If you doubt the ability of public schools, consider the words of Meyers High School senior Jeffrey Vergara during a recent summit held at Mohegan Sun Pocono and focusing on area graduation rates.
“I was failing four classes,” Vergara said during a five-student panel discussion at the United Way-led event last month in Plains Township. “I was given a choice of classes in my sophomore year.” He took accounting as an elective, and a fire lit.
Yes, he felt inspired, had found a career, and worked aggressively in the class. But something bigger happened.
“I realized to go to college, I had to succeed in the classes I didn’t like, too,” Vergara said. “I realized if you work hard, you can get past anything.”
Vergara and the four other panelists took the stage after the keynote speech by Dr. Leonard Sax, who had focused on factors that, he argued, have led to disinterest in school among male students nationwide, and a decline in both high school achievement and college attendance.
The panel was pulled together and moderated by Joe DeLucca, who has the jaw-cramping title of Luzerne Intermediate Unit director of federal, state and non-public school programs. DeLucca wisely posed a question or two and let the youngsters do the talking.
Columbia native Melissa Sabogal Barato, a senior at Hanover Area who arrived in the area this summer, apologized for any mispronunciations and then proceeded to speak fluently about the challenge of learning a new language and the benefits American students don’t realize they have.
“In Columbia the student is not as important; we are taught what to do,” Barato said. “Here people care about me.”
She praised her new school for having things such as computers and interactive digital smart boards, and for so much space dedicated to education. “Every teacher has his own classroom,” she said enthusiastically.
Gavin Ayers defied the notion that those who attend the LIU Alternative Learning Center – designed for students with behavioral problems who in some cases might be too disruptive for regular class – is little more than a dumping ground.
“I was really not, like, a bad student,” Ayers said, but at the learning center, “I did learn how to be more respectful, how to focus on learning.” So much so that the Lake-Lehman senior is now dual-enrolled, taking courses at Luzerne County Community College.
“What really motivated me was that I don’t want to be stuck in a job I don’t feel passionate about,” he added.
Pittston Area High School senior Jarrod Cooper said he gained focus after some career guidance sparked interest in his future major of entrepreneurship at Wilkes University. “If kids know what they want to do and want to accomplish, they do better in school,” Cooper said.
Wyoming Area senior Charlette Gittens reminded listeners that providing an education that inspires goes well beyond helping the student. “We’re your future,” she said. “We’ll show what you did for us.”
And the last word, from Vergara, could be a motto for any life at any age:
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”