations at a Black-owned-restaurant
25) Make your own appointments, doctor, dentist, hair, etc.
26) Using a family recipe, prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for your family.
27) Take on a big chore such as cleaning the garage, organizing the pantry or laundry room.
28) Practice driving with an adult. Find a driving class in your area and determine when the next session is available
29) Get a state issued identification
30) Memorize your social security number
31) Navigate a three-stop trip in your city without a GPS
32) Say “Yes!” to any opportunity to travel
33) If you do not have a passport, identify the requirements to get one
34) Visit the Black Museum in your city. Identify the Black heroes in your city.
35) Attend a festival or carnival
36) Take an online mindset and positive change course
37) Manage emotions like anger, anxiety, and fear in healthy ways.
38) Conquer a fear such as riding a roller coaster, overcome social anxiety, dance in public, etc.
39) Set up a bank account or a money management tool such as Greenlight.
40) Learn how to save more than you spend.
41) Find a mentor with a career path you are interested in and shadow them for the day