Dear 9th grade Brian,
Ignorance was truly bliss for you, but now that you are starting high school, a lot of information is being blasted in your direction. High school is way too much to process on your first day. From class to class, your bookbag is filled with consent waivers, syllabi, and just three more binders more than recommended in the list of school supplies. It took you three hours to get home from school because learning the T was hard ( don't worry, we got that down to an hour and a half!). High school is intimidating. It is such a large building, everyone stuck with their friends from middle school. It took you a while to find your niche in the jungle.
Like always, you maintained high expectations for yourself in order to succeed, but were unaware of the unhealthy repercussions of focusing on your flaws. Your mom would tell you that God does everything for a reason. At the time, you saw being at Urban Science Academy and moving to Boston as more of a curse than a blessing. Trust me, that ideology will change by the time freshman year ends.
Accepting how unfair the world can be is hard. Just like how it's hard to find out that you didn't get accepted into the technical trade school of your dreams and that you are moving to Boston, a city hundreds of miles away from all of your family.
Once you made your peace with your situation, you ended up being presented with an astounding amount of options at USA. Available was an array of sports - especially with the school having built a new sports field. There were after school clubs and programs from every corner of Boston also available. It was quite overwhelming at first. 
One day, in computer science class, you met someone who you felt a peculiar familiarity with, and agreed that we had met somewhere before, but could not recall where. This strange familiarity instilled a quick friendship. This new friend invited you to her robotics team at Northeastern University. The invitation spiked your interest as you always loved technology. You ended up joining the the team. Then, your humanities teacher would call your mom at least once a week asking if you could join the debate team as well. Ultimately, you said yes. But, you had barely any time for yourself with prior obligations and other school commitments. Your week was always jam-packed, and during the weekends, you were either at your father's house or catching up on work/studying. This led to the last thing you need in high school: stres. Stress can normal, but it ended up getting to a point where you couldn't manage time well. 
You were stressed about being ready for robotics, having time to study debate notes, getting work done, and having time to be with friends and family. Despite the stress, you felt you were in too deep into activities to stop, so you continued on without trying anything different, or finding a solution. This was seriously the worst thing you could do to yourself. It lead to you being a disorganized person. You suffered from a lot of headaches and never felt good at all. It's always important to set time aside for yourself to get organized and to relax, which is the one thing you never did, and suffered immensely because of it. It’s okay sometimes to miss a meeting  in order to recuperate and get back together. It's important to be organized and to prioritize yourself. If you always put yourself last, nothing good will come of that. 
Think of failure like a spider. Spiders are mostly harmless unless it's poisonous. Failure, in most cases, is blown out of proportion. If you fail, you should be fine, as long as you make an attempt to improve yourself.
Every time you made a mistake your mind would flood with pessimism: “Why can't I ever do anything right?” or “I'm honestly not normal, what is wrong with me?” You  couldn't live with yourself because your obsession with success was creating unrealistically high expectations, which led to more stress. You ended up being constantly angry. With time, you learned to control your thoughts and become satisfied with yourself. 
I don't want you to think that you shouldn't set high expectations for yourself. But, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you aren't good enough, nor tell yourself that. As a freshman, all the work may seem overwhelming. Seek improvement within yourself but also think realistically.
Like animals, we either adapt to situations, or we don't. In the case of this analogy, your experiences were near-death but at least you’re alive! Coming soon will be the end of freshman year. You have hopefully made friends that you can confide in for the rest of high school. 
Ponder on how not only you adapted, but how you thrived within your freshman experience and what opportunities have come to fruition because of it. Keep in mind to take advantage of opportunities presented to you, manage your time well, stay organized, and keep realistic goals for yourself. In short, never be afraid to make mistakes despite your ambitious attempts at success.

Brian Estevez
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To 14-year-old Jeisabela:
Bruh. Stop playing right now! You were the slacker in middle school and I know you’re telling yourself that you’re not going to do it again… but you are. You’re going to start off strong but once you get comfortable, you’re going to fail. You’re going to skip class, talk back to your teachers and hang out with your friends instead of getting your work done. I know you think you’ll be able to handle your friends and your work (and you can), but you won’t, and you know it. 
Let me explain a few things you should do to make it through the school year. You should do your work, stay out of trouble, and manage your time because, if not, you’ll be stuck with the slacker grades. 
Don’t go out after school. Don’t do sleepovers. Sit in a quiet space alone and not with friends. You don’t have to completely isolate yourself, just know your limits. Sit next to someone you know won’t distract you in class, or friends that won’t distract you. You may think just because it’s your freshman year you can chill and do whatever, but you’re just making it harder on yourself in the long run. Start off strong and finish strong. You don’t want a low GPA or to have yours be lower than your friends. They may be able to get their work done and hang, but you can’t. Having a low GPA will make sophomore year harder for you. 
Second, stay out of trouble. Skipping class is all fun and games until you’re caught and you’ve landed yourself in detention. Your friends will hang out after school and you’ll be alone in detention with other people who didn’t make great choices and are probably not doing well at school because of their behavior and mindset. Why would you do that to yourself so early in the game? Talking back to teachers will get you nowhere. They’ll stop respecting you and they won’t be recommending you for anything because they can’t trust or see potential in you. Show you’re a bright student through your actions. Don’t hang out with people who don’t act smart and do things like talk back to teachers, because that's how you’ll pick up on it and develop a really bad habit and character. There’s a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. READ ITTTT!
Third, manage your time and don't procrastinate! Don’t get into the habit of making unimportant things a priority. Don’t think things like “I will just do my homework after I go to the mall.” NO! Instead, think “maybe I should get my work done before I go to the mall.” Thinking like that is more mature and is a better plan that is more in touch with your goals. Always be proactive and don’t blame your friends for your failings. It’s no one’s fault but your own. You could’ve said no to the mall and went another time because the mall will always be around, but that work has a deadline. Besides, if they are your friends they will understand. If they don’t, then you don’t need them because the types of friends you need are the ones who want you to be successful. Friends that don’t are only gonna hold you back.
I know that I am only one year older than you are now, but trust me, if you follow these three pieces of advice, you’ll get through your freshman year with good grades and straight priorities. Good luck!

Jeisabela Teixiera
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AFH Photo // Christie Andre
Dear 9th grade Madashley,
Remember when you stepped into Urban Science Academy with your hopes and promises? The promises you’ve made to yourself that you will bring your GPA up, or that you’ll challenge yourself to be more optimistic? The promises you’ve made to not be reactive, but instead to be proactive and stay after school to make yourself better? The promise you’ve made to challenge yourself, to participate in activities instead of taking short cuts? The ultimate promise that you'll try your best to get to Yale University, because you'll do anything to become an anesthesiologist?
But what happened? Well, you got lazy, that’s what.
Instead of seeking more, you settled for whatever life threw in your face. One thing I want you to know is that it is okay to feel confused, but it is not okay to not ask for help. Another thing you will notice is that everything changes in high school, and sooner or later, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. For me, when everything seemed to move too fast, I was afraid. I was scared and lost, and what’s worse, I felt alone as if there was no one to help me. Now, the advice I would give myself is that it is alright to lose some friends, what matters is for you to be successful at finding your own path.
Freshmen year was terrible, although you managed to pull yourself out of it. You slacked off because you got comfortable. You wanted to challenge yourself, but were worried that people would think that you were trying too hard. Instead of making your own decisions you preoccupied yourself with the opinions of others. By the first term, you knew you could have handled some AP classes, but you settled for advanced algebra instead! You knew you could replace your A’s and B’s with A pluses. Deep down, you knew what you were capable and you had the confidence, but you didn’t take action. Despite what it may feel like right now, high school is an opportunity to get to know your inner self.
In hindsight, I was petrified when it came to challenges, but in time I had to learn to overcome those fears. Young freshman! Learn from my experience and face your fears now. Overcome your obstacles because there is always a way out. Begin with the end in mind; always set goals; visualize your future and the steps you have to take to get there. Make things happen!
Freshman year is always stressful. Not only do you have to worry about yourself academically, but you have to make sure that your emotions are in check. The funny thing about being a freshman is that you don’t always get it right; this is why you have your peers and teachers to guide you. I learned the hard way, I wanted to do everything by myself, but sometimes you have to learn to collaborate and see others’ points of view. Sometimes being independent is not enough, you need to learn to synergize, to cooperate with diverse groups and different opinions. Two heads are always better than one. If people looked at me they would have said that I knew what I was doing when in reality I had little to no idea of what I  was doing. Do not be scared to ask for help because you think that if you ask for help then you are not equally as smart as the other students who seem to catch up fast.  All brains are different and have unique structures, you just have to find your own way of learning.
When you leave junior high you bring your previous identity with you, but at the same time, you leave your past behind, maybe even some of your friends. When I started high school, my friends and I started as a united group, but then everyone ended up going their own way. Everyday I found my social circle shrinking. I had to accept it. I did not want to lose them or leave them behind but for my own sake, I had to. Sometimes the things you want in life happen, but they don’t always happen the way you wanted them to.
Time is precious and every time I look back to see what I have accomplished, it always leaves me a little disappointed. You don’t have unlimited time. Challenge yourself. Don’t waste your freshmen year because later you’re going to regret it. Ask for help when needed, including helping out others. Work hard all the time, not only when report cards are coming out. Remember to pick your friends wisely. I always thought being independent was being able to do everything by yourself without help, and that if you got help it was not the definition of being independent. That’s where I was wrong. This year is not going to be easy. Keep your head up. There are a lot of distractions and sometimes you will feel like crying and that’s okay. Don’t get too comfortable. There are some things that you cannot control in life but accept it. That’s what I did and I am going to be fine. So take my advice and you will be, too.

Madashley Cajuste

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AFH Photo // Aijanah Sanford
When I first moved to Boston, I was surprised by a lot of things that looked very different from Italy in my eyes. I imagined the U.S. to be like a movie, with people behaving like they do in movies. I thought everything they did was exciting. The streets were so big, the smoke went out from manholes like I saw in the movies, there were very tall buildings and I thought the city had magic in the air. Actually, the atmosphere here in the U.S. is different from Italy but now I am accustomed to this country and this city. 
One thing that is totally different is the school system: the place, the organization, the teachers, the classes, the hours, the approach of teachers with students and, conversely, of students with teachers.
In Italy, school starts at 8:00 a.m. and finishes at 2:00 p.m. There isn’t a lunch period so students don’t eat at school, they can only eat snacks from vending machines. I think that the lunch period here is the best because you can eat something after three hours of work, talk with your friends and relax for 30 minutes. 
 In Italy, there are two intervals of 10 minutes where students can go out of class to go in the courtyard, but the substantial difference is that the students stay in the same class for all seven hours of school. Every hour the bell rings but the students stay sitting and wait for another teacher. This organization is very, very boring. Sometimes when I would return home I would be very frustrated because I had to cook my lunch and study a lot, so I didn’t have much time to relax and then I would always be tired. 
I think that schools are better here. When the bell rings you stand up and change classes. Because you have a few minutes to walk, greet friends that you meet in the hallway, and get ready for the next class, the time goes faster and it’s fun to go to school. 
Another difference from Italian school is the relationship between the teachers and the students. In Italy, the students always have to shut up and follow the lesson that the teacher explains. Here in the U.S., the students always participate during the lesson. In Italy the students have to create a mask to appear as good girls and good boys in front of the teachers’ eyes so that the teacher can give them a good grade. Here, this kind of thing doesn’t happen because all teachers care about their students and they want better for us. For example, some teachers here care about student life outside of school, like family and sports.
Another thing that is different in Italian schools, and is better here in the U.S., is the possibility to play sports like soccer, volleyball, basketball, or softball after school and with a school team. In Italy it’s different, the school does not organize these activities, so the guys that want to play sports have to go to a different place such as near their house or the specific team.    
In my opinion, American schools are better about organization, place, people and some other things. I think the atmosphere here is fantastic. People are very nice and when you have a problem they listen to you and try to help you feel better. I like seeing people, saying hi and joking with them because in Italy I had only my group of friends. There, it is not as common to say hello and be friendly with people that maybe you don’t know, but that you have seen before in your school. 
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AFH Photo // Abraham Rosa
The first day I saw snow, I was very nervous because I was really cold. My hands, ears, and nose were freezing. I am from Haiti, a country where it is never cold. Haiti is either warm or hot, except for one day, the day before Hurricane Matthew.  Everyone was wondering, “Why is it so cold?” No one had the answer.  Though it was really cold that day, there was no snow. 
I remember the day I saw snow for the first time. I could barely walk. I was afraid to fall down and hurt myself.  Naturally, I am a slow walker; snow makes me an even slower walker.  I do not want to slip and fall. As I walk, I want to take my time to enjoy nature’s beauty, the dance of the blowing snowflakes coming down from the sky to announce Christmas is coming.  It seems though that this year we are not having a White Christmas.  Mother Nature has other plans for us! 
In the meantime, I look forward to facing my fear of snow.  A fear that happily diminished with time as my friend, Frosty the Snowman, taught me how to walk in the snow.  So, let us sing together, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!” 
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