What a great way to end a high school career! For more than a decade, Harding High School, part of the St Paul district, has been requiring each seniors to create and present a portfolio with information about what she/she has done in high school. Recently I spent about six hours on two nights listening to seniors spend 20-25 minutes each sharing information about grades, extra-curriculars, community service, awards, honors, reference letters, personal reflections and post-high school plans.
Under state law, over the next few years, each Minnesota student will be encouraged to gather at least some of this information. Other schools could learn a lot from Harding.
I think state legislators and Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius were thinking about this kind of process as they developed the “World’s Best Workforce” ideas. When I shared information about Harding’s portfolio program with Charlene Briner, the Commissioner’s Chief of Staff, Briner responded, “It’s exactly the intent of the “pathways” work we’re doing in our Center for Post-Secondary Success in addition the WBWF (World’s Best Work Force). …so exciting to see the kind of innovations being developed within our schools, isn’t it? “
This portfolio program is “an opportunity for our students to see growth. Otherwise they would have no idea how far they’ve come.” That’s how Maureen Rueber, who coordinates the process, summarized what happens. Rueber has spent 43 years as a public school educator at Harding. She has helped the school develop and refine its portfolio process for more than a decade. This is a great example of “multiple measures.” Together, they give a more comprehensive, accurate picture of a youngster than any single assessment can.
The work begins in ninth grade. Students write a one-page paper describing who they are and where they would like to go. Students also keep some of their work from classes as well as other evidence of their efforts. This becomes part of the packet they present as seniors.
Most portfolios were 50-75 pages long. They included student transcripts; class work samples; the personal statement from ninth grade; awards from music, debate, drama, athletics or other activities; letters of recommendation, some of which are from faculty, some from work or service supervisors; and a senior summary looking back and ahead. The portfolio also included documentation of at least 12 hours of community service, which the school requires of all students.
Ralph Alexander, a Harding faculty member who runs the school’s College and Career Center told me that students “start off thinking this is a huge amount of work. They’re right. Some of them are not eager to do it. But by the time they’re finished, they are very proud of what they’ve done and pleased to have a record of their efforts.”
Harding serves more than 2,000 students, representing an array of races and cultures. Over about six hours, I reviewed portfolios that about 20 youngsters presented. Their last names included Ramirez, Xiong and Williams. They hope, among other things to be a chef, a nutritionist, a graphic designer or a doctor. Next steps include the military, two- or four-year colleges.
Harding student portfolios are not only about preparing for work. As Betty Yang, who also works in the Harding College and Career Center explained, “It also is about students reflecting and learning to give back.”
Alexander, Rueber, and Yang are pictured above.
The process helps bring the school and community closer together. Each student presented the portfolio to two people. Some were Harding faculty. Others were from 3M, one of Harding’s partners.
Harding Assistant Principal Lanisha Paddock, with whom I reviewed portfolios, believes “This is a great way to learn more about what students are doing and thinking.” Agreed.
It also helps students review their accomplishments, plan for the future and consider what they have accomplished. It’s a great gift, making graduation much more meaningful.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota Public School teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org