Worried about the youth of today? Don’t be.
If you think otherwise consider the undertakings of Stella Brockman School seventh and eighth graders during the school year that is about to come to a close.
They participated in an endeavor dubbed “Genius Hour.” It entailed selecting a project, pitching it to a teacher, and then delving into research, putting a presentation together and delivering it. It starts with an objective and ends with a conclusion based on trials, tribulations, and results while at the same time driving home the importance of time management, perseverance, and understanding that trying and failing is a an effective way to learn and eventually scale mountains you thought were too steep to conquer.
I had the privilege Monday of being part of a community panel judging eight student presentations. The judges were asked to rate and give feedback about the effectiveness of their presentation in terms of how they communicated. Essentially, it was critiquing their public speaking skills.
Their mastery of essential public speaking skills were as varied as you’d expect if you randomly picked people from a crowd of any age group. That said no one froze, sounded robotic, mumbled or had the classic deer-in-the-headlights look. Nor did they hit the other extreme of coming across as a disingenuous snake oil salesman. That said what impressed me was their project selection and execution.
Alicia Calderon selected photography and digital editing. She didn’t just simply download an app and put dog noses and floppy ears on her subjects. Instead, she took existing photos and explored various ways of enhancing them or else had them convey emotions.
Before you roll your eyes and go “fuddy duddy” over what you just read, think back into the Stone Age when you had 8th grade art and the teacher had you draw an animal such as a horse. There were a wild range of results, if you bother to remember. Some created versions that were borderline impressionistic; others made the horse seem more real and alive than the photograph. And then there was the one who ended up being the student who got all the accolades at public art shows and you couldn’t figure out why. He’s the guy that bravely plunged into abstract. In short, Alicia’s project helped her to start sharpening her focus on interpretation and expressing what she sees.
Cody Mort delved into the history of World War II. You read that right. He immersed himself into research of an era that in all honestly must seem to be ancient history to an eighth grader in 2018 instead of following the siren call of topics trending for the next 10 seconds on Twitter. There was no political correctness revision. It reflected reverence for the past by straightforward research and not cherry picking a narrative.
Katie Kim tackled the subject of animal cruelty. Clearly it was a concern of hers but as her journey unfolded she discovered it more mundane and difficult for her to explore. Her conclusion shared the pitfalls of preconceived notions and the need to give fairly deep thought to what you want to do. That doesn’t mean that her project wasn’t well executed or a success. The lesson she learned on her own within the guidelines of “Genius Hour” was the need to understand what you are getting into and not just let passions guide you.
Stephanie Guzman chose Greek mythology. What eighth grader can get into Greek mythology and enjoy it, you ask? Stephanie does. I’ll admit her enthusiasm and the fair depth of research she did from what little was shown on her brief PowerPoint presentation caught me off guard although it didn’t surprise me that an eighth grader could be hooked on something that didn’t happen in the here and now and doesn’t involve using an app.
Ashley Beck showed her peers they don’t have to settle for popping some frozen fast food style concoction into a microwave and nuking it.
Her exploration of culinary arts was as much about learning how to prepare dishes and the visual presentation as it was about the basic steps needed to tackle any project whether it is physical or intellectual. It also touched on culture and nutrition. As an added bonus her teacher got a sushi roll instead of a polished apple as a token of gratitude for her labor.
Pearl Flucas really impressed for several reasons. She didn’t use PowerPoint as a crutch when making her presentation.
As for her project it was making products out of duct tape including the belt she was wearing. Now you might think this may not translate into a marketable or effective skill down the road but guess again. If you don’t have a 3-D printer handy or not within 60 miles of an Amazon Prime location or without cell service to tap an app for help, what are you going to do? Besides the thought process and the patience along with perseverance you develop with seemingly endless trial and error so you can create things such as a duct tape purse, wallet, flowers, and dozens of other items that Pearl did is much like the soft skills that great inventors and entrepreneurs from Thomas Edison and Henry Ford to Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos employed. Call her the MacGayver of Stella Brockman School for her ingenuity.
Julie Erdman opted to do movie production and editing. My expectations admittedly weren’t high given what passes today as “production” videos on most YouTube channels. In one word her project was “wow.”
It was an impressive, well-thought out storyline and well-executed movie.
I can hardly wait to see the Stella Brockman sequel.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.