Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Choice Is Yours...

Making the Most of Your High School Experience: Which Path Will You Choose?
By Adrian Moreno

During my first year of high school, I had to make an important choice. There were two paths in front of me: the route where I would take the normally required courses that everyone has to complete…or the advanced route, which includes Honors and Advanced Placement courses. I decided to challenge myself with two honors courses my sophomore year, which kick-started my journey on the road of advanced education, a decision I am very glad to say that I made. 

What exactly are Honors and AP courses?

Honors and AP courses are more challenging courses that require students to give more time and effort in order to get more knowledge and experience. Because Honors courses and AP courses are more advanced classes, they look good on college applications and boost your G.P.A., which is a big bonus if you hope to be the top ten in your class. Honors courses are a nice lead-in to Advanced Placement courses. The Honors courses are more challenging compared to normal courses, but less difficult than AP courses. Whether it is Chemistry, U.S History, or whatever class you may choose, an Advanced Placement course is what the title implies, an advanced course. An AP course is a college level class so you delve more deeply into the subject area. Taking an AP class boosts your G.P.A., allowing you to earn higher than a 4.0. You can get a 4.2 or 4.6, even a 5.0. Since the class is a lot more difficult, getting a B in a AP class actually counts as an A, and an A in an AP class counts even higher than an A, a "super" A.

What about the test?

With every AP class there's the AP test that students take at the end of the year. The test is graded on a 1-5 scale. The minimum you have to get to pass a test and earn college credit is a 3, and some colleges may give even more credit for scores of 4 or 5. What does getting college credit mean? It means you are exempted from taking that particular course in college. Let's say that I pass AP Calculus AB this year—something I’ve been working very hard to do—then that means I won’t have to take that course in college, saving me time and money. 

Which classes are right for me?

If you want to major in science, there's AP Chemistry and AP Biology. Interested in history, there's an AP course that covers United States History and another that covers European History. Love math? Take AP Calculus and/or AP Statistics. There's a long list of AP classes that are offered here at CV, which include AP Spanish, AP English, and AP Art as well. Over time, CV has been adding more and more AP courses to their roster. Last year, we added AP English Language for juniors, when before there was only AP English Literature for seniors. This year we added AP Statistics and AP European History. Sadly, we still don't have some really cool AP classes that other schools have like Physics or French; but here’s the thing, if a large number of students really want to take one of these courses, they can be added in the future. Students need to organize and advocate their interest in a particular course. If we let our counselors and administrators know there are enough of us wanting a particular course, they will help us get it.

How do I sign up?

Talk to your counselor as soon possible. Usually, the application process for Honors and AP classes begins as soon as February. Most classes require a prerequisite assignment or project to see how serious you are about the commitment you are making, and to make sure you are aware of the extra time and effort an Honors or AP class will require.

Are Honors and AP classes all that colleges look at?

As much as your academics are important, which they are, that's not the only thing that colleges look at. Colleges want to see students make a productive use of their time after school, that you are pursuing your interests and showing dedication, something that shows them that you aren’t just staying at home all day playing your PlayStation. Volunteering, sports, and school clubs are all extracurricular activities that are favorable activities to put on a college application, but not only for college, but yourself, because these activities are ways to make school fun and rewarding.

There are many opportunities to volunteer and do community service, like volunteering at your community church, or local Boys and Girls Club. If you're interested in sports, join a sport here at CV. There are many sports to choose from such as football, swim, basketball, track, cheer, and many others. Let's say you're not interested in sports, then join a club at school.  Here at CV we have clubs like Girl Power, Environmental Club, National Honors Society, and the AP Club (which you should definitely check out) that cater to all sorts of interests. Are you interested in pursuing a medical career in the future? Join Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), a great student organization here at CV that competes in medical based competitions. There are more niche clubs that you may enjoy, there's a Martial Arts Club, Rubik's Cube Club, and an Anime Club too. If you don't have an interest in any of the clubs offered, you can make your own, which is something that two girls I know did last year. They wanted to make an Astronomy Club and so that's exactly what they did, and today the club is going strong.

AP courses, Honors courses, and extracurricular activities are an amalgam of experiences that will ensure college entry. AP courses and Honors courses show that you are serious and dedicated to your education and that you strive to be above the average. Sports show competitiveness, dedication, and teamwork. Volunteering shows a concern for your community and for other people. School Clubs show that you are well rounded and have interests that you care about and are putting time into. A student who participates in these activities and is taking higher-level courses is a student that colleges want.

What I'm trying to get at here is that there is so much out there that you can do and be involved in, not only to impress colleges, but also to have a lot of fun and to make your high school life more interesting, exciting, and enjoyable. It gives you a reason to come to school.

The greatest part of all about Honors and AP is being in a class that is full of other students who also care about their education. You can't imagine how much of a difference that it makes.

Senior Adrian Moreno is President of the AP Club at Coachella Valley High School.  He plans to pursue business, law, or politics as a profession…with professional gamer as a fallback career.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Empowered Language

To Change Your Thinking, Change Your Words
By Philip Hoy

A very large part of preparing for college and career is learning how to manage your time—and Advanced Placement classes definitely force you to do that. They should; after all, they are college level courses, which is why passing an AP test earns you college credit. You may have already discovered that if you fall behind in your studies—even a little—you can quickly fall behind in a class…and it’s not easy to catch up again because the homework just never seems to stop coming.

And you’re probably not only an AP student, are you? Maybe you are in a sport, or band, or drama, or dance, or a career academy, or ASB, or a club…or multiple clubs. You probably do some form of community service or volunteer work…maybe you even have a part-time job. And chances are you’re someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister; you have family responsibilities.  You might even have friends, possibly more than a few…you might even be someone’s best friend.

Sometimes it may seem that everyone and everything is demanding a piece of you. It’s a wonder you find time to sleep…or do you?

Well, I’m here to help you lighten that load a little; but to do so, I’m going to need you to get rid of just one thing—no, not your best friend—something small, something you’re better off without, just a word…procrastination.

Procrastination: to put off, postpone, stall, or defer, to delay doing something until a later time.

We often hear people complain that they suffer from procrastination, or guiltily admit they are members of the Procrastination Club, as if there was actually a support group for procrastinators. “Hi, my name is Philip, and I put things off.” But mostly, we treat procrastination as a kind of virus, a temporary illness, something going around (especially at school), or maybe it feels like a non life-threatening disease that flares up or goes into remission, but is never fully curable.

On our better days, when we feel the symptoms of procrastination coming on, we fight back. We attack our inertia with action, hoping that our bodies in motion will remain in motion. Maybe we reach out to other human beings, if not physically, or over the phone, then with Facebook, at least. Or we might grab the game remote for a quick adrenaline surge from that life and death struggle played out again and again on the screen. Perhaps we take our skateboard and step into the fray where only practice and skill will save our bruise-able, breakable bodies from the cold, hard justice of the mean cement streets. Or maybe we become completely desperate and begin to pick up all the clothes from the floor of our room, get the vacuum out and start spring-cleaning in November—anything, to avoid homework!

On our worst days, on those days when we might have five things to do (although it feels like five hundred), and we just don’t know where to begin—procrastination sets in, amplifying those symptoms of avoidance and hopelessness.  Instead of accomplishing at least three or four of those five things…we accomplish nothing.  Procrastination weighs on us like an invisible cloud, a soft white elephant sitting on our chest, slowly suffocating us with inaction, pinning us to the couch, or chair, or floor, or wherever we find ourselves with barely the strength to lift our smartphone, slide a finger over the face of our iPad, nudge a computer mouse, or thumb the channel on the TV remote. There we remain, paralyzed with self-disappointment. 

Sadly, there is no cure for procrastination…because procrastination is not a disease; it is a state of mind.

Earlier, I asked you to give up procrastination. But I didn’t say to give up procrastinating, as in stop doing it. It needs to be more than that. I want you to stop using it. Stop using the word: procrastination.  I’d like you to stop saying it, and writing it, and thinking it…and here is why:

Language, the use of words, our ability to communicate ideas and emotions—spoken or written—must be the greatest tool we have. As much as it empowers us though, language also has a way of limiting us, confining and controlling the way we think. We express our thoughts with words because we use words to think. But what if our words are limiting our thoughts? It makes sense then that if we change our words we can sometimes change the way we think.

Procrastination, as we define it, is choosing not to choose…which is still a choice, of course, only it’s a very passive, even cowardly one. Start taking responsibility for your choices. Stop being victimized by the word procrastination. Drop it from your vocabulary and replace it with a new word: prioritization.

When you prioritize you place an order of importance on your responsibilities. You choose which tasks need immediate attention and which tasks can be completed at a later time. When you prioritize you assess your obligations, evaluate the urgency of each, create a plan, and take action.

Procrastination says play now, do your homework later. Prioritization says I will do my homework now and reward myself with a game later. But even if you do choose to play video games instead of completing your reading assignment for English, you are still prioritizing. You are making a conscious decision to give gaming more importance than homework…it might not be a wise decision, but it’s your choice, and you can take responsibility for making it instead of blaming someone or something else.

When we prioritize, we never put things off; we arrange the order in which we can afford to get them done. We are not helpless, not victims of a sickness or a debilitating condition. We are always in control because we are always the ones making the choices.

Of course we are never in complete control of what happens in our lives, but we are in control of how we react to it.  Sometimes we have to make the tough decision of choosing homework over spending time with friends…but sometimes our friends, or our families, need us in unexpected ways. Sometimes we must make the just-as-difficult decision to place them at the top of our list of priorities and deal with our other obligations at a later time.

Yes, life happens. Sometimes there is never enough time…due dates arrive, tests are collected, and deadlines pass. When this happens, procrastinators blame anything and everyone for their failures, although rarely themselves. Prioritizors don’t blame anyone; they haven’t got time for guilt or regret because they are already picking themselves up, reassessing their priorities, and beginning a new plan of action. Procrastinators, by definition, are always one step behind. Prioritizors, are always one step ahead.  

Making your own choices and taking responsibility for them is part of growing up. This is something very necessary if you ever want to gain your adult independence and find happiness, success, and fulfillment in this world. 

Hope this helps.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Please Welcome Special Guest Jean Martinez

Good Days, Bad Days: Growing Up with Mental Illness
By Jean Martinez

Long before I was seventeen I learned my mother’s first choice would be a Vodka straight...

My mother was German, English and Welsh, a Protestant and a Republican. She was an Ohioan, born in the year 1915 before women in this country had the right to vote ratified. My father was first generation Mexican-American, a Catholic, and a Democrat born in Kansas; his birth year was 1924. I was raised in the Coachella Valley among my father’s family.     

Under the shared roof of my family home, I was an eye and ear-witness to a constant plethora of viewpoints. I found this to be simultaneously stimulating, stressful, and a certain comfort. Often the polarized discussions and deliberations yielded only to daylight when sleep muffled any cognitive clarity to persist in debate. Growing up I found it to be as close an invitation to a Socratic environment as I have ever since encountered.

Both my parents worked when the social norm was that a woman would stay home exclusively and raise “the children.” That was the expectation and to do otherwise set a woman up for unkind criticism. My mother was a nurse while my father was a sheet metal journeyman. My mother had a high school education and trained for her nursing license at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. My father had about a third grade education and understandably found reading very difficult. I remember he would bring home the design plans for what he had to build during the week and my mother would carefully go over the reading so he could memorize all of it to do his job. My father was a very capable man and he was able to demonstrate his expertise in the field, but I know he regularly went to extraordinary lengths to maintain his own personal level of excellence.
High School was a very dark time for me. I say that easily now because now there is a distance of time well over forty years. My mother drank socially as many did and do today. She also drank privately. We did not know then that mental health illnesses could be masked by attempts to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Every day I did not know what I would find when I came home from school. My mother’s mental illness was like a storm. It might start off soft like a light rain and finish in a torrent with the echoes of thunder and lightning cracking the sky in unpredictable bursts.

On those days I would tell my father how I found her. His face would fill with sorrow. “Have patience; she is having a bad day,” he would say. “Everyone has good days and everyone has bad days.”

Finally one afternoon I came home and she was gone. She had left a note saying she had gone to pick flowers with her sister Marce. This was ominous since my Aunt Marce had lived in Ohio and died long ago. I left to look for mom and found her wandering in a desert lot a few blocks from our home and I persuaded her to come home with me. I say persuaded because that day she was not exactly sure who I was.

My father agreed we needed help for her; he understood and accepted she was not safe. Still, this was a difficult decision for him because the stigma of mental illness was and is nearly insurmountable for some families to get past to seek help.

Some might find it remarkable, but I did well in school; I could be my personal best there. Perhaps the assignments provided respite. I read a lot and wrote; those two things helped me sort things out then and now. Most importantly I did not feel bound by the turns in my mother’s life. I believed my life was very much my own. I never saw her experience as something that predicted how my life would be and I could just love her...however I found her.

Jean Martinez is a retired Respiratory Therapist who received an Associate of Science degree from College of the Desert. She is active in the City of Coachella’s My Brother’s Keeper, Interfaith Alliance, Ad-hoc Committee for a New Library, and CVHS Parents as Partners. She is a member of the Coachella Valley Mexican American Pioneers, Herman Granados American Legion Auxiliary chairing Girls State, parishioner at Our Lady of Soledad, participant in Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica (COFEM) at Bobby Duke, Family Involvement Action Team (FIAT) for Cahuilla Desert Academy, and she LOVES, LOVES to read. She reads non-fiction most of the time.

Jean Martinez (left) with "Food for Thought" bookclub friends.

Jean’s Current Reads: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Our Kids and Bowling Alone, both by Robert D. Putnam, and Hope Dies Last by Studs Terkel—a favorite author.

Jean's Recommended Reads: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by linguist Daniel L. Everett, The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow, and Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King and Germinal by Emile Zola.