Tuesday, July 12, 2011

We Tried

Our guest speaker for today was Steven Melzer, the Director of Human Resources and Organizational Strategy at Expeditionary Learning and a former member of the New York Department of Education. He gave us a presentation entitled “Education in the U.S.: Who’s in Charge?” 

I learned some very interesting things about education in the U.S. Education is not a constitutional right. It is a mandate of all the state constitutions but is not the responsibility of the national government. I was also surprised to learn that the Department of Education is the smallest department by far, of the entire federal government.

His advice for life was a bit more colorful and I definitely won’t forget it. He urged us to not succumb to pressure to feel like we must know exactly where we want to be in 5, 10, 20 years but instead, to focus on knowing where we are now, in terms of our skills and interests and let that lead the way. He also said if you don’t think you are going to fail your job or class or assignment in the first few weeks you start, you are doing something wrong. This is because a fear of failure can be some of the best motivation, and if you do not think you are going to fail, it is probably because you are not challenging yourself.

This evening, Eric and I attempted to fulfill our required museum visit by joining an R.A. trip that was headed to the Guggenheim Museum. Unfortunately, the trip was plagued with delays leaving campus, waiting 30 minutes for a bus we had to transfer from anyway, transferring to a different bus and walking a few blocks to the museum. The trip was scheduled to leave at 4:15 and, due to the delays, we arrived at around 5:30 – five minutes before the museum closed.

The R.As didn’t want to waste an entire trip so we headed down to Rockefeller Center. After getting something to eat and walking along 5th Ave. for a while, Eric and I decided to part ways with the group and headed back to campus.

This week is almost half way over and I am definitely feeling the pressure. My research paper, though only at 15 pages so far, is coming along nicely, I think, and I am very grateful for Doc. Z’s patience and advice during our conferences. I always leave our one on one discussions with a clearer vision of what I need to focus on.

Tomorrow, we begin our discussions of current President Barack Obama.

Skills & Interests

Our guest speaker today, Steven Melzer, started off my day with inspiration. He was the only one of our guest speakers so far that asked us about our papers personally and went one by one asking why we picked our topics and if we were surprised by what we had found. I liked that a lot because it showed that he wasn't just there to give a presentation, but to get to know us a little.

He talked about how whatever we do in life, we need to make sure that our skills and interests match up. It's one thing to be good at something, but if your heart isn't into it, then there's no point in doing what you're doing. You have to have all of your interests for you to be successful and happy. He told us something about education that I wasn't aware of: that the Constitution says nothing about education whatsoever. Therefore, it is up to the states to create schools and govern them. They don't have to have schools, it's just something that most find necessary and worth it in the long run because of the money they receive from the government for it.

During our meeting with Mrs. L., we discussed ways that we can improve the ILC. We focused especially on "advertising" the ILC. I figure that the best way to promote the ILC and get more students to go is by having the parents on board from the start. That way they know it's serious and they get a clear view of what the program is about and not just a recount of what their student tells them. I would suggest invitations going out to students that invite them and their parents to a sort of orientation that way the ILC can be formally presented. I would also recommend that ILC alums be at the meeting so they know that the program is legitimate and students have prospered with the program.

It was also discussed that the students be more involved in the process of choosing students in the years to come. We could be involved in the actual panel during the interview. I would think it would be more helpful because we can read people our age better than anyone else because we're around each other all the time. Another suggestion could be meeting with with alums as a separate meeting and we could hand over the information to the panel that will then interview the students. It would be informal and give the students a better opportunity to be themselves rather than too nervous to function properly and the formal interview in front of adults.

The last thing I wanted to mention was my opinion on the required PSAT scores. I think that they shouldn't be considered and that letters of recommendation from teachers should be considered instead. Honestly, schools don't make a big deal about how important the PSAT really is and most kids who should be in this program don't know it actually counts for something and don't do their best. By having the letters of recommendation from the teachers you'd get a better sense of how those students are as students.

Lately I've been really tired all the time. I think it's because this is the last stretch before it's all over. I've hit a wall with my paper, because I'm not sure how to carry on with expanding things. I have 15 pages so far so that means I have until Thursday night to crank out 5 more pages. I'm more than sure that I'll be able to overcome this writers block and continue with the same momentum I had in the beginning.

Mission Failed

Mission: Visit Guggenheim at 1700 hours.
Status: Failure

Today after class, Beilul and I planned to fulfill our requirement to see a museum by visiting the Guggenheim Museum with a RA, Mo. Personally, I was really looking forward to this trip because the Guggenheim was the one museum that I wanted to see the most. I was drawn to the unique architecture of the building. Instead of being a typical skyscraper in New York, the Guggenheim is built as a spiral. I had only seen pictures before our trip but, when we approached the museum I was truly taken aback. It was over 9000 times better in real life. While we may not have got to see all the sculptures in the museum, seeing the exterior in person almost made the trip worthwhile.

Guggenheim Museum
Why did we not see the sculptures and art in the museum?

Well, our trip was doomed from the beginning. We left a half hour late because our RA was confused about who was coming so we waited for any stragglers. After leaving campus, we had to wait for the bus to come even though I know that we could have taken the subway to get close to Guggenheim. However, Mo insisted on taking the bus. The only problem was that after 30 minutes of waiting, we figured that our bus wasn't coming and took another one to 86th street where we transferred to another bus. Taking the bus was particularly frustrating because we had to travel a good 20 blocks and the bus stopped about every block whereas if we took the subway, which stops about each six to nine blocks, we could have been there a lot quicker. When we did arrive and went inside to buy tickets only to find we arrived five minutes before closing time and they weren't selling anymore tickets. I admit it, I was really bummed out. Looking back, it was really awesome just to see the exterior and to go inside and look at the spiral.

Inside of Guggenheim

Some of the art we saw in the Guggenheim store
Mo, the RA, felt really bad about the fiasco and took us to Rockefeller Center to grab dinner to make up. We enjoyed our sandwiches and burgers which are comparable to those from Buckhorn Grill. I loved the food, and ate until I was stuffed. While the rest of the group wanted to go have dessert, Beilul and I were exhausted and decided to head back to Columbia. While the main objective of this trip may not have been accomplished, I found it neat to take the bus for the first time and I got to be in the same area where NBC shows 30 Rock and the Today Show were filmed. The only downside is that with our trip coming to an end, there might not be enough time to visit a museum. What a shame.

30 Rock!

Central Park on the way back to the subway

Sunset between the buildings

Fixing Something That Isn't Broken

At the usual cohort meeting this afternoon, we discussed something quite interesting: how to improve the Ivy League Connection. The I.L.C. itself is fairly refined as is. I myself could not argue that the I.L.C. has not come a tremendous way in less than a decade to date, but there's always room for adjustment as long as its in the collective interest of the program.

Our small cohort for the day, myself, Irene, and Milani (Beilul and Eric were on an R.A. trip), hit Mrs. L. with what seemed like a barrage of ideas to better the I.L.C. We all had our fair share of thoughts on the matter, and we all had different perspectives on some of the different approaches to improve the scholarship. I'd like to share my top 3 reforms/additions to the I.L.C. policy. I would share more, but I'm guessing this will be entirely too long as is, especially in recognition that I have a lot of homework assigned tonight. Here we go.

1) The W.C.C.U.S.D. Spokesperson:

To me, the school board never existed until the 10th grade. I didn't even know there was a school board! I thought the superintendent was the last in the chain, and the only link in between my teacher and that superintendent was the principal. Obviously, my view was quite obscure and blatantly inaccurate.

Once I found out that there was a thriving school board, I wondered what they did. And, it wasn't until I joined the W.C.C.U.S.D. Youth Commission later in my Junior year that I discovered some of the minor workings of the school board. To my surprise they handle a lot more than the average student might expect, especially the average student whom is ignorant to the existence of such an educational committee.

The school board could only benefit from additional exposure to the students and parents alike. I think, though not everyone else may, that the school board should be a visible component of a high school--and even middle school--atmosphere. That said, I propose the hiring or deeming of a school board publicity agent/spokesperson.

The I.L.C. itself could have its own spokesperson, but I am not suggesting that, per se, because that would entitle a fairly limited job description. So, a spokesperson to the school board, in my eyes, would essentially be the voice outside of the biweekly sessions. That spokesperson would be the connecting bridge between the public and the committee. Granted, there are several ways to find out and educate one's self about our W.C.C.U.S.D. school board already. But, for those whom aren't able or aren't willing to put in that extra effort to involve themselves within the school board's matters, the spokesperson would be there to serve as that link in the chain between the public's ear and school board's voice.

More specifically, and more on-topic, this spokesperson, in relation to the I.L.C., could travel amongst the high schools--and even middle schools--in the district and do a sort-of information session for the I.L.C. This spokesperson would without a doubt possess a charismatic, interesting presence and be naturally adept at public speaking and personal relations. And, in my experience, a great speaker tends to get greater results. And, in reference to the I.L.C., those greater results would yield more interest from the students, subsequently resulting in a greater applicant pool and providing a greater opportunity to the kids of the many high schools in the school district. Those greater results might even produce more funding for the I.L.C., let alone other school board projects.

This spokesperson could also, if desired, be the connection to local news and media. More press for more school board decisions, programs, and opportunities would raise even more awareness within the general masses. For the I.L.C. specifically, I know that knowledge is an instrumental flaw. Students and parents alike are simply unaware, uninformed, and in some cases unwilling to pursue such knowledge on their own. The spokesperson serves as the intermediary in such and would be responsible for marketing and educating the public and press of the given programs and policies of the school board.

This spokesperson is essentially an advertising and interest-raising outlet among the students and parents alike of the W.C.C.U.S.D. community, and with the exception of one additional salary to pay, I see many-a-benefit stemming from such a position.

2) I.L.C. Alumni Participation:

Though it is a requirement in completion of the I.L.C. to spread the word for future student generations, this post-summer policy is often neglected by many of the I.L.C. alumni. I believe they need more responsibility than a conversation or two to persuade them to actively pursue such requirements. In saying such, I propose alumni information sessions and leadership integration, as well as able student panelists during the interview stage.

Alumni information sessions would, at its core, be supplementary, or in combination with the I.L.C. spokesperson, in identifying and exposing what the I.L.C. is all about and why students should take the time out of their day to pursue such an incredible scholarship and eventual experience. Student alumni, I guarantee you, will speak with much more enthusiasm and general authenticity than, say, a high school staff member, like a teacher or a counselor. I would also venture to claim that students talking to other students would be, in general, more convincing and more engaging to the potential applicants. Seeing students who have already been accepted to, completed, and gained from the I.L.C. can have a tremendous impact on the applicants themselves. No one enjoys buying a product or service before witnessing the end-result; it's a blind bid, otherwise.

In terms of leadership, I see great things in the integration of the I.L.C. with the premier student task force of any given school. Leadership naturally attracts some of the most gifted speakers, planners, advocates, and advertisers of a given high school. If an I.L.C. alumnus/alumna were to incorporate their ideas of such into the leadership atmosphere, I feel as though, with enough persuasion and rhetoric, the leadership team could be a potential ally in getting the word out about the I.L.C. They would be able to speak volumes for the program and cover all of our bases, so-to-speak. It's efficient, effective, and almost effortless to attempt such, at the least.

Lastly, student panelists on the interview portion of the I.L.C. admissions process would provide the adult and administrative panel with a student perspective. If I, or any other student alumnus/alumna, were to serve on the panel for upcoming I.L.C. participants, I feel as though the breaks in the chain or holes in the picture of the applicant could be filled by that I.L.C. alum. At the end of the day, not to say adults do not understand us (on the contrary, they do, for the most part) students will have a more holistic and accurate portrayal of the applicant. We are just able to recognize and characterize certain attributes and characteristics of a student applicant that may not be addressed or considered in the absence of a student panelist. Some may worry about potential bias, but if the applicants are presented to the panelists on a school-blind basis, than that is of no worry. And, if for some reason, the student recognizes the applicant and bias were to surface (though, I would heavily argue against such bias forming being the mature, responsible, and young adults that the I.L.C. alumni produces), the other six adult votes in the room would drown out the student voice and vote, given the student votes unwisely toward a candidate. As a last pro, student interviewee's would, I believe, find a more soothing comfort knowing that there would be a student him/herself also reviewing his/her interview and application. Essentially, it would reduce nervousness. But, of course, it would not erase it. I strongly advise a student panelist for the interview stage; it's one of my firmer beliefs in my grand improvement layout!

3) Holistic Application Review:

This is probably my strongest urge for the I.L.C. One of the most heartbreaking and disappointing things I endured during my own application process was that some of my brightest and gifted friends could not even apply. It's not that they didn't have a good G.P.A. It's not that their classroom behavior was ill. It's not that their attendance was narrow, or that their teachers and counselors advised against them, or that they couldn't write an impeccable essay. It was that they had slacked off, or in less frequent cases performed under-par, on the SAT or PSAT.

I would propose a holistic application review in that the following would be submitted: one teacher or counselor recommendation, a transcript, an extracurricular list (define "list" however you'd like), an essay to the associated prompt, and a PSAT/SAT/ACT score. But, and this is a huge but, there should not--not--be a limit, or a minimum standard, or a cut-off point for any of the required application components. In example, a 140 minimum on the PSAT should not be part of the application policy. There can be red flags, no doubt. I definitely suggest that the application reader raise an eyebrow upon seeing a 1000 score on the SAT or a 2.0 G.P.A., but to deny a student--a prospective I.L.C. applicant--the right to apply to the scholarship based on a solidified standard is unwise.

To elaborate, if the student scores a whopping 125 on the PSAT, in spite of that same student carrying a 4.0. G.P.A. (.5 above the G.P.A. requirement), being secretary to the student body, playing varsity basketball, and submitting a formidable essay and enlightening recommendation, he/she would not even have the chance to submit their application, and if they did, it would be surpassed the moment the PSAT score was reviewed. I do not think that this policy encourages the maximum amount of able students to apply and vie for acceptance into the program. With more leniency toward the initial application, or even with more vagueness regarding threshold indicators such as a 3.5 G.P.A. or 1600 SAT score, the I.L.C. would see an increase in its applicant pool and ultimately a greater I.L.C. student cast toward the latter end of the year.

Those are my principal suggestions to the program. Let me reassure that I only wish the best for this program, and I think that the program as it stands is a definite success. But, I want to make it more successful, as I'm sure the majority of people reading this would agree. These are my potential routes to that greater success, if you will.

On that note, I'm going to go, now, and pound my face against my book until I complete the reading for tomorrow's morning session. Thanks for reading!

Back to Class!

Phew. It was good to be back in class today... although I must say that, continuing the pattern of the last few days, I have very little to write about.

The morning was, well, the morning. I was groggy after staying up late to finish my paper (editing at 2 AM is not the wisest of choices, nor the most productive) and hadn't had breakfast before class, opting for an extra half hour of sleep instead. The choice was a good one: food would have made me sleepy. In class we went over Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Its funny, going over these landmark cases in such legal detail; everyone in the States thinks they know about them, equates Plessy to mean “separate but equal” and Brown as the shining beacon that ended all that, but there is so much more to each of them. Brown was such a lucky collection of circumstances that all added up to its incredible ruling: for instance, because that year was an election year, the people in the Brown camp put off pushing the case until afterwards to try and keep the political agenda and the politicians out of the Courts way, or at least as out-of-the-way as they normally were. And then after hearing the oral arguments, the Court essentially took a break from Brown since they did not have to announce their ruling for many months, and it was during this break that the Chief Justice, who had been a stout supporter of the constitutionality of segregation, passed away. He was replaced by the much more liberal Chief Justice Warren, who through his politics and essentially nagging of the other Justices brought about the unanimous decision that we have in Brown v Board of Ed. Fascinating!

Lunch was nothing more than a quick hop over to the library to print, edit, and reprint the final draft of my paper before wolfing down some grub at the dining hall; by that point I was starving!

The afternoon was movie watching. We learned more about Justice Hugo Black and the important role he played on the Court, and also a bit about his potentially-scandalous background. One of the movies was going more in-depth about what the actual effects of Brown were, and the last one dealt with the Japanese internment case Korematsu v United States. That video made me sick, frankly. For all that our generation is hardened to war photos and images of horrendous violence, apparently I'm still not quite immune to everything: the way our government, the United States government, treated their own citizens because their parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents came from “an enemy race” is just sickening. No, not sickening: enraging.

Hmmm. That doesn't seem like a good note to end the blog on. On Fourth of July I promised more pictures but never got around to it; so here, a week late, are two of the photos I took on Independence Day. Good night and enjoy!