Philomath School District Office artwork

One of the four interim superintendent candidates that spoke at last night’s public forum believes that students fit into one of four groups:

• The kids that are going to be successful no matter what is done.

• The kids that are successful through positive experiences in education.

• The kids that are not successful despite those experiences in education.

• The kids that are so low because they have life issues such where they will sleep or what they will eat and they will struggle with achievement no matter what is done.

The comments made me think back to my own educational experience and where I would’ve fit among those groups. Group 2 seems to be the one that would’ve described me.

Up until the first half of the sixth grade, I’d say I was probably an average student, not exactly at the bottom of the class but also not reaching my potential. It wasn’t until we relocated to Arizona that I started to blossom in school. And the simple actions of a teacher may have been the difference in how I approached my studies.

In the spring of 1978, my sixth-grade teacher at Longfellow Elementary in Mesa, Arizona, had a covered shoebox sitting in the classroom with a slit cut into it. Whenever one of us got a perfect 100 percent score on an assignment, she wrote the student’s name down on a slip of paper and put it into the box. At the end of the week, she drew names out of the box and handed out rewards (from what I can remember, this was almost always candy — but the good stuff, like full-sized candy bars).

So, if you got your name in the box more times, you had a better chance of walking home on Fridays while munching on a sweet reward. It may seem silly, but this simple act motivated me to try harder on assignments so she’d write my name down more on those slips of paper. And I’ll report that I got a lot of candy that spring (this is probably something that would not be allowed in today’s world — the evils of sugar, etc.).

Then something funny happened along the way. I started winning awards and being recognized for academic achievement. The following year in junior high, I was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society and really cleaned up when it came to the awards assemblies. I liked the attention and it made me feel good to be able to reach that level of accomplishment. I learned that by taking your education more seriously and trying harder, you could do some really cool things.

I’m not sure if I can definitely say that slips of paper in a shoebox led to my later successes in school, but it’s one of those things that sticks in my mind as a turning point. In the span of one year, I went from a C student to straight A’s. Several other teachers pushed me along the way, including a teacher at Maryvale High in Glendale, Arizona, that took me aside one afternoon to share his belief that I had a great gift for writing. He urged me to sign up for the school newspaper and here I am today.

Yes, the second group is probably the most accurate in my education. Where do you fit?

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