School experts talk tips to help students balance schedules

Department Chair and Liberty North High School Counselor Dana Combs said students are welcome to come to her office for advisement on how to juggle school work and activities. Some students with nonemergencies schedule appointments with counselors, Combs said, adding if a student is feeling overwhelmed or exhibiting physical symptoms such as a panic attack, he or she will be immediately seen.

With school, the start of activities, sports, study sessions and juggling them all along with family life can lead to pressure and stress that can feel overwhelming for students.

To help ease the stress, Karen Johnson, school counselor for Smithville High School; and Dana Combs, Liberty North High School counselor and department chair, say prioritizing, practicing good time management and focusing on good health are key.

Combs said some students try to do everything and by the high school level they should really hone in on what one or two things they are most passionate about.

“First, just prioritize activities,” Johnson said. “Think of selecting a few activities and doing them well instead of trying to do everything.”

Students should avoid participating in an activity just because their friends are doing it, Johnson added. Extracurricular activities are about getting to know one’s self and what they are passionate about, she said.

School counselors can help students narrow down priorities, Combs said, using pros and cons lists and scheduling tools.

If a student has a part-time job but is not working out of necessity, Combs recommends the student let the job go or reduce work hours if becoming overwhelmed.

“I know I’ve had some really hard conversations with students,” she said. “Usually, if I talk to a student who is doing advanced placement or duel-credit and they are involved in a sport or something else, I usually tell them to let the job go first.”

Some ways students can get organized are by having a planner, using the calendar in their phone and downloading to-do list apps, the counselors said.

“Keeping all your activities and your homework on that calendar and estimate the amount of time each of those activities takes,” Johnson said.

Additionally, Combs said she focuses on helping students organize their responsibilities by looking at the window of time from 3:15 p.m. to midnight on any given weekday.

“I’ll have conversations like, ‘When school is out, where do you go from there?,’” Combs said.

If a student has practice after school, they may not be home until 5 or 5:30 p.m. Keeping that in mind, Combs said students should consider time for dinner, a shower, homework and any other activities or jobs when making a schedule.

Johnson said students should also schedule downtime. Students also should keep a healthy diet and get enough sleep.

“Give yourself permission to make mistakes and never compare yourself and what you are doing with anyone else,” Johnson said. “Each student has a different course load and each have such different abilities intellectually, ... everything is very individualized.”

Northwest Editor Sean Roberts can be reached at or 389-6606.

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