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Achieving the True Gold in Education

Achieving the True Gold in Education

by Harry Brake

Edited by Melinda Duryea, Camille Morales, Tammy Pham, and Veronica Tran

The identity of what gold means worldwide, the mention of a color that represents the highest level of achievement in many arenas, or simply the fact that gold has been a part of so many phrases associated with winning, achieving, and obtaining success could all equal this basic knowledge. The Gold Crown Award. When obtained through the networking of talents, as well as tapping into what is possible through the idea of Common Core and adding student ingenuity, a Gold Crown status for anything means a successful future for all those involved.

With the American School Foundation’s student literary art magazine Repentino, formerly known as Reflections located in Mexico City, receiving the Gold Crown Award in journalism from Columbia University in 2015, you would think that is all you need to know. Yet, for the staff, there is a much deeper connection with this achievement.  In the first of four years of publication, six Repentino staff members attended the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Conference in New York City to walk away with their first Silver Crown Award as a staff. This initial injection of success within the first year was enough to motivate more staff to want to be a part of what was becoming a truly interactive, project-based initiative to use expression found in the arts. Using Repentino as a forum for connecting like-minded artists from around the globe, the staff celebrated diverse views that were contained through the mediums of the written word, photography, sculpture, and every imaginable medium of oil, paint, charcoal, and more that could be found on canvases.  Hence, Repentino became a tool that could be used to stretch creativity across several pages, as well as several continents.

Unknowingly at first, what the past and present staff of Repentino have done is to take the very Common Core Standards required over a variety of disciplines and applied them to their interests and their crafts. In doing so, students have built a community on social media, a forum for interviewing upcoming artists, as well as a think-tank of public relations that seeks new and creative methods to reach a variety of talented individuals.  By initially reaching out to out to diverse artists, staff members stumbled across a new meaning for existing, helping outside organizations, individuals, and other groups within their own school become successful.  From purchasing art from the Small Art School in India, to joining alongside organizations within their own schools to raise funds for other non-profit goals, to recognizing talented individuals that never thought of themselves as an artist, the landscape grew as students broadened their ideas of what obtaining a true education meant.  Attributing everything they do to a project-based approach, the staff has never looked back and has never had to. Truly realizing that an education means taking what you learn in the classroom and being given the opportunity to take it outside the classroom has met not only Common Core and No Child Left Behind requirements, but also has created new forums for learning, being a part of an ever-changing world of developing careers and opportunity.

The best learning curve for myself has been behind the scenes as an educator. From being an English instructor for fourteen years, to studying and becoming a school librarian for four, I have seen many trends, programs, initiatives, requirements, standards, and policies come and go.  Sometimes this occurs once a year, sometimes less frequently.  There is one need every student has sought out; to find a place where their talent and experience has been needed in the future. I have learned that initially as an educator, but even more so as a librarian applying research, organization strategies, and technology in many diverse areas.  What used to be a need for finding books, resources, and ideas for new reads from librarians as I grew up among them has changed to librarians being reduced in number and position in the states from not being able to evolve.  Why? Very simply put, as technology, information and the forms have changed, some librarians that have turned into Media Specialists have made the necessary adaptations to support the needs of teachers; leaving the behind-the-desk view of a librarian behind.  In order to adapt to the changing and straining needs of education, adaptability, creativity, and ingenuity need to be applied from students, educators, and, in this case, Media Specialist/Librarians included.

The most important thing I have found out as an evolving educator, from an English instructor to a Media Specialist/Librarian, is that while there are degrees of separation between students and the educator, there are also parallel paths that are crucial for success. As education is constantly evolving and shifting, it is sometimes crucial to approach things that have never been done before. What harm would it be to allow students to share the objectives and needs of Common Core and help be part of the planning process rather than be merely recipients? As the staff of Repentino found out, in the four years they have been creating, planning, interviewing, organizing, and designing, they have also been meeting Common Core objectives all along. Just as at one point  I was required to write the Objective on the board for students at the start of the class (who asked me more often WHY was I writing that), student now have the chance to actually be a part of the very process educators are required to produce to show a level of learning. Is it so unrealistic that students could help move the education process forward with their input other than in a testing format? Past experiences have proven this is the case. Given students a day to plan, organize, and present a lesson in a class as the teacher, and be evaluated, proved to be an eye-opening experience for AP Literature students, both as students and in the role of educators, and all walked away with new perspectives.  Being a part of a yearbook staff, a magazine staff, a non-profit organization that learns how to write grants, and working for public entities that serve the local county are only a few of the many examples that have involved students and led them to be successful in their own futures.

In addressing the needs from a 21st Century perspective, Common Core, No Child Left Behind, and testing scores have a tendency to dominate the landscape. Yet, due to more and more demands of meeting requirements in education, what is often left behind is the ability of squeezing the artistic essence that fuels students, as well as educators themselves forward, into areas of their own discipline that initially did not seem possible. In an era of standard-based results, there is no other domain more crucial than that of the recipients of an education themselves, identifying with where they are going, how they can apply themselves in a real-world situation, and looking back on an education that adds  to their skillset. True, educators often have more goals on their palette of to-dos than seems reasonable, yet it is ultimately vital for administrators in education, educators, and students to be a part of motivating each other in ways that seamlessly meet the goals of obtaining an education and apply to the world inside AND outside the walls of a classroom.

What has achieving gold meant to the Repentino staff? This has been a work in progress over a four year period, sometimes periods of no recognition at all, with roadblocks placed in their path. Criticism, and lots of it. Creation of venues that at first seem to have nothing to do with an artistic magazine, such as creating Open Mic Night, always being available for concessions, attending conferences a world away in New York on topics of publishing, writing and editing, creating candy grams for the student body during Christmas and Halloween- and yet, if you follow the lines of progression, they all lead to one final project.

HOW does being a librarian have any importance in this at all? What value does this have on their individual futures? Along the way, there have been strokes of creativity that have provided connections, from arranging meetings with directors and publishers outside of conference time in New York, to utilizing research to test a productive form of advertising, to a seamless path of following up with artists post-acceptance, to reorganizing a growing staff of upwards beyond 30.  The challenges all along the way have been met with enthusiasm and energy. Just as my role as a Media Specialist/Librarian has changed through the years, along with my need to be open to that, so has the role of a student as a learner.  It is vital for everyone to be effective in the field of education, to be open to radical changes in approaches, methods, and creativity in order to achieve success.

Becoming the first Mexican student arts magazine to achieve a Gold Crown Award from Columbia University has not been easy, to say the least. As an educator, I view this statement on the same plane as education not becoming any easier as the years have progressed. Yet there is a truth in realizing that the era of being behind a desk for the larger portion of the day is certainly not indicative of a true education. This applies to administrators, educators, Media Specialist/librarians, and students.  Being willing to learn alongside the very students we want to go on and achieve great thing involves being willing to see education, the connections that branch out from a lesson and a professional position, and the approaches we take to get ourselves and out students there.  Certificates, trophies, and recognition are simply the bite-size prizes for the ultimate goal, that of experiencing a bit of the outside world every day through true project-based learning, which also requires fielding criticism, critical feedback, and opinions indicating this is the “wrong-way” to approach things because it does not conform to the norms we have always followed.  The staff of Repentino have witnessed all of these and realized that the path to Gold is full of conflicts, drawbacks, criticisms, and sacrifice,  And yet, isn’t that what real life is all about? I find myself learning as much as my students, and that is where the true gold can be found.

To find out more about ASF’s Repentino magazine, feel free to check the following link:


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