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For more than 20 years, high school English teacher Melissa Pyrch has encouraged her students to go for their dreams and to have the fortitude to press on and never quit on themselves.
While leading a motivational speaking class for a group of seniors in 2019 at Somers High School, where she has spent most of her career, Pyrch realized she needed to be listening to her own advice. Armed with a lifelong passion for reading and writing, she had always hoped to write a book of poetry or short stories.
That same year she decided on writing her book but on a subject that she knows best: helping students facing the uncertainty and fear of what their future may hold after they’ve graduated from high school. Over two-plus years, word by word, chapter by chapter, Pyrch completed “Beyond the Bell: 12 Lessons for Navigating Your Life After High School.” It was published by G&D Media.
It includes the stories she’s compiled and the experiences she’s gained while working with high school students to help them find their way for over two decades. And despite the passage of time and a different generation from when Pyrch was her students’ age and when she began teaching, there are common threads and problems that are timeless.
“Kids are dealing with the same challenges they’ve always dealt with – relationships, college, what to do after high school, struggles with school and balancing the scheduling with sports,” Pyrch said. “It’s the same problems I’ve seen for 20 years in many ways. I should write all this stuff down and that’s kind of what happened.”
The 12-chapter book, geared mainly toward the high school student, addresses the worry and uneasiness. Her message is most people, whether they remember it or not, went through the same anxiety at that stage of life. Pyrch reminds her students that upon leaving high school she had no idea what her major was going to be, what career she would pursue and where she would land.
In some ways, having spent so many years teaching high school, it seems as though she never left.
“I felt like that was so helpful for kids to hear from an adult who remembers so clearly living in their shoes, and I think when you are not in this space, it is easy to forget how scary it is to be 18 years old,” Pyrch said.
It is complicated by community and societal pressures, parents’ and friends’ expectations and maybe the spiraling costs of college, although higher education has always been an investment, she said.
Pyrch recommends that young people who are racked by the uncertainties to do some deep thinking about what they really would like to be and do their best not to succumb to the external pressures, but do what’s best for them.
While what students do matter – such as how they carry themselves, their character and how they treat others – no one has to be married to the decisions they make about what lies ahead.
“It’s okay to make a decision and realize it’s the wrong one and shift again, if need be,” Pyrch said. “I think there’s a lot of fear in that. I think there’s a lot of worry and pressure in that, so I really try to let my kids, my students know that.”
While the challenges have been similar for decades, there are some greater pressures today, Pyrch said. In the past, when schools were closed it was a respite, except for any homework that was due. Today, technology sometimes requires students to remain plugged in to school and stressed even when they’re away.
Now that Pyrch has completed her first book, she created a lead-in for another work. The last chapter in ‘Beyond the Bell’ was “A Note for Parents,” so there’s a natural follow-up to continue the conversation.
“High school’s a moment in time and it’s a long life and it will work itself out, and we were all there, too,” she said.
The official release date for the book is Sept. 6, but is currently available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other sites.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/