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‘Be Honest’ student essays are ‘Chicken Soup’ with sass

It’s been how many years since you started doing this?

Getting up early, racing for the bathroom and hoping to get there first, choking down breakfast, maybe catching a bus and dashing out to school — you’ve been doing it for a few years and you’re looking at a few more.

No big deal. You’ve never minded school; there have even been times when you kinda looked forward to it. Good teachers and a good place to learn make all the difference, as you’ll see in "Be Honest," edited by Ninive Calegari and 826 National.

When Ninive Calegari received a call from a teacher who wanted some recognition for her students’ writings, Calegari saw a wonderful opportunity. Her foundation, 826 Valencia, supports students who want to write and she knew the essays the teacher had received would make a perfect book.

For this book, students were given a wide variety of topics from which to choose. They were mentored by volunteers and treated as "professional authors and editors." What they have to say may reflect your feelings, too.

The words "Thank You" ring strong in the first section filled with letters to educators. Thank you for forcing your students to speak their minds. For being patient with students who don’t know English, for teaching confidence by example, for motivation, and for knowing how to make learning fun. Thank you for ignoring labels and for "responding in the language of our questions."

But school isn’t all good and neither are teachers.

Some students wrote essays about not paying attention because teachers were more interested in eating, playing on their computers, or other kids. These essays beg teachers to get to know their students, to reach out to kids who are struggling. They cry for adults to learn who the kids are and what personal challenges they face every day.

To that end, students shared suggestions for teachers, politicians, and parents to make tomorrow’s leaders better educated. The writers also offer unique visions on what they’d do if they ran their schools or if they could start a new school for the future.

So how would you change your school or your classroom experiences? What do you wish you had the guts to tell your teachers? Some of the ideas you have are (admit it) probably undoable. Others are laid out in this book.

"Be Honest" is a compilation of thoughtful ideas and well-considered musings from students ages 13 to 21. It’s somewhat like a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book with added sass: the sentimental articles are mixed in with some that are brutally honest and in-your-face, while others almost hurt to read.

But this isn’t just a book for students. Adults would be well-served by browsing it because — guaranteed — their high school days are nothing like yours. Shouldn’t they know that?

Read this book, flag the important pages, use a highlighter, then give it to your parents and teachers. They need to know how you feel about your education, too, and "Be Honest" is a classy start.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s syndicated children’s book reviews weekly.

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