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My Season Of Struggling As An 8th Grader

From Struggle To Success

Hello there, I'm Kristen! Growing up, my journey as a student was a unique experience, to say the least. I genuinely struggled academically, until my mom found me a solution.

So many parents have students that have a hard time in school; therefore, I thought I'd share my story to encourage any parent or student who may be in a season of struggling academically. There is help; you might just have to do some digging as my mom and I did.

It's quite the story if you are ready to read it!

Due to my dad being the Director of Human Resources for an oil and gas company, we moved and changed schools quite a bit. All in all, I attended four different schools, in three different states, and one new country, all before the 8th grade. By the end of this journey, my grades had plummeted, and my attitude was almost completely negative when it came to academics.


When I was seven, one incredible adventure my family got to experience was living in Japan for 2.5 years. When we were settled in our new apartment in Tokyo, I remember my parents taking me, my fraternal twin, and our older sister to learn the subway system. If there's anything I can say about the subway system in Japan, it is definitely not a calm, easy system, especially for a 7-year-old! This complex system was full of color-coded maps, people swarming everywhere, and every now and then a newbie, such as ourselves, would try to master it! Truth be told, we stuck out like sore thumbs. Having blonde hair and blue eyes definitely drew unwanted attention to our overwhelmed faces as we navigated the system! (As a matter of fact, I can remember walking down the street in Japan and people would take pictures of my twin and me like we were two famous people. Seriously! It blew my mind every time it happened!) Anyways, with the help of our Lord above and a lot of weekend practice, we finally mastered the subway system! We knew which exit was for our school, and which one was for home. We traveled the same path twice a day: to school and home again. Parents, can you imagine taking your 3 young daughters to learn the subway with the full intention of having them ride the subway to and from school alone? I can't! But, we sure did it back then.

Although my education really began in Ohio, I do not remember a lot. However, I remember my school experience in Japan. My sisters and I attended ASIJ (the American School in Japan). The students in my class were always focused and seemed to enjoy attending school. Turns out, I was really fond of my mandatory Japanese class; although. it took me quite some time to get accustomed to writing and reading in an up and down (top to bottom) format instead of left to right, as we do in the United States. The teachers had high expectations of the students which aided in the student's excellent grades and involvement. All three of us did pretty well at ASIJ. We loved the experience and the friends we met along the way.


After leaving Japan at 9 1/2 years old, my family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. Although I was excited to be back in the United States, the school system I attended was nothing short of awful, unlike ASIJ. I began my 5th-grade year at an elementary school that seemed to really care less about learning. Unfortunately, I remained in that school system for three, long, critical years! I remember a teacher telling us we were going to watch a movie in science class. The lackadaisical teacher turned off the lights and began the movie. Little did she know (since she was asleep), not one sole was paying attention. Students were pretty quiet due to them making paper airplanes and spitballs! The spitballs would whiz past me from being blown out of straws, making it extremely difficult to pay attention. You can imagine, this was quite the contrast to ASIJ, which demanded the best out of its students. Sadly, my attitude about school started to mirror the majority of the kids in my class. As I settled into my new norm, my learning suffered immensely. Eventually, I came to the conclusion of just how much your surroundings and the friends you choose to hang around, play an enormous role in what type of student you will be. I became a lackadaisical student. However, I had a great time on the Echo Farms neighborhood swim team and being a beach bum!

One night, my Dad came home from work and announced our next move was going to be to Texas! My first reaction was, "NO WAY!" I mean, how can a beach-loving kind of girl go to a state full of cowboys? Frankly, I was terrified to move again. My grades had dropped, and my attitude was something that really needed an adjustment. Truly, I knew I was doomed.


Off we went again, in the middle of my eighth-grade year. Sporting my short, side-sweeping surf-style haircut, I officially became a Texan. For those not familiar with Plano, it's a suburb North of Dallas with exemplary schools. Yes, my fear became my reality, quickly.

I remember coming home from my new school, Schimelpfenig Middle School (shout out!) telling my mom that there were no spitballs or airplanes being sailed across the room at any point during the day. When a movie was shown, the students actually watched, and a quiz usually followed. Needless to say, I had many challenges before me. First up, was a different hairstyle! Secondly, I needed MAJOR help in school since I was failing tests left and right! To be honest, I was freaking out. I truly wanted to make good grades as I did in Japan. The problem was, I felt like I had lost several years of learning. I knew I was behind, but I had the drive. I wanted to succeed in school.

THANK YOU, MOM! She saw me struggling and, together, we came up with a plan. Immediately, I started attending any and all academic tutoring that was offered at the school. In addition, my mom found an incredible study skills course and signed me up! Just like that, my grades started to turn the corner! I worked hard to get back on track and soon became an A/B student; I call that success!


After graduating from Plano, I went to Stephen F. Austin State University. I graduated with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies: PreK- 6th with a 3.7 GPA. On top of that, I was in a sorority, ZTA (shout out!), and worked part-time. I passed my state teaching exams with flying colors, and I was lucky enough to land a job in Plano. I taught for one year before I went back to school to receive my Master's in Education. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA while teaching full-time and was a newly wed! (That was a doozy!) I continued my teaching career for years in Plano, becoming Assistant Team Leader, then Team Leader. Later, as a fun side gig, I attained my real estate license and also passed both parts of the real estate exam on the first attempt. All of this combined is not "luck" or easy. It took me having the right tools in my tool belt to be a successful student and test taker.

I mention my college career to prove it can be done! Just because a child is struggling in school now, it does not determine his/her capability in the future. At the end of the day, a parent needs to help determine what part of my successful student equation he/she is missing.

Academic Content Mastery + Study Skills = Successful Student

(I will be negligent here if I did not make a comment regarding learning disabilities. This is an entirely different topic that is out of my area of expertise. Most parents and/or teachers know if there may be other factors that hinder learning.)

After my classroom teaching years, I became a mom to two precious kiddos! (A story for later on about how I came to the mom/teacher realization that even a student (one of my kiddos) in National Honors Society with straight A's can quickly drown in school as the curriculum demands increase! Who knew that grades are not always a strong indicator of study skill knowledge?

Needless to say, that study course I had taken in 8th grade helped me sail through the rest of my school years! WHAT A GIFT my mom gave me! She knew I was not going to receive these critical skills in school on my own. The sad thing is, most teachers just simply do not have time to teach critical study skills and high-achieving habits. Remember, I taught; I know. Frankly, I still use these skills, day after day, in my job which entails teaching, writing, and communicating.

It was a rocky road for me, but I got there! If your child is on a rocky/ struggling road but is motivated like I was, evaluate these things:

  1. Is the school your child is attending a good one?

  2. Who is your child hanging around? Are the friends involved and making good grades?

  3. Are you noticing changes in behavior?

  4. Does your child understand the subject matter he/she is in? (Grab an academic tutor for that class if not.)

  5. Does your child understand HOW to study the material, how to be a "good student," and how to incorporate high-achieving habits and routines? (Grab a study skills/student success mentor if not.)

I hope my story inspires you in some way whether you are a parent or a student. There is absolutely no shame in getting the help that is needed academically to help pursue the dreams ahead.

All my best,


Oh, by the way, feel free to stop by and be an Insta Friend or a Facebook Fan. See ya there!


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I'm Kristen Henderson, M.Ed.

I'm a mom, wife, former classroom teacher, and the owner of The Savvy Student, LLC who has helped an enormous amount of students and families have calmer, more productive homework/study time by equipping them with study skills, high-achieving habits, activities, and routines.  My mission? To bridge the gap with essential skills not taught in most schools while helping students "level -up" their learning in school. I help motivated, but frustrated and overwhelmed, tweens, teens, and young adults go from mediocre to extraordinary.


Fun Facts: I love my yellow lab, Charlie like my 3rd child, dark chocolate, and a good pair of jogger pants!


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