The answer was as surprising as it was short, "The ACT."
I have been pleasantly surprised by this group all year, but I am not prepared for this. I laugh out loud. This is a Core Plus class that is designed to allow students to explore and develop their passion and interests. The students in this particular group are interested in leadership and helping people.
"Really? Why the ACT?"
"Mrs. VanDam told me I could go to any college I wanted if I kept my grades up. Then Collin said that wasn't totally true. He said I also need to do well on the ACT. What is the ACT?"
I love Mrs. VanDam. She plants the seeds of future success in her 8th grade math students. This seed was planted, watered, fertilized and already beginning to sprout by the time Neasia traveled from math to Core Plus. There was a visible change in her. She has been a great student and leader all year, but does not always see herself the way her teachers and I do- unique, incredible, kind and persistent. Neasia had some struggles in 6th grade, worked to improve in 7th grade and has truly come into her own this year. Apparently, Mrs VanDam told Neasia that she was doing so well academically this year that if she kept it up, she could write her own ticket to success in the future. Her question hangs in the air, "What is the ACT?"
Well, I don't get such an opening every day so we begin to talk about college, the application process and test scores. All of the students seem to be listening intently. We talk for 10 minutes or so-my best elevator pitch on working hard now and the impact of achievement for the future. This conversation, this interest, this motivation is completely student-driven. And it is magical somehow.
I pause, "Is that enough information? Should we move on?"
Again, a surprising response from the students, "No. Tell us more. How many questions are on it? Is it timed? When do we take it?" I smile and continue. As a school counselor, I cannot be prouder.
Mr. Christensen returns to the classroom and, without missing a beat, begins t0 talk about the struggles he had with the test. We discuss the typical pitfalls students may have and how to overcome them.
I have a presentation saved from past years when we gave the EXPLORE test and I pull it up. We talk about the ACT the whole period. I tell them where to find practice questions and how to use strategies for taking the test.
I am struck today by the power one teacher can have on a culture of achievement. I don't know if Mrs. VanDam knew how that one comment to that one student changed the discussion in our school that day. I am sure that was not her goal. I'm sure she meant to encourage one student to believe in her future and in hard work. What she did was change the topic 8th graders wanted to discuss. What she did was open the door to intense conversation about positive achievement. What she did was throw a pebble in the pond of middle school and I was lucky enough to watch the ripples.
Thank you Mrs. VanDam. You are an exemplary teacher.