As our 12th-grade students are applying for colleges, our staff writes recommendations for them. The students email the recommender a “brag sheet” of their accomplishments, goals, and life experiences. I have had the privilege of writing several recommendations this year, and love how much I learn about our students through the process.
One young man, who I see as a leader, described his only accomplishment as “good at sports.” He was totally unaware of his own greatness. I made sure to describe his leadership, such as the times I’ve seen him guiding 9th graders to do the right thing.
One young lady wrote an assertive brag sheet in organized bullet points. Reading it, I remembered how she had volunteered one summer to organize all of our classroom libraries and then ensured that I wrote a letter documenting her community service. This year, she started a dance club, which has become our most well-attended club. I felt appreciation for her ambition and how she has made the school a better place.
One young man, Samuel, * was a surprise to me. I was happy to receive his request to write a recommendation, but I realized I didn’t know much about him. Here is what I knew: he is from Honduras and started our school in the 9th grade. He is doing well academically. He is a nice, quiet kid with a big smile.
His brag sheet was a revelation. I learned how much he valued his family: he started by describing his family (mom, dad, siblings) as his greatest support and then detailing their levels of education: who finished high school, who didn’t, who was pursuing college, who didn’t finish college. I learned that he is living in the United States with his father and uncle, and that his mother and siblings were still in Honduras. He had experienced the death of an infant sibling, and wrote about how his parents supported him through that challenge. He is debating about whether to become a aviation mechanic or to have a career in fashion. I had no idea he had an interest in fashion, and then I suddenly remembered that he is a stellar artist and his work has been displayed all over the school.
I learned that he was class president for two years in a row in Honduras, right before he immigrated to the U.S. This struck me: how had his identity changed after he came to the U.S in a new school? Even though we are a school of newcomer immigrant English Language Learners, how hard had it been for him to adjust? Had he wanted to pursue student government in my school, or was it something he never considered? Was he a “quiet kid” in Honduras?
In reading his brag sheet, I saw his creativity, his insightfulness, his aspirations. It occurred to me that over the years, I get to know certain students very well: our star students, our student government leaders, and most of all our attention-seekers who disrupt classrooms (until they don’t). I don’t always know the “quiet kids.” In learning about Samuel, I felt I had discovered a hidden jewel that made me want to learn more about all of my students: to see the world through their eyes, to know their aspirations, and to make our high school a more obvious path to those aspirations.
*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.