Find ways to alleviate pressure and anxiety. A recent study shows that nearly half of college students struggle with mental health challenges — anxiety and depression being at the front. The best way to start is by noticing a change in behavior. Talk to them about it and see if they open up. If not, there are numerous mental health resources specifically for teens that can be a resource for you and your child.
School is really not easy these days. Many students have been out of school for a long time because of the pandemic, and the continued disruptions and anxieties are still breaking the flow of normal learning. What can parents do to help their children thrive and excel in school, particularly during these challenging and anxiety-provoking times?
To address this, we started a new series called ‘5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School.” In this interview series, we are talking to teachers, principals, education experts, and successful parents to learn from their insights and experience.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure to interview James Lewis.
James Lewis is President and co-founder of National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), which he established in 2002 along with friend and co-founder, Claes Nobel, senior member of the Nobel Peace Prize family. NSHSS supports over 2 million lifetime members, ages 15 to 35, from 170 countries and is recognized as the world’s largest honor society for young high achievers making the transition from high school and college to their career.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us a bit about your “backstory”?
I came from a modest family, and early on, my parents instilled in me a strong work ethic. It was made clear that if I wanted a car or to go to college, I was going to have to earn the money myself. In elementary school, I started a paper route which taught me valuable skills like customer service, perseverance, and time management. In high school, I started mowing lawns, eventually hiring my buddies and forming a successful lawn service business. Through these early initiatives, I learned the business basics, how to stick to a budget, problem-solving, and responsibility. These early principles have stuck with me throughout my life and still apply today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have been fortunate to have many interesting experiences over the course of my career. Perhaps the one that is the most impactful is meeting Mr. Claes Nobel, the senior member of the Nobel Peace Prize family. Mr. Nobel was the Chairmen of a Corporate Board I was serving on, and we quickly realized we shared the same values and became very close friends. At the time, I was beginning to finalize plans to launch NSHSS, and I asked Claes for his advice and whether he would like to be involved in the founding of NSHSS. I worked with Claes for 19 years and learned many valuable lessons from him. He became like a father to me. One of the most valuable lessons he taught me is never, never give up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I never lose. I either win or learn.” — Nelson Mandela. This quote has been central to how I have lived my life since I was a young man. I learned from my family that having a positive attitude and willingness to learn carries you far in this world. As I have gotten older, I have learned the importance of sharing this attitude and belief with others in my life, particularly young people.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Reliability: Consistently fulfill commitments and be dependable. I learned this early in my career with both my paper route and lawnmowing business. My customers knew they could depend on me, and my business grew by word of mouth.
- Courage: Face challenges and difficulties with bravery. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have learned that asking others for help can make you a stronger leader.
- Open-mindedness: Be receptive to new ideas and perspectives. It is important to embrace diversity of thought and be open to different perspectives in your work and business.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes. First, our organization, National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), which I am honored to lead, is a unique scholarship organization devoted to helping high achieving youth from all walks of life reach their college dreams. Mainly, we help them understand the important role scholarships can play in paying for a college education. NSHSS and our partners provide over $2 million in scholarships each year.
One important project underway is a Career Interest Survey that will allow NSHSS to tap into thousands of high school and college students to learn about their thoughts for the future. These include what matters most to them in a job and how confident they are about securing a job in the field they are interested in pursuing. This data will be shared with employers, educators, parents, and the broader community to help their dreams and goals align with what is available to them after graduation.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about why you are an authority on how to help children succeed in school?
My organization, NSHSS, works with thousands of high school and college students every year, which gives me a chance to learn firsthand about the challenges they face and their strategies for success in their lives.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Can you help articulate the main challenges that students face today that make it difficult to succeed in school?
Students are generally feeling overwhelmed, and many feel underprepared for life beyond high school — whether it be choosing a college major, how to pay for higher education, or even just feeling overwhelmed with the college application process. They need guidance and reassurance during the college decision process from a trusted adult.
We also need to assess academics and how success is measured in this country. As students progress through high school, academic demands increase. To measure success, our nation is still largely using traditional methodology as the sole indicator of a student’s accomplishments. This does a disservice to students who learn and can succeed in life in other ways yet are held to measures they likely cannot achieve.
Can you suggest a few reforms that you think schools should make to help students to thrive and excel?
Education reform is a complex and multifaceted issue, and different stakeholders have varying perspectives on the most effective approaches. A couple of ideas come to mind for me on this topic. I think schools should work to incorporate global perspectives into the curriculum to prepare students for a diverse and interconnected world. This could involve international exchange programs, global studies classes, and/or multicultural education. Perhaps schools should also enhance programs that better prepare students for the workforce by providing real-world skills, exposure to the wide range of educational opportunities available to them and creating meaningful connections with local businesses and non-profit organizations.
Can you please share your “5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School?”
- Find ways to alleviate pressure and anxiety. A recent study shows that nearly half of college students struggle with mental health challenges — anxiety and depression being at the front. The best way to start is by noticing a change in behavior. Talk to them about it and see if they open up. If not, there are numerous mental health resources specifically for teens that can be a resource for you and your child.
For example; you might notice that your son or daughter is suddenly withdrawing from social or family activities. Perhaps they are sleeping more or showing extreme emotion. The most important thing is to notice the change, talk to them and really listen to their responses and be able to calmly assist them in finding professional assistance if needed.
- Help them tap into their passions. When students are young, as early as middle school, it’s an ideal time to get them thinking about what they want to do with their futures. Notice what they’re interested in, how they want to spend their time, what drives them. Don’t make the mistake of assuming they’re wasting their time on their phones. Often, they’re involved in digital learning about things they want to do and connecting with friends on those topics.
I am very thankful that my family helped me realize my true passions. I initially majored in engineering in college and almost flunked out before reassessing and realizing that my passion had always been for business since I was a young boy. I changed majors and had a very successful and enjoyable college experience once I knew what I wanted to accomplish with my education.
- Encourage them to ask for help. We all get stuck, and it can have a paralyzing effect. That’s why it’s important to talk to young people and find out not only what’s going well, but what’s holding them back. Facilitating conversations like this can help get rid of the “fear factor” and enable the student to move forward confidently, under less stress.
It is important for parents and educators to help create a positive and open learning environment and validate a student’s struggles fostering a mindset that values seeking help as a normal and constructive part of the learning process.
- Help them find other caring adults who can serve as resources and mentors. As a parent, I know that sometimes the last person a child wants advice from is their parent! That’s why it’s important to encourage young people to cultivate a network of interested adults who can provide different types of counsel based on the role they play in that student’s life. Mentors take all different forms, from guidance counselors to Boy and Girl Scout leaders, to sports coaches. Rather than always feeling you have to be the one giving advice, encourage your child to ask for input from others.
Unfortunately, when I was a young student, I did not know enough to realize the value of trusted mentors. I would encourage all young people to seek out someone they trust to help guide them and never be afraid to ask for help and advice.
- Be open to the unexpected. Many parents’ dreams for their children are that they will do “better” than they did, and this can sometimes cause conflict or confusion for the student. Be open! The child you always expected to follow in your footsteps and work at a corporation may actually want to work at a nonprofit organization. I think it is important to encourage those families who are facing unexpected decisions by their children to spend as much time listening and learning about the new area/passion the student is exploring. It is OK to point out potential pitfalls to their plan, but always approach the discussion calmly, openly and use supportive language.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
We need to bring value and recognition to the teaching profession. We all have teachers who have shaped our lives and today’s students do, too. We need to lift those teachers up and use them as role models to attract the next generation. There are teachers and educators of distinction across the country who are making breakthroughs in terms of how they teach, how students learn, how technology can advance the classroom forward, and how a stronger link can be made between them and the community. Every year, NSHSS awards 10 teachers with the Educator of the Year and Educator of the Year finalist awards, and they all have one common goal: to help their students become the best versions of themselves.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I think it would be fascinating to share a meal with Jeff Bezos, an accomplished entrepreneur and the former chief executive officer of Amazon. I admire Mr. Bezos for his ability to always think big and constantly reinvent himself.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit NSHSS’ website (www.nshss.org) and your readers will be inspired by the outstanding work our students do — from creating their own nonprofits to engaging in community service work. They will also find resources on how to obtain scholarships that can help pay for college.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!