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Interviews, digital portfolios help students take next step

April 28, 2014 - 12:05am

Joceyann Abraham arrived at her interview in the Kealakehe High School administration building with more than a welcoming smile, a handful of index cards and a rehearsed spiel about meeting the required General Learner Outcomes and Habits of Mind.

Abraham, 18, also had a multimedia ePortfolio highlighting what she’s learned, cares about and is able to do. Accessing it through the Internet, she showed examples of her best work, achievements and assessments with Kealakehe High Principal Wil Murakami and Kohala Elementary School Principal Danny Garcia. She also shared information about her personal interests.

This ePortfolio and interview were part of her Personal Transition Plan, a requirement for all graduating students.

Overcoming her nerves, Abraham won over interviewers and observers with heartfelt answers. At age 6, Abraham moved to Hawaii from Kosrae, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia. An English language learner, Abraham said she has always enjoyed school, even when faced with unexpected difficulties, and is proud to be the first in her family to graduate from high school.

One challenge Abraham said she overcame was not being able to play softball — a sport she loves and often plays with an intramural team consisting mostly of guys — when her math grade slipped. Another was finding her voice and playing a role helping end discrimination and bring about more equality at her school.

Asked for an example of her best academic work, Abraham accessed and displayed her paper on racism. She wrote it two years ago, following two days of violence and lockdowns that stemmed from racial and cultural tensions at Kealakehe High.

Her intention was to share her feelings about the incident and other hurtful experiences she has faced as a Kosraean while also letting others know how cruel racism is. She chose this paper because it pushed her “to be an effective communicator, think interdependently and find humor” in some situations.

While the situation has improved, Abraham suggested having Kealakehe High students affected by the incident speak to middle school students so it doesn’t repeat.

Among her most memorable experiences were designing a school logo and taking photos for yearbook, as well as performing and showing cultural pride at the annual May Night.

Along with balancing her school and home responsibilities, Abraham has worked at McDonald’s, where she’s gone from counter service to manning the grill and doing both. Upon graduating next month, Abraham plans to continue working and saving money for college.

Interviews like this have been a regular occurrence at Kealakehe High following spring break and can even occur the day before graduation. Some students will have to redo this exit interview and a few will do so as many as four times, Murakami said. For the school’s approximately 300 seniors, it’s a final step toward completing the Personal Transition Plan and earning the half credit needed for a diploma.

To get a diploma, graduates must earn four English credits; four social studies credits; three math credits; three science credits; two credits in world language, fine arts or career and technical education; one credit in physical education; half a credit in health; half a credit in Personal Transition Plan; and six elective credits, according to the Hawaii Department of Education.

The Personal Transition Plan details one’s transition from high school to college and careers while also giving students the opportunity for reflection and to take responsibility for their own learning. Those who don’t complete a plan will not receive a diploma. In the five years since this plan has been required, only one student hasn’t received a diploma because of failure to complete the plan, Murakami said.

Wednesday morning, Murakami attributed that nearly perfect record to “the dedication, hard work and persistence of the students and their incredible support team,” which includes numerous school employees.

The Personal Transition Plan begins when the student enters high school and is periodically reviewed by the student, school staff member and family. Its required elements are goal attainment, identification of available resources, evidence showing action, and self-evaluation, according to the department. While each school implements the plan differently and the formats are not the same, all are based on the state guidelines.

Kealakehe High uses the state guidelines by providing every student an ePortfolio, a secure web environment enabling students to manage a collection of their work over time. Murakami said it’s a way to show “more creatively, accurately and authentically what they’re capable of and what they’ve accomplished during their high school career.”

“Metacognition is key to this progress,” Murakami said. He thinks such awareness of one’s own knowledge and ability to understand, control and manipulate cognitive processes is an important skill in school and throughout life.

Other important components include ensuring a consistent level of rigor and relevance to the work presented, as well as maintaining fidelity when collecting the required evidence needed, Murakami said. Besides submitting several work examples each year, the students reflect and assess themselves on the state’s Global Learner Outcomes and the Habits of Mind, a set of 16 problem-solving, life-related skills identified by education expert Arthur Costa and adopted by Kealakehe High. Because of the depth demanded, each ePortfolio is unique, he added.

Upon graduation, students can download their ePortfolio in digital format to use as evidence of what they can do for a resume or college application. Such additions are part of the growing technological supplements deemed imperative and one of the many survival skills of the 21st century. Students nowadays are required to use a variety of technologies effectively and ethically. The ePortfolio helps engage students in practicing this skill and is proof of their abilities, Murakami said.

Following his interview Wednesday, 18-year-old senior Johnny Calicdan called the ePortfolio “invaluable.” Calicdan said it helped him reflect on what he’s accomplished in high school, what he’s good at and where he wants to go next.

A natural athlete, Calicdan enjoys swimming, bodyboarding, wrestling and jujitsu. He was particularly proud of qualifying for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation wrestling championship, but said he didn’t compete because he was ill. One work he displayed to interviewers was his fitness assessment which featured running a mile in 7 minutes, six seconds.

Calicdan also spoke about his challenges with dyslexia, a developmental reading disorder he was diagnosed with in elementary school. While displaying a couple of perfectly structured essays he wrote, Calicdan revealed how his English teacher helped improve his writing, increased his vocabulary and further boosted his confidence in this area.

Senior year was “eye-opening” for Calicdan, who said, “I realized I need to get things done because, while life isn’t over, life as I know it is about to change.”

Inspired by a movie and some uncles who were in the military, Calicdan plans to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard. He said he’s talking with recruiters and looks forward to helping others through service.