2,000 Days of Adventure with Adolescents!

Bingham High School
Bingham High School

My friend Seti asked me a while ago to be a guest writer on his blog and share some of my “insights” on education. I don’t know how insightful I can be after a long week of grading math tests and rewriting lesson plans to accommodate a last minute assembly to honor a state championship drill team – but I will try.

This is my 12th year teaching teenagers – actually 2,098 days as I write this, but 2,000 was a nice round number.  f you haven’t figured it out, I have been teaching “my little darlings” the joys of Mathematics! Usually when I tell people that this is what I do for a living I get one of two reactions. The first is usually a confession – “I hated… I mean I really disliked… um… did bad in math when I was in school.” The second is some kind of commiseration on the pain of having to deal with adolescent angst on a daily basis.

In response to the math confession – I know that all of us are not math nerds – as my brother Junior likes to remind me. But as I tell my students, more often than they would like to hear: “More math, means more money.” If you look at the highest paying jobs, most of them – if you exclude professional athletes and Lady Gaga and her ilk – require some higher mathematics. But I’ll get off this soap box because that’s a story for another blog.

As for dealing with “terrible teenagers “– I have to say that overall I am confident that our future is in good hands. Yes – there are kids who make bad choices and do stupid things (if you examine your past there are probably a few things you wouldn’t want your kids to know about too.) But we have some very intelligent, compassionate, enthusiastic, hard-working, creative kids in the state of Utah. I am excited to see what they make of themselves and what changes they will bring to our state, our nation and the world.

I am continually impressed with how these kids navigate through the minefield of distractions and pitfalls that are common place in their world. They weave their way through a barrage of conflicting messages in the media about how they should dress, eat, walk and think. They are constantly told that they are nothing, that the adults in their lives are moronic, that having a baby is cool and drugs and alcohol are a great escape. They keep up with the latest electronics, and blogs; they Facebook and Twitter and still get homework done and squeeze in their practice on the driving range for Drivers’ Ed. If they’re involved in the school play, the school talent show, the Spanish Club, Youth City Hall and play on a school athletics team too – I don’t know when these teenagers find time to eat or sleep.

Despite all of this – the majority of the students I see will successfully graduate from high school and go on to be productive adults. However, it makes me sad that a significant number of our Pacific Islander students don’t make it to graduation. Why is that? Didn’t our people come to the United States looking for a better future for our families? What can we do to help our children get that diploma? This is not about saving face in front of the relatives when they ask why Sione or Mele didn’t walk at graduation. It’s about saving Sione’s future and helping Mele to stay off welfare.

As Pacific Islanders working in any sort of professional capacity – whether you’re a teacher or checking bags at the airport – we have a responsibility to our children. And they are ALL OUR children! It doesn’t matter whether the boy or girl in front of you is Tongan, Fijian, Samoan or from Nauru. It doesn’t matter if the child is Uncle Meki’s sister-in-law’s nephew or a total stranger. As Pacific Islanders, we have a collective vested interest in these kids. It is time to stop blaming someone else and ask yourself, “How can I mentor, nurture, motivate and encourage these children?”

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Have high expectations and dream big for our kids. I expect my son to do better in life than I have done so far in mine. I tell him this all the time. I have the same expectation of every Pacific Island child that I see. Look out for and mentor the young people that you see in your neighborhood and church. Ask them how they are doing in school and listen to what they have to say. Encourage them to do well and express your confidence in their ability to do well.

2) Be involved. Know what your own kids are doing in school. Know who their teachers are, what classes they are taking, who they hang out with and how to play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Take the time to build a relationship – and not just the kind that starts and stops at the end of a slipper when the report card arrives in the mail! See if there are ways that you can volunteer in their school. We have some great men that help with the football team here at Bingham. I cannot tell you strongly enough how powerful it is for a child to see someone who looks like them in their school, telling them that it is important to learn and to do well in school.

3) Help your neighbors, families and friends. Some of our Pacific Islander parents do not know how to deal with their local schools. The culture is so different from the schools they attended back home that they don’t even have the vocabulary to function in our school system. Ask your local school if you can volunteer to translate at Parent Teacher conferences or help with a Back-to-school Night. Look out for and mentor the young people that you see in your neighborhood and church. Ask them how they are doing in school and listen to what they have to say. Encourage them to do well and express your appreciation and confidence in them.

All you really have to invest is a little time – but the pay off will be enormous. Let’s not be passive and complacent and wait for some federal government program to take care of our Pacific Islander kids. In the end, it is up to us to make sure that no Pacific Islander child is left behind.

Noelani Ioane is a dear, life-long friend of mine. I’ve always envied her ability to compute numbers in her head. She is a graduate of CCWS, Snow College and Utah State University. She has been teaching math for 10 years now and is currently teaching students at Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah. Thank you SO much for shedding light on this subject Noelani! Thank you to all of our PI Teachers, Educators and Counselors for your commitment to our Pacific Islander students.

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