Need Faith In the Future? Interview Today’s Students

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.

My partner, Nancy, and me waited for our first interviewee.
My partner, Nancy, and I waited for our first interviewee.

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.

the first round of interviewees
Here is the first round of interviewees.  I told them how professional and nice they looked.  Somebody called out and said I looked beautiful.  Wow, that made my day!!!!

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.

Woodlake Memorial Building across from the High School made a welcoming location in which to interview.
Woodlake Memorial Building across from the High School made a welcoming location in which to interview.

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.

My friend, Joy, was also there interviewing.
My friend, Joy, was also there interviewing.

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.

We took over the Veterans; Memorial building for our interviews.
Veterans’ Memorial building auditorium off a central courtyard

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.

Community members like Diane Pearcy, who has worked with the Woodlake Foundation for years, give of their time to interview students.
Community members like Diane Pearcy, who has worked with the Woodlake Foundation for years, give of their time to interview students.

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.

Community members volunteer eagerly for this role.
Community members volunteer eagerly for this role.  Woodlake Kiwanis, particularly  Linda LaFleur, Sally Pace, and Janet McCoy provided breakfast for the volunteers.

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?

Author: Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, author, blogger and retired teacher/consultant. Read more about me here. http://wp.me/P7tP3I-2

39 thoughts on “Need Faith In the Future? Interview Today’s Students”

  1. How wonderful that you can participate in education in this way and I think if we give kids a chance to thrive- to shine- via a portfolio rather than a test- we find out so much about them, as you did, and what they have to offer. Bravo, Marsha!

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    1. I love portfolios, but even more the chance for outsiders to talk to the kids. 🙂 The community needs to be educated. If all they see are the newspaper articles on test scores, we in public education are ruined! For that matter the country is in danger as well! 🙂 We are cutting out history education because it’s not tested as much as English and math! Kids are more than test scores! They’re our future citizens! 🙂 Preach it sistah!

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    1. I think so too, I was just waiting for my blogging friends to come to the rescue of their own communities! Go Bloggers! Rave about your kids!!! Are they great – or what? Or are we all doomed when the next generations take over?????

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  2. Love this portfolio idea. Tests only capture a small part of a person’s knowledge and possibilities. I’d love schools to focus more on the whole child.

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    1. Yeah!!! A true believer in the value of education! History education, at least in elementary schools is still at risk of being left behind if we focus only on test scores. If it isn’t tested, it AIN’T taught is a true statement in some places. How does your community combat that? Are kids only test scores? Will testing on the Common Core Standards be enough to broaden the curriculum to include project-based assessments like portfolios?

      Oh it’s getting late, and you’ve got me fired up standing out here on my midnight soapbox! How did you get me so …. so…. passionate about education, Char?????

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  3. Firstly: I love your new avatar; a gorgeous pic..! 🙂
    Wow; what a wonderful read that was. The ‘group mentality’ can sometimes detrimentally override the more charming sensibilities of the individual. However, Marcia, it takes a pretty special person to ‘bring out the best in others’. Most individuals are full of desires and dreams; hopes for a good future. When allowed to speak of those things that dwell within, the heart and the hope shines forth. It is such a pleasure to be a part of this reality…. I am a little envious, and very proud that there are individuals (such as you) who have conviction of spirit to assist in the nurturing of such fine principles…

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    1. What a wonderful compliment. I will treasure it. I am passionate about bringing g out the best in others at whatever age they are – even us old folks!!! Well not you, well yes, bringing out the best in you, but not that you’re old!! hahaha how mixed up can someone get in one little sentence? hahahaha Thanks again for the lovely remar. 🙂

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  4. It must have been an amazing day. Also here lots of my generation say “youngsters are not good these days” – I find it is completely wrong, all the young people I met through my sons are fantastic, enthusiastic, have great attitudes, work/study hard, know what they want, and are kind and helpful young people. The way to go and I wish them all the best to make fulfill their dreams.

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    1. And they are so lucky to have you working in their school, encouraging them every day. We need to clone you Ute, and scatter Utes everywhere. Then the world would be a better place. 🙂

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  5. I am 80% retired but coach some early-mid career people from my old firm. A fair proportion have simply lost confidence because of a one-off issue that still haunts them. Few managers have the time to invest in simply listening to their colleagues. I listen, coach but mostly rebuild. Edgar sounds great. There are far too many people whose potential is missed. You have a great job. And you do it so well. Wonderful combination.

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  6. Thanks so much for putting into words what I have thought for years – this is a great project! Thanks so much for taking part!

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  7. What a marvelous idea for the school, and incredible opportunities for the students!
    I just love how you’ve highlighted what’s right with kids -we hear enough about what’s not.

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  8. Marsha, this was a wonderful read! We never had anything like this when I was in school. I love the ideas of a portfolio as a graduation requirement. This interview process must have been so encouraging for the students, and, obviously, for those of you interviewing as well. What a great day. 🙂

    I especially loved your story of Edgar. He reminds me of our son. We had him on a college course, but he wanted to go to work right out of high school. He now works in a honing machine shop. He came down for dinner a few nights ago, and I heard him telling his dad how much he loves working with machinery. Today he told me he has a dream of opening his own shop one day and specializing in micro-honing. I never regretted not forcing him into college. Someone has to do the farm labor contracting, and someone has to run the machinery. They are both honorable professions. Thanks for a nice reminder.

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    1. Wow! What a great story! Thanks for sharing it Maddie. It’s amazing how passionate humans can get when they get to do something they really love! I’m glad your son has found something he can really love! 🙂

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    1. It is a great program. That’s Sally Pace’s work. She retired, and is still going strong, too! She’s an amazing educator, and person. Woodlake is a small high school, and won an award a few years ago for sending more kids to college on scholarships than any high school in the nation it’s size. And we’re a pretty big nation! 🙂 P.S Thanks for the compliment Sue Anne. 🙂

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    1. Marsha is a dedicated educator and will never stop “teaching”! She is wonderful! We are luck to have her help in Woodlake!

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    2. Oh Leanne, you only see the busy part of the picture!!! I was just thinking to myself this morning when I could’t drag myself out of bed – “I am SOooooooo tired!!! What in the world is wrong with me?” After the walk/run (for me walk) I went home, walked the dog a little ways, but it was hot, so we came back after about a mile started fixing lunch since Vince’s son and sister were having lunch with us, then Cindy and I watched movies all afternoon and dozed on and off. That’s what tired me out so much!!!!:) Yes, I’m retired, but WFH (working from home – with no salary, and lovin’ it!!!)

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  9. A wonderful and affirming post.
    So often, the news is filled with all that students do wrong, the hurtful and hateful and dangerous things. Your article should be posted in magazines, welcoming others to write their hopeful and good reports.

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    1. We’ve planted lots of seeds, both in kids and in our garden. I told Carolyn that Vince and I are mourning today because a gopher came, uninvited, into our garden and scarfed down our biggest tomato plant. Back to planting seeds. You really camped out here today! I love it! Unlike the gopher, you are welcome any time! 🙂

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      1. Back where I lived from 2003-2007, on a hillside, we had gophers like there was no tomorrow. A feral black cat adopted us on Christmas Eve 2006. Over the following four months, while I was trying to make her into an indoor cat, she used to bring me a minimum of two gophers a day, sometimes as many as six. She was a champion gopher catcher. Unfortunately, a black cat in our rural neighborhood of no street lights and black asphalt roads, ultimately a car killed her on 9/20/07. Zoey the Cool Cat joined us later that day from the animal shelter. She’s 100% indoor cat. I don’t ever want to go through seeing a car-killed cat again.

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        1. Awww. We have two cats who have been excellent gopher and snake hunters. Mama Kitty is over 12, and Scardy Baby is nearly 12. Maybe they’re getting slow. Of maybe the gopher just stayed underground munching happily on roots! 🙂 We lost one cat to a car while we were on vacation. The neighbor who was watching them – all 4 of them – felt just awful. We lost Baby Kitty to leukemia. I saw Mr. Parks yesterday at the neighbor’s house, so I know he is doing fine! 🙂

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