Want more hope? Today I got a major shot of hope when I interviewed seniors from Woodlake High School about the portfolios they do as a graduation requirement.
I should have illegally taken pictures of them as I was grading them this week, but rats, I just now thought of it. Meeting these students in person brightened my day today.
Students begin working on the portfolios long before they have the interview. They start their freshman year collecting evidence of class and extra curricular work that they are particularly proud of doing.
They participate in extracurricular activities and reflect on what they accomplished. They include their grades, and for some their grades were meaningless in 9th grade, but by 12th grade they realize what a mistake they made by not paying attention to them.
I thought Sally had deliberately given me the cream of the crop, student-wise, but apparently every there thought the same thing, so there must be something about the activity that brought out the best in all of us, but particularly the students. First of all, they were all dressed up better than I have ever seen high school students anywhere except at Mock Trial, where all the students look like attorneys. I know that we shouldn’t judge students for how they look, but let me tell you what that means for them to dress up.
Tulare County is the poorest, or nearly the poorest, of the 58 counties in the large, and once prosperous state of California. The last time I researched TC had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates, lowest test scores, and lowest voting records. Needless to say, these students don’t all have abundant resources to purchase fancy clothes. I’m not sure how they put together their outfits, but this event was important enough for them to all make an effort to look spectacular.
Not every portfolio was error free or extensive, but as we interviewed each student for about 15 minutes their passions and enthusiasm shone. I have to tell you about Edgar (name changed). His grades were less than stellar, and he told us that one of his weaknesses was to back away from activities at which he doesn’t experience success. Who doesn’t do that? Edgar’s parents, like many in the area, both speak Spanish. As a result, Edgar didn’t excel at English, and school in general. Therefore he didn’t like it, and consequently didn’t work very hard to improve his grades. A vicious cycle, wouldn’t you say? But when Edgar started talking about what he loved, farm labor contracting, you would have thought that he was at the top of his class. This young man works daily with his father, who has a farm labor contracting business. In spite of his deceptively low grades, his English was impeccable, although he apologized unnecessarily for “not knowing big words.” He has already PASSED all the state or county tests he needs to get his license, and he looks forward to working with his father in his business full-time. He told us that his father is his “best friend.” How many of you dads wouldn’t give your right arm to have your son say that, and want to follow in your footsteps, and work in your business with you? I was downright jealous of his relationship with his father. Edgar realized his weaknesses, but he also recognized his strengths. When his uncle, a forklift driver, did not show up for work, Edgar, the supervisor of a group of workers, had to decide what to do. He knew the basics of forklift driving, but hadn’t put it into practice. He made the decision to drive the forklift to meet the deadline, and succeeded. Looking only at test scores and transcripts one might discard the value of this young man. Giving him the chance to interview and tell us what HE knew convinced me that Edgar has what it takes to be a successful citizen. He is able to learn and make important decisions, avoid pitfalls, and I know he will be a contributing member of a dynamic society. Edgar was just one student. One of our interviewees battled cancer at age 12, another had kidney failure at about the same age, and now has to watch his diet very carefully. One young man told us that he had wanted to quit the football team because the 5 hour daily practices were taking their toll. He told his coach, and somehow his coach persuaded him to stay on the team. Later that year, the coach lost his baby. This young man said, “If I had dropped out, I would have missed the opportunity to be part of that experience. We became a family that year, and I am so glad I didn’t miss it.” I wanted to cry. I had chills on my arms. One girl told us that she was the youngest in her family and no one wanted her to go to college or even cared that she graduate from high school, but she is determined to make something of herself. Another young man wanted to be a role model for his 6 brothers and sisters as their oldest brother. His cousin led the way and encouraged him to stay in school and go to college. He wants to learn so that he can contribute to solving the water shortage problem. Another girl who served on the newspaper staff, looked like Lesley Carter of the Bucket List blog, and had ambitions that would have made Lesley proud. With approximately a 4.2 GPA and participation in every play, every sport, and just about every activity offered at Woodlake, this young woman battled shyness with the determination of a soldier on the front line of the battlefield. I think she might be the president some day.
Are these kids just unusual or are they the norm? Are there any other kids in other communities that would knock your socks off if you sat down in a formal setting and interviewed them about their goals? Or are the rest of the nation’s kids today just not able to step up to the challenges of the future? What do you think?