For his intern mentorship, instead of having a final exam he had to put together a portfolio. Portfolios are the latest trend in education as a touchy-feely way of showing work. Like most things, he didn’t take the assignment very seriously. He claims that most of the effort was in spelling out “PORTFOLIO” in duct tape on the cover. I found the artifacts he place in it very interesting. It has a lot of paper documentation for the things he had done either in school or as an extracurricular activities. There are certificates from his Rocketry Club and Math League competitions. His rather mono-alphabetic transcript is included. He has some graphs and pictures from the nanotube research. But one item struck me as more representative than any of the others.
His internship took him down to JHU APL four days a week. He kept Wednesdays free because that was when most of his afterschool activities happened. This gave him an empty part of his schedule from about 11 until 3. School rules prevent him from hanging around campus, so he had to go do something else.
At the elementary school level, sometimes kids get pushed into the advanced math courses ahead of their grade. It doesn’t happen often, but it eventually causes problems. When the kid hits fifth grade, he runs out of math because he has already taken the fifth grade GT class and the middle school program refuses to touch the kids ahead of schedule. The math teacher has to keep these kid busy for that year without getting too far ahead. There’s never more than one of these in any school at a given time and there isn’t one every year. It just happens whenever one of these advanced students comes along. It always causes problems with the teachers because they have regular classes to teach and with the parents that want to make sure their kid stays challenged.
This happened to my son and it worked out fine mostly because my wife was his math teacher and was able to keep him actively learning. This year my wife knew of another kid in that situation at her old school and suggested that my son might want to help him out. And then in her new school there was yet another fifth grader in the same boat. So every Wednesday he alternated visiting these two kids and working with them for about an hour on the independent study assignments they were doing.
This wasn’t anything he got any sort of recognition for. It wasn’t part of any formal program, and it wasn’t anything he had to do. He didn’t get paid or earn course credit or even accumulate community service hours. Probably the only people that knew this was even happening were us, my son, the kids and their parents, and the math teacher.
It was just him relating to a kid that was going through what he had gone through back when he was in fifth grade. It made the kids realize that they aren’t alone. It gave them a role model, something my son isn’t often accused of being. One of the kids gave my son this picture of the two of them with a Thank You card. The card said:
Thank you for taking time to come and help me with my math! Good luck in college! It was a lot of fun working with you.
Of all the scraps of paper in that portfolio, I think that thank-you note says the most about what my son accomplished his senior year.