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Natalie’s News: New Year, New Me

Natalie Guarino, Managing Editor

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Every Jan. 1, my mom forces my family to write down our New Year Resolutions. Whether it’s as small as eating healthier or as big as getting into college, she tries to make all of us think of ways to better ourselves.

This slightly annoying and time-consuming practice isn’t unique to my family. Every new year, most people think about the possibility of making a positive change going forward. “New year, new me” is a familiar mantra throughout my Instagram feed and Facebook is always chock full of inspirational self-help quotes.

We have an infatuation with bettering ourselves when it comes to a new year; there is a second chance— or a third or a fourth chance— to do all the stuff we said we would do last year but never got around to. In just over two weeks, we have the luxury of this “second chance.” We can start fresh, the indiscretions and mishaps of 2017 behind us.

A lot of people at OPRF have utilized a new start, but not always at the stroke of midnight heralding a new year.

OPRF faculty member Justin Cousins and senior Levi Miller have both made big changes in the trajectory of their lives.

Cousins has been a staple of the OPRF Tutoring Center for two years. He now resides in an adjacent classroom, where he is the Academic Learning program coordinator and works with students on credit recovery. Known for his warmth and ability to joke with students, he nevertheless can always bring the conversation back to education.

Back when he was a student at OPRF in 2010, Cousins was anything but focused. He went into high school with the attitude that “school sucked and the teachers weren’t really trying to help.” His plan in school was simple: go out with friends as much as possible and keep his grades high enough to be off study table.

Cousins’ issue with school was that it didn’t seem to be for the students. “I thought the teachers expected too much without being clear,” he said. “The deadlines and assignments weren’t conducive to learning.”

Cousins graduated from OPRF with a 2.8 GPA and a scholarship to Saint Xavier University for the one thing he knew he really loved: volleyball. In college, Cousins’ pessimistic attitude toward school began to waver his sophomore year.

That spring, Cousins was observing at the Chicago Autism School and working with the younger students when he noticed something about the teaching style. “The kids were actually enjoying themselves,” he said. “It was play-based learning. I realized you could still learn without making it so rigorous.” From then on, Cousins decided to be the teacher who would make learning enjoyable. He changed his work ethic, doing assignments and papers weeks ahead.

Cousins graduated college in 2014 with a 3.8 GPA junior and senior year. After a brief career playing professional volleyball in Belgium, he returned to OPRF as a substitute teacher in 2016.

Now, as Academic Learning Program Coordinator, he tries to give students the educational environment he wish he had. “I try to make students feel comfortable with their education. It’s not policing, it’s more of a mentorship.”

This attitude toward learning pays off. Senior Megan Krikau appreciates Cousins’ perspective when interacting with students. “He knows exactly what you’re going through because he went to OPRF,” she said. “A lot of teachers only care about schoolwork and don’t understand all the other things going on in students’ lives, but (Cousins) is really understanding of that.”

Levi Miller started high school with a focus on just about anything besides schoolwork.

“I looked myself in the mirror and hating doing so.,” he said. “I got annoyed very easily, and I’d want to fight too much. I figured, I can be better.”

After participating in Hip Hop Wing— an after-school rap group— Miller was encouraged (forced) by sponsor Adam Levin to join Spoken Word as a sophomore. It was a decision that would change the course of his high school career. “Poetry awakened my ability to distinguish and understand how to see things, and how I see myself,” Miller said.

From the first Spoken Word showcase he participated in, Miller never looked back. “Poetry changed everything for me,” Miller said. “My confidence is at a new level, I can literally go in front of the school and freestyle and still not feel nervous.”

Miller’s life changed in more tangible ways too. His grades went from below a 2.0 GPA to being on the honor roll for two years. He now plans on going to college, hopefully on a scholarship, and making “some turnt music.”

Miller has big plans, and a lot of motivation. “I’ve learned I want to spread a message at a volume everyone can nod to,” he said.

Talking to Miller and Cousins was inspiring. It’s encouraging to see how much people have been able to turn their lives around in such positive ways.

This New Year, I know I won’t hesitate to make my resolutions. I will be excited to start anew, but I’ll also remember that new chances can come at any time of year, not just when we count down to midnight.

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The student newspaper of Oak Park and River Forest High School
Natalie’s News: New Year, New Me