Making an Impact

This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and in honor of it, I am posting something I wrote about my current English teacher, Mr. Theriault.  He is the reason I started blogging in the first place, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for forcing me to do so.

“Young lady, do you need to change seats?” It was the first day of school my sophomore year, and I had completely forgotten to bring lined paper.  I had quietly turned around to my friend sitting behind me to ask for a spare sheet so I could write our essay on the assigned reading we had over the summer.  I was in shock and intimidated that I was scolded for asking for a piece of paper, especially on the first day of school.  I was so scared of my new English teacher that I left class that day thinking, “Okay, breathe and relax, if it doesn’t get better, you can always switch to another class.”

Switching to another class would have been one of the biggest mistakes in my academic career, if not my life.  I know it seems cliché, but it is true. I would have missed out on having an extraordinary teacher who does not just teach English, but teaches life.   Shortly into the school year, amidst his ridiculously hard bi-weekly quizzes, he told us, “I am going to grade you on your effort in this class.  The standard measures of competence and effort [by tests and quizzes] will have less value in my class; not so you can slack off, but so you can stretch yourselves to new levels without fear of damaging your grade because of it.”  Though his class is one of the most challenging classes I have had, it is addicting; there are too many days in which I walk out of his classroom, wishing I could stay in English all day, thinking “This is way more worthwhile and meaningful than any of my other classes.”

It was in his class that I first learned how to properly read and annotate a book and was able to enjoy analyzing the syntax of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.  It was in his class, that student presentations became something to look forward to, instead of a waste of a class period, as more often than not, they came with goodies and plenty of audience interaction which kept it interesting.  It is in his class, and really only in his class, that I feel completely at home.

The wheels are always turning in Mr. Theriault’s head, thinking of how to make himself a better teacher, his lessons more fruitful, keep students more engaged, and how to make education less daunting.  He is never afraid to share what he is working on with his students as well as the rest of the world through his blog and Twitter.  Mr. Theriault has taught his students to share their work and thoughts, by assigning weekly blogging and a twenty percent project every year.  Through blogging, I have written more this past year than ever before in the entirety of my high school career altogether.  He has given us the freedom to develop our own voice, something that is so hard to teach, yet so critical for higher level writing.

Mr. Theriault is one of the only teachers I have encountered that will take time out of his class period, his precious fifty-four minutes of teaching time, to ask how students are doing.  He will ask about the sports events that he couldn’t make it to and other school related topics, but he will also ask students how they are doing personally.  If he sees that someone seems down, sick, or just exhausted, the first thing he says is, “Is there anything I can do to make your day better?”.  From chocolate and hot tea to sharing half of his lunch, he is always there for his students.  He realizes that sometimes his class isn’t the most important thing in our lives, and that our overall well-being is much more important than anything he could teach in an hour. He genuinely cares for his students.

I have been blessed to have Mr. Theriault as my English teacher both sophomore and senior year.  As the number of days left until graduation dwindles down, it is a bittersweet feeling; the excitement of graduation and college combined with the sad realization that my time in Mr. Theriault’s class is coming to an end.  I can see why he always has college students coming back to visit him; days in his class are treasured memories and visiting him brings them all back.  Mr. Theriault makes a huge impact on student’s lives every year, and I can only dream of a world in which all teachers were as committed, caring, and compassionate as he is.

"Mr. Theriault, can we take a picture?" "Sure, how do you want to do this? Selfie style?" "Okay" He laughs. "I never take selfies" Personally, I think this one turned out great.
“Mr. Theriault, can we take a picture?”
“Sure, how do you want to do this? Selfie style?”
“Okay”
He laughs. “I never take selfies”
Personally, I think this one turned out great.

 

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Over-Involved and Under-Committed: The New Generation

When I was growing up, my parents had a rule for my sister and I (well they had many) but the particular one had to do with commitment.  They told us that we could only choose one sport/ extracurricular activity at a time. We were not the over committed family that always had 3 soccer games, a softball game, church, and a girl scout meeting all in a weekend. The most I got away with doing was soccer and girl scouts at the same time.  And this was permitted only because Girl Scouts met once a week for maybe two hours at a time.  It wasn’t a huge time commitment, my parents believed it was important, and I liked it.  They wanted to preserve family time and their sanity.  I am so grateful that they did.

But I am noticing a growing trend that concerns me.  First in society as a whole; that we are way to busy.  I am totally guilty of this, so I am not preaching from any pulpit, that’s for sure.  Secondly, many people, especially high schoolers, are over-involved and under-committed.  Now, hear me when I say that.  Over-involved and under-committed; how is that even possible?

To answer that question, I ask you to reflect upon what most colleges are looking for in a competitive applicant.  They want a well-rounded individual, who has played a varsity sport, been the president of a club, while being involved in two other clubs, been involved in the community, and on top of all that maintained stellar grades and achieved great test scores. I feel like they are asking for their applicants to dabble and under commit to everything, just so they can attain that “over-committed” level that colleges look for.  If there was a common mantra among current high school students, I’m pretty sure it could be, “Just do it for the app.”

The frustrating thing about this over-involvement is that instead of picking a couple of things that they love and committing to them and being super involved with them, students are doing things for the label, just so they can say they are “involved” on their college application.  AND COLLEGES SEEM TO ENCOURAGE THIS!  Though I’m sure every admissions counselor would say, “We would much rather you be deeply involved in a few things that you are passionate about, instead of a bazillion different things”; the activities section on the common app begs to differ. There are ten different sections to fill out describing your different activities and involvements in high school.  And if you only fill out four of them, that’s leaving a lot of blank space on the application that decides your scholastic fate.  Thus, students are driven to over involve themselves and under commit.  It is impossible to be completely committed to ten different activities, maintain good grades, have some semblance of a social life, and still sleep for the 8-9 hours recommended for teenagers.

What is created is a “Do it for the college application” attitude. And one can assume how frustrating and annoying this attitude can be. Try taking already slightly noncommittal teenagers, throwing them into ten different activities, and telling them to be committed to every one.  What you get is the bare minimum, a warm body in meetings, brain only half there, constantly thinking of all the other things that have to be done.  The expectation is that we are able to do it all, while in reality we have no chance.

 

 

Affluenza…You’re Kidding, Right?

This past week in Texas, a 16-year-old boy was sentenced to 10 years probation and a stay in an alcohol rehab center in Newport Beach.  What did he do, you ask?  This past June he and a couple of friends stole beer from a nearby grocery store, went out and got drunk at a party, and then sped off in his truck, only to get in a car accident and kill four people.

CNN Video News Coverage

See the full news article at http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/11/us/texas-teen-dwi-wreck/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

He took four lives and he got ten years probation; no jail time at all.  How does that work?  He was charged with four counts of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence.  His defense team did the unexpected.  They argued that it wasn’t the boy’s fault, in fact, it was his parent’s fault because they had not set boundaries and limits for him and he was too accustomed to life as an affluent member of society.  Really?  A psychologist that argued for the defense said he suffered from “affluenza”.  What affluenza is, I can only guess.

 GUESS ONE: the illness of being to affluent

GUESS TWO: like dementia, but for wealthy people when they forget that laws and rules still apply to them

GUESS THREE: a highly contagious disease that infects young, wealthy people, who have grown up with parents who stink at parenting

So what I’m hearing them saying is that because of poor parenting, this boy, who was perfectly capable of making decisions on his own, gets off basically Scot free, because he never “knew” that rules apply to him?   Or is it because he has money and is affluent that he got off so easy, compared to the 20 years that at stake?  Dare I suggest that the case might have turned out different had the boy not been white?

The sad part is that our judicial branch has strayed so far from the way the Founding Fathers wanted it, and has been for so long, that as infuriating as this case is; it doesn’t really surprise me.  We have seen for a long time that, even though it shouldn’t, money can get you out of most anything.  How else do Lindsay Lohan and many of the other celebrities that  are always getting in trouble, stay out of jail?  The bottom answer, under all the courthouse jargon, is money, pure and simple.  Money is power.  And power can keep you protected from a lot of things.

I honestly can’t even suggest a possible solution to this problem, we are so deep into this black hole of corruption that we have dug.  All I can say is, it stinks.  I’m sure all the friends and family of the four people killed in the accident would agree that it is awful when you lose someone close to you because of someone else’s careless mistake.  But it is like a slap in the face and fresh lemon juice on a cut, to have the person who made the mistake not have to take ownership over his mistake, because he has too much money.  I bet that feels pretty darn terrible.

Breakfast with Champions

In a previous post, I wrote about the twenty percent projects that my teacher has implemented in his classroom for the past couple of years.  This past Friday, my project began.

Let me tell you a little about it and what I have learned so far.

old car+mr h
Photo from OC Register Article by Mackenzie Reiss

This is Demetrius Harakas.  He owns the Fantastic Cafe in Santa Ana and is opening a new restaurant in Seal Beach in a couple of weeks.  He loves the 50’s and his diner is decorated in just that fashion.  He had searched for a car like the one above, for almost all his life.

His relatives in Massachusetts found one for him, he bought it, and then had it shipped to California.  He had it restored and now, for the past eight months he has picked up WWII veterans from their homes and taking them to the restaurant for a free breakfast and an eager ear to talk to.  As of now, he estimates that he has taken 70 WWII vets and their spouses to breakfast.

charlie
Photo from OC Register Article by Mackenzie Reiss.

When he first brought his car home, and told my family and I his idea; I was amazed.  I thought, “What a cool experience for both him and the veteran”, but never thought anything more of it.  It wasn’t until we were given the assignment to “Find a need in the community, and feed it” that I came up with the idea of producing videos of Demetrius’ time with the veterans.  I knew that he wasn’t documenting them, except by personal journal, and I thought, “Man, that would be so cool to film.”  Especially, because in school we learn the factual history.  Though teachers try to use videos of firsthand accounts, we mainly have to learn facts: dates, names, and places.  How awesome would it be to have first hand filmed conversations with the veterans, available to everyone around the world?

So, I found a friend, brainstormed, pitched our idea to the film production class at our school and found someone to teach us to film.  Friday was our first day of filming, and it was such a great experience.  My two partners and I were able to sit down with a navy corpsman named Jim, who served in WWII, Vietnam, and Korea.  He was in the service for 24 years and had at least 30 medals on his lapel.  He was at the rank of master chief, with his official title being, master chief petty officer.

We learned so many interesting things from him, and his stories made history come alive for us.  That is exactly what we hope to accomplish in our project; to make history come alive for generations to come, when there are no more WWII vets to tell about it.  Did you know that WWII veterans are dying currently at a rate of 600 a day?  We want to preserve their accounts and stories before they are all gone, and become mere reenactment and guesswork.

If you are interested in seeing our progress, check out our blog:

www.breakfastwithchampions.wordpress.com

And take a look at our introductory video!

There you can nominate a veteran for a breakfast, providing the veteran lives in Orange County, California!  Thanks!

Our Job Market is Infected

mower man

In a recent conversation with my father, we were going back and forth about the state of the nation, the job market, and high schoolers.  You ask how they all fit together?  Good question.  Well,  the state of our nation has its good parts and its many not so good parts, the one I am talking about is the unemployment rate which directly relates to the job market.  How do high schoolers fit in?  They are the future of the job market.

During our conversation, my dad asked, “How many recent high school graduates know how to mow the lawn?”  To me, mowing the lawn is a simple task, I have know how to do it since I was twelve.  Defending my generation, I estimated that around forty percent of recent high school graduates in America know how to mow their own lawn.  Not that they all do, but they know how.

The sad part, is that my estimation is probably too high.  Especially for Southern California.  I have never lived anywhere else, so that is the basis of my opinions, but I would love to know if it is different elsewhere.  Obviously, in more farm intensive areas the statistics will be different, because using a lawn mower or farm equipment is second nature to kids in those areas.

I have noticed that in Southern California there are jobs that people want and jobs that people would never do because either they wouldn’t be caught dead at that job or they are “too good” for it.  The hot commodity jobs are those at the surf stores, trendy eateries, and coffee shops.  The not so hot jobs are ones that require manual labor and embarrassing outfits.  While I do not relish the chance of wearing a tacky uniform and bagging groceries, or working outside all day; a job is a job.  If I was looking for and needed a job, I would take any job I got.

Unfortunately, this mindset of not stooping to the “lowly” jobs is infecting our country.  I understand that it sucks to work in a job that you are overqualified for, and that many people who are in need of a job do.  But i definitely hear the complaint of “I’m broke” and “I need a job” among my peers more often than i should if they were willing to accept any job available.  In fact, I know for a fact that the local dollar store has been hiring for at least eight months.  So has the Big Lots right next to it.  At least high school students have the skills to work at these places.  Our current education system has partly set us up for this jobless infection.

All of the schools in my district no longer have auto shop and agriculture as electives.  They train us to go to college and become educated members of the work force and hold big positions that make a lot of money.  Unfortunately this will backfire on them eventually, because as they manufacture robot students who will all grow up to do big things, they will still need auto techs, gardeners, plumbers,contractors, construction workers, electricians, and farmers.  Thus the people with the “lowly and unwanted” jobs will be able to charge higher rates for their services because there are so few people who know how to do their job.

This job infection cycle will continue until we get smart enough to realize that not everyone is going to be a doctor with a six figure income and not everyone is going to work as an electrician or plumber, but everyone can find their job niche if they are allowed to search for what makes them happy instead of being pushed into the box that society wants them to conform into.

An Open Letter to the Class of 2014

I don’t reblog a ton, but I stumbled upon this just after I submitted my early action applications and couldn’t help but reblog it.

“To the Class of 2014:

It’s been real.

Three years have gone by in the blink of an eye, and I have no doubt that the fourth will go by just as quickly. In fact, November is fast approaching, and it will be gone before we know it. For those of us who have November deadlines, time seems to be working at an even faster pace. But don’t worry, you’ll get through it. Thousands of people have gone before us, and they’ve all gone though it. If they can do it, we, the Class of 2014, will surely be able to do it as well.

But while you’re in the midst of this process, a question that you’ve probably been asking yourself is, “What have I actually done in high school?” The college application season is tough, but the added possibility of feeling less than great when evaluating your accomplishments against those of your peers makes it all the more stressful. To that, I say let it be. You are who you are, and who you are is the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

So what if you never started a club during your time in high school? If you were never a star varsity athlete? If you were never captain of your Mock Trial team? If you were never Prom King or Queen? If you were never that popular person on ASB? Be content with who you are. These past four years have been an experiment in learning, in socializing, and discovering who you are. Take what’s been given to you, and go with it.

The next four years after high school will be an experiment as equally challenging as that AP Chem lab where you would always get 1000% for your percent error, as equally challenging as that AP Physics test that you tried so hard to ace, but you just couldn’t do it. But unlike those labs and tests, it will be fun. Embrace what you have, don’t let it be a hindrance to what you can be. Remember this: the sum of your mistakes is not greater than the potential of your future.

We live in a world that’s driven by success. Success in academics, success in athletics, success in career, success in wealth, success in anything, really. It’s hard to not get caught up in this pursuit of success. However, always remember that your success can only be measured by yourself. The choices that you make, the possibilities that you pursue, the results that you obtain, they are all driven by what you, and you yourself, have chosen to do. Do what you want; don’t let others tell you what to do.

Some of us will go down in history, whether as politicians, actors, businessmen, criminals, or just as overall outstanding individuals. Most of us will not. Most of us will strive to be great, to be successful, to be known, but most of us will fall short of that. But once again, be content.

Be content in who you are, but be proud of this amazing group that you come from. You are greater, you are stronger, you are better than you think. You are the Class of 2014.”

via An Open Letter to the Class of 2014.

When I first looked at the Common Application, I thought “Oh no. I am never going to get into college. I have not done ten different activities plus community service and I most certainly do not have numerous academic awards.”  Then as I sat down and looked at my résumé and thought about all the amazing things I have done in my life, it dawned on me.  Colleges need a variety of students to create the “diverse campus” that they all brag about.  Colleges can’t only accept the people who do every activity possible, because though they would have an involved student body, everything would be half done because the people involved are stretching themselves so thin.  They need the athletes, the nerds, the social butterflies, the musicians, the quiet thinkers, the teachers pets, the volunteers, and the categories keep going on and on.  Whatever category I fit in to, a college would want me to add to their community of students.  I realized that I just needed to be proud of what I had accomplished and let that shine through in my application.  I needed to capitalize on what makes me unique.  Once I found the passions and uniqueness that I wanted to highlight, the applications became so much easier.  Good luck Class of 2014, and don’t stress out too much, because it will all work out in the end.  You will find a way to be happy wherever you end up going.

I’m not Going to Prepare you for College

old teacher

“I’m not going to prepare you for college.  Even though you are in an AP Senior English class, we will not be focusing on preparing for college” stated my teacher on the first day of school.  He went on to explain that for far too long, teachers have focused so much on the preparation for college that the students never accomplish anything except prepping for college.  We end up spending too much time planning for a future time instead of living in the present.   He talked about how many of his students have had parents pass away before they graduate high school and even the students he has taught who have died before graduation.  Those people are what motivates him to not teach us in preparation for another time in our lives.   We don’t know when it will be our turn to die, so he wants us accomplishing this year not prepping to accomplish.

His philosophy, originally, made me nervous.  I was afraid about being prepared to pass the AP test and being ready for college classes.  But then I stopped to really think about what he was saying and it all made sense.  I have at least seven friends whose parents have been deathly ill, whether by cancer or other means, just in high school.  The heartbreaking part is that more than half of my friend’s parents died.  I know two students who are battling sickness with their life on the line. I don’t want to be taught how to be prepared for college, I need to be taught about doing important things now and not waiting until I’m older.  Young people can do amazing things.  Just look at the sixteen year old girl who is speaking out about girl’s education in the Middle East even after the Taliban tried to assassinate her a year ago.  Malala Yousafzai, had been speaking out on the issue since she was eleven years old.  Can you imagine the courage it takes to speak with such an influence that the Taliban plots an assassination attempt on her?  And people listened!  No one speaks for that long without a big audience!  Young people can do big things, if they find a need that the are passionate about and decide to do something about it.  Probably the biggest thing that holds them back, is not having enough time.  What a shame to let passionate young people squander the time they would love to devote to their passion in busy work and pointless projects.

There has been a rise of twenty percent projects throughout schools in America.  Basically, the student is able to choose what they will do for their project, knowing that it has to be big enough to be worth twenty percent of their grade.  Most teachers don’t care if the project floats or sinks, as long as the student did everything they could to make it work, troubleshot, and learned lessons from it.

I am a huge fan of the twenty percent project.  It gave me the chance to resume work in the organization that I co-founded called Give a Smile Association.  I never thought I would have time to continue my efforts with it, until I was given the opportunity to do a twenty percent project. My friend and I founded the organization in fifth grade, after I went to see my grandpa in stroke rehab and saw the joy that my family indirectly brought to a woman in the stroke ward who seemed to have no one.  She would come into the visiting room every time we were there, and smile at our interactions with my grandpa.  She had been in the stroke center for longer, but my grandpa was doing better at his rehab.  I hypothesized that feeling loved and cared about leads to quicker recovery, shared my theory with my friend and thus Give a Smile was born.  We would spend the whole time at sleepovers making handmade cards that let patients know someone cared about them.  We went to my school and helped the younger kids make cards.  In all, we probably had delivered 300 cards.  For my twenty percent project, I made a goal of having 1,500 cards made in a month and a half.  I emailed all the teachers at my high school asking for their participation.  I got around 25 replies.  That may seem like a lot, but for a school with 200 teachers, I was a little disappointed.  Still, I persevered.  I ended up collecting just over 3,500 cards from those 25 teachers.  I was in awe of all the cards that had been made.  I was able to touch 3,500 lives for the better with a twenty percent project.

The twenty percent project’s goal wasn’t “preparing me for college”, but it did better than almost any other way I could imagine. It taught me communication, time management, organization, letter writing, and a host of other skills that are necessary not only for college but for life in general.  So long live classes that teach life skills with college readiness on the side.  They are the class of the future, for sure.