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TeacherAde, A true scientist

By Daniel Tortelli, Interventionist at Perspectives Middle Academy and Amate House Volunteer

Communicate Effectively

This past January, Kennedy King College hosted the Regional Science Fair for middle schools within the Chicago Public Schools system. Perspectives Middle Academy (PMA) sent three outstanding 8th grade scholars to compete in the event. On a last minute whim, I was asked to be the chaperone for our kids. I agreed, and was amazed to see so many wonderful projects and their creators from across the city.

During the extended judging session, all teachers and chaperones were told to wait in the college's foyer during presentations in the main hall. After about an hour, one of my scholars, Kim, came out of the main hall. “Mr. Tortelli, can you come in with me for a second?” Kim is not only one of the brightest scholars I’ve known in my time at Perspectives, she’s also one of the kindest. Beyond her “pleases” and “thank you’s”, (and nearly never getting marked for behavior), Kim always makes a point to smile, wish you a good day, and even give teachers and staff appreciation cards around holidays.

“Yeah, Kim” I said. “Is everything OK?”

Anxious but composed, she said, “Yeah, but someone said there was a problem with my presentation and she wanted to talk to my chaperone.”

We walked into the main hall and found one of the head managers of the fair, the one who came to Kim. After introductions, the manager stated, “the issue is that your student has her whole presentation in an iPad.”

“OK. And?” I said.

She continued, “Well the problem is that the rules clearly state she needs a poster board for her presentation. Rules for the competition state she is allowed to use a tablet to assist in the presentation. However, since she does not have a board as the main form of presentation, she will be penalized for not having all the necessary components.”

Well that’s a stupid rule, I thought. “So what is the point of her being here and presenting if she doesn’t have all she needs?” I snapped.

Upon noticing I was a bit agitated, the manager turned to Kim and answered, “Look, sweetheart, you can still present. The issue of not having a board will just deduct you a few points. If the rest of your presentation is spot-on, then those few points won’t matter.” Turning to me, “That said, it was in the rulebooks. I’m sorry she wasn’t aware of it, but that’s something we have to hold everyone to.”

Before I answered, I looked at Kim. This was the first time I noticed throughout the conversation, but Kim had been standing silently the whole time. Nodding when she understood or agreed, she otherwise remained confidently standing with her hands folded and smiling. “Okay,” she said politely. And with that, we thanked the manager for her time, Kim went back to her presentation and me to the foyer.

After a few more hours, the judging was wrapping up, the kids were being fed, and the other managers were scoring and prepping for the awards ceremony taking place afterwards. In-between helping with lunch, Kim found me again. “Hey Mr. Tortelli, I”m gonna go.”

“You’re not staying for the awards ceremony?”

“No, I have to get ready for the Ceremony of Lights.” For those who don’t know, the Ceremony of Lights is a celebration of those 8th grade students who have done well in living A Disciplined Life (ADL) both through behavior and academics. Of course Kim would be going to this, I thought.

“OK, Kim. How did your presentation turn out?” To this point, I hadn’t really heard how Kim was taking the news of her impending deductions.

“It was good. I was a little upset at first, but overall, I think I did good!” she said. “Thanks for all your help!”

I don’t think it was until that moment that I realized something: All throughout my frustration and quip with the manager, Kim spoke with confidence and politeness, never batted an eye, and did exactly what we’ve grown to expect from someone living A Disciplined Life--a school culture, a curriculum, and a common language. It helps us develop positive self-perception, healthy relationships, and personal productivity in both academic and personal lives.

Yes, she didn’t curse or name call or argue, but she also took the news and kept rolling with it. And why should she? After being told she was already not guaranteed the best score, even with all her preparation and hard work, she had every reason to get upset. But she recognized that arguing was not going to help her.

And you know what? It paid off. Kim went on to receive a medal for being in the top tier of point totals for the competition.

There are many steps to get where we want to be in life. As Kim reminded (or re-taught) me, one of the biggest steps is communicating with polite purpose. Even when something or someone outside causes you to stumble, keep the course. Even with her high score, Kim was unlucky and unable to advance to the next round of science competition, but at the end of the day she won. She set a great example of respect for herself and the situation, and certainly earned much praise from those judging her. The medal she earned in the moment, but her character won the science fair, a spotlight at the Ceremony of Lights, and bright future in high school and beyond.

TeacherAde is a blog written by and about the day-to-day life of an interventionist and Amate House volunteer living the 26 principles of A Disciplined Life at Perspectives Middle Academy.