Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Break Out

I feel like I've told this story countless times, but I guess it's worth recalling again.

Spring of last year, when I had been offered a spot to be part of the Ivy League Connection and be one of the first students going to Columbia, I didn't really want to go. I hesitate to say "reluctant to go" because that seems to be a strong word, but in reality, I was hesitant and reluctant to venture all the way to New York City. However, I do want to clear up one misconception: it was not because I doubted the ability of the program or the worth of the program. At that point of my teenage and high school life, I had personal reasons that caused me to have conflicting feelings about going. So after much discussion with friends, mentors and parents, I was consoled and convinced that I should take a chance, and see what happened.

That risk was most certainly rewarded.

I had a blast at Columbia. I was challenged both academically and socially. My class taught me how to cope with ideas that were unfamiliar and hard to understand. The people I met, taught me that, well, not all rich kids are snobs. Yes, I did have that biased view of the world around me, and there I made a few friends that I still keep in touch with.

However, when I came back, they asked me "what can you bring back?" or "how are you going to share your experience?" The time immediately after I came back, as much as I credited myself as being more mature than most teens around me, I acted immaturely. I wanted to keep my experience to myself. Part of it was because I didn't know what TO bring back. I went to an east coast college over the summer and had the time of my life - now what? I think it was because I was still slightly bitter about having to completely overhaul my summer to do it. I didn't want to have any positive things to say, as much as it had been fun for me, I didn't want it to appear that way.

Fast forward to this year. I was excited to have to chance to go to Brown and have another great summer. One catch, Mr. Ramsey had been sending email after email asking all us students to form an opinion and collect our thoughts about what we thought of the program and what we thought were the benefits of even having it in the first place - it was implied that we all should answer. I tried putting it aside, not worrying about validating my experience or my reasons for wanting to go again, but at some point, I just got fed up with dodging the question that I decided to answer most of the emails he sent out. And slowly, as I responded more and more and told others more and more about my opinions of the program, I got a pretty good idea of what the program had done for me and what I saw was its perceived benefits.

The main one was this: The Ivy League Connection gave me the opportunity that helped me break out of my shell. I had always limited myself to what I could do, usually out of modesty. I didn't want to stick out and make myself vulnerable to ridicule or have my every action analyzed and criticized. I knew I was good, I just didn't like it when people made a big deal out of the fact that I was good, it didn't seem like it was important to be praised for something another person could have done as well. Anyways, when I noticed I was surrounded by people that were good at what they did, and weren't afraid to show it, well I had to step up my game. It never came to the point where I thought that I was incapable or deficient, I just knew that I had to work a bit harder.

I've been fortunate in this regard. I can grasp new concepts and adapt easily. If something is unfamiliar, I have the capacity to figure out what I have to do to improve. A lot of this has to do with being pushed by my parents to learn things at an accelerated rate at a young age and therefore learning early how to take a lot of information, condense, and then pack it all into my brain for recall later. I've also been blessed to have had mostly good teachers; they're invested in each students education and know what they're talking about. However, those teachers are starting to retire and I know our district will be hard-pressed to find new-teachers that can live up to those legacies. Still, I think that those are the types of teachers that would best benefit students, who aren't afraid to challenge their students and are aware that with the right resources, student's can achieve higher than their expectations, as long as the student is aware of those resources and takes advantage of those life-lines.

Break out, and take a look at what people have to offer; I've benefitted and grown tremendously from doing it.


Madeline Kronenberg said...


Thank you for your candor and insight.

I appreciate that it is difficult to share and analyze your feelings (although sometimes Mr. Ramsey makes it difficult not to) and I also appreciate that sometimes it takes a while to completely form your thoughts to draw conclusions about experiences. Especially BIG experiences like going to the East Coast.

I have a saying on my office wall: "The shell must break before the bird can fly." I am glad the ILC helped break your shell.

I also appreciate that you recognize the effort your teachers have put in over the years. For me, I feel confident that our corps of young teachers will match (and hopefully surpass) our excellent veterans.

I agree that students need to take advantage of their "life-lines" -- and that they need to look around and know where they are before they need them.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts -- and I'm happy you did break out.

Don Gosney said...


We could use a lot more honesty like you’ve displayed here. I thank you for it.

One of our greatest problems with out ILC kids is getting them to talk to us and express their feelings and opinions. I don’t know why they’re so reticent but they are. Some will email and blog without hesitation while others have to nearly be threatened to respond to the simplest written request.

There’s a reason why we ask for our cohorts to respond to emails and to write their blogs. Actually there are a lot of reasons. I think we need to be more clear about those reasons right up front so if our team members don’t feel that they can do this then they can pass on the program and make room for someone else.

Sometimes a person can be too close to see what’s happening and I suspect that some of our ILC team members may be too close to see how the program has affected them. People like myself, Charles and Madeline are able to stand back, though, and observe what’s going on and we’re able to make comparisons between ‘then’ and ‘now’.

With some of our kids we can see and even document remarkable progress and growth. How much of that we can attribute to the ILC is debatable but we’re going to take some of the credit nonetheless.

With some of our kids, though, the polite way to describe it is that we made a mistake in thrusting them into this program. For a wide variety of reasons they could not or would not embrace what was being offered. It’s their loss. As they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.

I appreciate, Dennis, what you’ve been able to bring to the program this year. You’ve been a valuable asset and a true leader for the others.