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Portfolio Day

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Because I work at a private school, we don’t have to worry about the latest version of the standardized tests. Instead, we have our Seniors do something much more meaningful: Portfolios.

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Each of these 3-ring binders is the culmination of years of work. They should contain good-quality work samples from each core subject (and anything else they want to add, such as contestant numbers from ski racing or pictures of dance recitals or photos of sculptures). All of the academic awards they’ve received in their high school career are in another section. And there are two essays. One on their school experience thus far (for better or for worse), and one is on future goals of some sort. The rules to these essays are pretty loose, other than the title, but many of our students finally realize what a different experience they’ve had in our alternative environment. Teachers are required to read through all of the stuff in those binders and make comments (some say “love notes”) to students, which get tucked into the binders.

And Tuesday is Portfolio Day. It actually has nothing to do with the paper part of this Senior assignment. Each kid has to give a 20-30 minute talk on something — anything! — to three teachers (or more) of their choice. Parents and friends can come, if they’re invited. I’ve seen talks on how to be a good athletic coach, rebuilding antique tractors, the physics of a Van de Graaff generator, the current fashion outlook for New York, student-composed songs, and hand-made dolls. After the talks and a quick Q&A, the kids get their binders back with the teacher comments, there’s often hugs or pictures, and they go skipping away.

The most amazing part of the whole thing is that although we teach one-on-one and I know what these kids do, I haven’t seen them doing it until many of these talks. Despite nerves, the kids are usually pretty comfortable (in their element) and things go really well, they get onto strange and cool tangents, and I see whole other sides of kids that I didn’t know about before. Makes me kinda sad to not be able to talk further with them.

I’m looking forward to Tuesday.

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