'Sit-Down' with Rahway Schools Superintendent Helps Students Face Future Without Fear

Future Rahway High collegians make an engaged audience for Dr. Patricia Camp. Credits: Michael Clark
Rahway High students Students learn that the best lessons come from experience Credits: Michael Clark

RAHWAY, NJ - “How do you cope with homesickness?” ponders Rahway High senior Luis Muller.  Oscar Ortiz wonders, “How can I manage my time to address so many priorities?”  Future June ’18 graduate Seth Holguin thinks about what he might face as “the disadvantages of being a first-year college student.”

Students also worry that they may be embarking upon, and assuming astronomical debt for, higher education when they do not even have a clearly defined idea of their ultimate career goals. Shared by many graduating high school seniors across the country, these apprehensions and anxieties can often cast a shadow over what should be an enthusiastically anticipated start of a college or university career.  Rahway Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia Camp was not about to let that happen…no, not on her watch.

“Like I did as a first-generation college student,” Dr. Camp explains, “our students have many concerns about going away to college…being away from home, family, friends, and community.”  She continues, “This is essentially a fear of the unknown and a natural response, but it can be seen as an opportunity to stretch and grow in a relatively safe environment.”

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As is her penchant for communicating directly with her students, and for knowing just what would always grab a teenager’s attention, Dr. Camp did not miss the chance to help put their minds at ease with the help of some carefully selected (thankfully non-vegetarian this time) pizza and some sage advice.

Sharing many personal stories of her college years, along with those of her niece and her son, Dr. Camp impressed upon a gathering of her students from the ‘Leading By Example’ program that “their feelings are typical and that others have overcome those doubts to succeed in college and beyond.”  Addressing their concerns over how to manage their time efficiently, she acknowledged that ‘time management’ would, in fact, be their biggest challenge. “You will now have much more freedom to set your own goals.” Her advice (which she had learned herself from her brother) was, “Study from Sunday evening through Friday day then, unless there is a looming deadline, take Friday night through Sunday day ‘off’.”

Also important for students to overcome ‘homesickness’, she believes, is to recognize that college is a “time to grow intellectually and psychologically” and “time to explore a new area of the US with new friends,” reminding them that “nothing is permanent…very few life decisions are!”  His superintendent’s philosophy that one’s ‘past’ does not determine one’s ‘future’ resonated clearly with Dominick Williams, who is off to study sports management at Wesley in Delaware in the fall. “Dr. Camp has shown me that you’re the one who steers your course no matter the circumstances.”  He adds, “She is a hard-working lady…you can just see it.”

Other reassuring insights into maneuvering successfully through those first years included “trying a bit of many different disciplines” to find what might light a passion and “finding one person who has done this before (college in this case) whom they can lean on for support or even just talk to.”  The students’ Superintendent has unwavering confidence in them. “Our students are smart and can figure things out themselves – often they just need reassurance that they are on the right path.”

Perhaps it is just that confidence that her students perceive and that keeps her a welcome figure of support in their high school careers.  “Dr. Camp is different than most people in power,” observes Seth Holguin. “She opens herself up to connect with her students; she likes to be where the students are.  She listens to them and truly wants to learn about them.” “When Dr. Camp said she was glad to be gone from home to experience the real world doing something she loved,” explains Luis Muller, “that made me realize that I’m going on to do something that I love.”  (So much for homesickness!) He goes on to admit, “At first I was a little shaky when I met her, but she’s a normal person!” “She’s not a ‘superintendent’; I could go to her for advice about anything.” Caroline Mull offers, “Watching Dr. Camp, I’ve realized that to be a true leader, we must listen to and be able to consider others’ opinions.”

With her characteristic ‘advice-cum-wit’, Superintendent Camp closed the afternoon with one last well-received note of advice.  “In that first year away…tell your parents only half of what you do!!” Words, we think, to live by.

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