Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

May 16, 2014

Students inspire will to learn

— — Beautiful young lives — 46 of them. I was proctoring a high school test and the room was buzzing with the energy flowing from their young, still-forming but packed-full brains.

These beautiful young lives were rich with potential, their life path still undiscovered, their skill-set not yet set in concrete but fluid and flexible. I could almost see in front of each of them a path unfolding, similar to the TV commercial for the financial services and retirement planning company where a green line rolls out in front of the actor. However, instead of the green line keeping them on a financial planning track, I could picture the bright path leading them to an undiscovered and exciting future paved by the power of their undiscovered and exciting potential.

Aside from the intellectual exercise at hand, I also saw each of them truly beautiful in their individual portrait of a high school senior. Young women with heads adorned in braids, a scarf, bleached blonde tresses, a long Afro, ringlets or curls. Young men in long wavy surfer-boy hair, a faux hawk, short dreads, buzz cut or neat and preppy trim.

The guys wore bright yellow long shorts, dark blue jeans, T-shirts cut into macho tanks, or sunny collared golf shirts. The girls were in long skirts, flowery dresses, skinny jeans or gym shorts. They were still the fresh blend of girlish-woman and boyish-man. Maybe unsure one day to the next if they were teen or adult. Maybe unsure one hour to the next.

But for a few hours of testing they had to be the smartest and most focused version of their oldest and most mature self.

Proctoring with a watchful eye trained between the students and my book, I could almost soak up the brain power swirling around the room. I could feel the gray matter churning. They showed up for testing, practically vibrating with energy, and the knowledge was pouring — sizzling — onto the page like it was a hot frying pan.

While taking the essay exam, some looked around, gathering their meandering thoughts seemingly flying about the room before capturing them out of the air and putting them down on paper. Others with intense and uninterruptable focus barely lifted their heads the entire time, using their black ink pen like a laser zipping across the page.

But all of them were spending their full intellectual investment in this moment. They were withdrawing from the account built up over the long school year for this one particular class.

It was an intriguing display. It was like watching a baby take its first steps, a musician composing her first piece, a scientist making his first discovery in physics. These beautiful young lives were formulating their futures, they were the pioneers of their potential, they were inventing their intellectual promise. For someone rarely in a classroom, it was almost theatrical entertainment like academic performance art.

But it was serious business for the students. It was two hours and 15 minutes devoted to a test that could provide them college credit and lighten the work load next fall when they begin their college career. They didn’t have to take this test to get a grade in their high school psych class. They didn’t even have to take this test to graduate from high school. No, this was a long-term investment they made back at the beginning of senior year ... even junior year when they committed to this more difficult curriculum, the International Baccalaureate Diploma, instead of standard, honors, or, even, AP classes. They chose in their junior year to tough it out for two years and reach the highest level courses — the most challenging curriculum available in their public school system — and taking this test on a warm and breezy May afternoon was the culmination of their commitment to that particular subject.

So it was more than an intellectual exercise. It was also an exercise of will. It was academic follow through. It was them running the final race at full speed. It was nose dug in deep to the grindstone. It was determination that went beyond a GPA and college application.

Sure, these kids have played a lot of video games. They spend way too much time on Twitter or Instagram. They have their faces glued to their phones. They are still just kids.

But when the time came, technology was tucked into a basket at the front of the room by the instructor, distractions over prom dresses faded far into the background, talk about upcoming travel stopped and soccer play on the front lawn was quickly extinguished. And they took from our proctoring hands their old-school paper answer forms and booklets, picked up their black ink pens, and started writing. Just like generations before them, sitting in classrooms over the centuries.

It was oddly inspiring to sit there with those dozens of brains ticking away. I’m probably drawing closer to the end of my intellectual growth and watching these still-growing-syncing-wiring-shaping adolescent brains snapping and firing in front of me inspired me to test my older, graying gray matter. It reminded me that brains have abilities and levels and challenges that can be reached at different points in life. It reminded me that we all have potential we can continue to reach.

We just have to have the will to keep learning. We have to have the determination to drive our mental function further and at greater speed and see where in the world it might take us.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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