Porter Wilder is on a mission.
He wants to be a firefighter.
The high school junior’s background points to someone who is driven. He’s a CrossFit disciple and competitor. He’s trained as a high school wrestler. His passions include BMX and photography. He’s as meticulous about his appearance as he is controlling his diabetes and eating the right combination of protein and other building blocks to gain strength.
You’d assume he would be on target with his education.
Wilder is today but he wasn’t not too long ago. He was struggling in school. His teachers weren’t able to get him to connect.
What changed? Wilder enrolled in be.tech. It is the Manteca Unified charter school that combines education choices and career pathways with a healthy dose of the soft skills — promptness, ability to problem solve, self-motivation, teamwork, and such — that employers from the likes of Mt. Mike’s Pizza, Tesla, Yellow Freight, and Oracle to Teichert Construction yearn for in job applicants.
On Tuesday, Ward was among be.tech students making their quarterly presentation to a community panel recapping their academic and career development progress, citizenship and attendance, personal goals, and learning gained from participating in community events and community services during the previous nine weeks.
There was the traditional printed portfolio as well as the 21st century Power Point presentation controlled from his school-issued tablet.
Wilder told the panel he started doing better in core classes such as math, English, and history after switching to be.tech.
That doesn’t surprise Diane Medeiros who oversees be.tech, independent study and the Manteca Adult School.
The principal notes struggling students often need to find a purprose, or direction if you will.
That may surprise some who believe the goal of kindergarten through 12th grade education is to prepare students for college so the purpose of high school to them is clear. But in a world that Manteca Unified mirrors where only 20 percent of high school graduates go on to complete four years of college, it is easy to see how students like Porter Wilder might find themselves adrift.
“A little bit of success is what it takes,” Medeiros said. “Success begets success.”
In Wilder’s case it was delving into the be.tech first responders academy course work.
It didn’t take too long for him to realize the connection to math and other core subjects and his chosen field.
What Wilder and other be.tech students are learning goes far beyond exploring careers and grasping academic subjects.
Once a week all students partake in a class centered around professional development that runs the gamut from preparing a resume and how to handle an interview to the proper way to tie a necktie and the absolute importance of promptness and dependability.
During his presentation, Wilder touched on his personal development. He zeroed in on one problem area that he is planning to work on — tardies. He’s racked up five of them in nine weeks.
Two panel members re-enforce the dangers of not addressing issues that lead to him being tardy. It’s pointed out that now it’s being late for a class but as a firefighter it could be a matter of someone’s life. Another notes how a pattern of being tardy could cost him a job someday.
Wilder gets it. And the community panel that includes a firefighter has just re-enforced what teachers have been working to get him to understand.
The presentation by Wilder — dressed for success complete with a tie — goes smooth with a fair amount of eye contact.
“I’ll do better,” Wilder said at one point when it comes to the next nine weeks after reaching the goals he set for himself and then met in the first quarter when it came to academic performance.
At another “Student Exposition” — as the panel presentations are called — freshman Rafael Cano is standing before his fellow students and community members.
It is then you realize that the panel presentation are a clever — and extremely effective — replacement of old school classes of public speaking. A freshman even 10 years ago wouldn’t have had to spend as much time preparing a presentation to talk in front of a class, let alone strangers.
A culinary student, Cano shares lessons he learned from preparing eggs benedict, homemade Caesar salad dressing, and pecan cinnamon snails. You quickly realize it isn’t just about opening more and more windows to his dream of one day owning his own cafe but he’s picking up “people skills” as well as working on sharpening math and English skills to get there — two areas he readily admits he needs to work more at.
Courses at be.tech help underscore the connection by touching on personal finances as does his discussions with instructors on what it takes to run a café — the cost of food, labor, rent, equipment, and other nuances of being in business for yourself.
His eagerness to learn is underscored by arriving early each day on his own time so he can prepare for the portion of his school day that involves learning by working in the be.tech café.
Medeiros noted core subjects at be.tech are handled in tradional classroom settings, independent study, and even a hybrid of the two. The faculty strives to find the right combo that works so students will step up to the next level.
The end goal is the same as any other high school. The big difference is be.tech’s path to success is not a one-size-first-all approach that tends to have diminishing returns when students may not be plugged into academics because they don’t see the direct connection to their future.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org