Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hamilton High School Commencement Ceremony DVD Order Form

If you would like to purchase a DVD of the Commencement Ceremony, please complete the form below and click on Buy Now below for payment.  Go Yankees!

To purchase the DVD, please click below on BUY NOW after completing the form above.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"What did I do wrong?"

March is a tough month for high school Seniors and counselors.  After spending many months in the fall creating the best personal statement and application possible, and after shelling out hundreds of dollars on applications, testing and writing coaches, and meeting with counselors, Seniors wait.  We wait to see if we made the best decisions not only for the list of colleges, but in the last four years.

Many college-bound seniors (and their parents) have been biting their nails for the last several months in the hopes that something positive will arrive in the mail from a school of their choice. As a school counselor (and college counselor/crisis counselor/career adviser and everything in between thanks to budget cuts), I am definitely stressed out. I worry about whether I did or did not provide adequate guidance to my charges on where they have the best chances of getting in based on their capabilities and on their academic and extracurricular profile. April comes around and we all get decisions, good or bad.

Having been an undergraduate application reader, scholarship application reader and chair (for a couple of organizations), I get the opportunity to see what kind of applicant is applying (and getting accepted) to which schools. It really helps me take the guess work out of advising students.  Also, knowing which of my students from previous years get accepted (and actually love the college where they matriculate) helps me when I work with students, not only in the public school but in my private practice.  It is not easy.  Especially when not every student is the same.

One student (not the student that boasts the above acceptances), bummed that he was rejected from top UC's and private schools, came in to my office and asked me "what did I do wrong?" in referring to his last four years of school. He has a solid and competitive GPA, involved in multiple sports, activities and religion.  His work would certainly allow him to succeed at even the top schools. And he didn't get in. He did get in to a highly selective California Polytechnic school and another UC.  It was heartbreaking to see rejection on his face. I emphasized that the two schools where he was accepted would probably be a blessing in disguise: small class sizes and many more perks not necessarily offered at the other schools that rejected him.

I realize now what my mistake was in advising this particular student that was accepted to two (very good schools) and rejected from five.  He applied to schools where he (we) believed strongly that he would get in, and he did. The rest of the schools were "reach for the stars". I should have emphasized that part more. His list of schools was lopsided, not strategic, and I rarely recommend that. I used my respect and appreciation for the kid (and his awesome family) to overshadow the objective way I usually advise students (sometimes like how parents "advise" their child and are surprised when I shoot them down). I answered his question about what he did wrong with just this: He was a competitive candidate, but we tried too hard to "shoot for the stars".

Then, while reading the Wall Street Journal last week, I found this "satirical" opinion piece from a high school student. The op-ed piece pissed me off. Then I felt sorry for her (and a bit envious of the great education at a blue ribbon school in a very wealthy neighborhood). I was angry not only in the defense of admissions officers that I know work their rear-end off finding the "perfect" freshman class, but also at the advising she did or didn't get from either her private counselor or from her school (college) counselor. Why was this young lady angry at the schools and not herself?

"Colleges tell you, "Just be yourself." That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself! If you work at a local pizza shop and are the slowest person on the cross-country team, consider taking your business elsewhere."

This whole "be yourself" idea is as old as the "apply broadly" or " schools want a well-rounded kid" myths.  Why are counselors not debunking these myths?  Why didn't someone advise her to apply strategically and, more importantly, realistically, so that her rejection pile was smaller than her acceptance pile (or at least that she got into a school that made her happy)?  If her counselor did recommend that, who told her not to listen? It's not like application fees are cheap with each application costing upwards of $70!  Why didn't she speak with the admissions officers that came to either visit her school or her state? With resources and connections to get posted in the WSJ, why didn't she find the resources to visit schools and get a better feel of the students on campus?

The collegeboard.org and other statistically driven websites help students see where their GPA and test scores will place them in the applicant pool. This takes the mystery out of the academic part of applying.  Other sites (and even admissions officers) will share with you how much importance they place on leadership and extracurricular activities. If she boasts a competitive GPA and test scores, did she look for schools that exclusively place more importance on those numbers?  Who in the heck was advising her with all of this?

Poor Suzy on the other hand, has displaced satirical anger towards the school's admissions officer and blaming her lack of "diversity" for her rejection.  She also fails to understand that her lack of "diversity" was her "lazy" fault albeit being a good writer. A college isn't always looking for ethnic diversity, they are also looking for diversity in thought, creativity and experience. Why didn't anyone explain this to her? Why is she using the same boring (and pathetically old) thought about admissions being the color of an applicant's skin? Who taught her this?  There is still a disproportionate advantage based on the color of one's skin on university campuses across the country-and it's NOT in favor of darker skin.  Others have so eloquently described this viewpoint in a much better way than I probably would.

Saudi Garcia writes: "Hidden behind these remarks about racial diversity are the histories of injustice, structural racism, prejudice, educational disadvantage, and chronic under-resourcing that affect the populations in question. While, for example, Chicago plans to close public schools and force even more students into an abject, unequal education with little hopes of ever going to college, the fairy godmother of diversity will wave their obstacles into non-existence by delivering a magic carriage of college prep courses and a glass slipper of generous advising. Right? Wrong. And Wrong."

Why didn't she get her group of lazy friends together to talk about reality TV shows or something where she was able to at least help the admissions officer see some form of originality? What constructive activities did she do with her time other than use her connections to get posted in the Wall Street Journal?  Colleges care that you care about yourself and your community-whatever it is! Why do they care? Who do you think will help continue to make the school a better place? Who will initiate student leadership and calling for change, from a student's perspective, on the school's campus? Who will continue the many "student initiated" programs on campus? Certainly not administrators.

Why didn't someone explain this to her?

If "being yourself" is being lazy, then yes, few schools (especially Ivy Leagues) will accept you, no matter what your GPA or test scores look like. There have been much speculation about whether or not the U.S. undergraduate admissions system needs an overhaul and many people may share this sentiment. Although I mildly agree, there are so many facets considered when an applicant is looked at from an admissions officer.  And freshman class sizes on campus have increased (as have the applicant pool), not decreased,  in the last several decades.

Students not sharing some form of originality will be on that long list of rejected applicants no matter how many calls the counselor makes on the student's behalf.  I am not entirely sure as to whether this opinion piece was her way to share "new information" to a school, for a decision she was trying to appeal, or whether it was just a rant that happened to be published because of her sister's connections at the WSJ.  If I read this letter and this student tried to appeal to my school, I would most certainly still reject the application, again. It would be an outrage if this child got in to college over someone that actually cared about other people and their community.  I'm sure one school would want this student, but it's probably not the school she wanted to attend because it's not an Ivy League or at the top of the list from US News and World Report. 


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

High School Seniors: What next?

Seniors! It's almost time to walk the stage, turn the tassel, and get out of high school and on to begin life as an adult!

So you've applied to your favorite colleges in hopes of getting a "big envelope" or a "Congratulations" email! If you're anything like the students I work with, you have bitten down your finger nails and gotten into plenty of arguments with parents about the next step in your life.

Now that you've applied to colleges, there are many other tasks on your "To Do" list before you post the obligatory financial deposit (or Student Intent to Register deposit) towards the next step in your life. Here is a checklist to help you in the process:

1) Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go through another site other than the government site to complete this application. The internet has tons of false sites trying to steal your social security number and financial information. Be sure you are on the correct site before beginning the process.

1B) Be sure that you have already applied for a pin so that you can complete the online application.

1C) Some colleges will ask you to complete the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile oftentimes has a deadline MUCH earlier than March 2nd.  This application is NOT free but is still required for several private school and seeks much more financial information that the FAFSA. Some fee waivers are available for low income and first-generation college students.

1D) Cal Grant/GPA Verification for California residents that are applying to and intend on attending a California college or university must complete the Cal Grant form and postmark it by March 2nd. 

Some parents have said "we don't qualify for anything" which may be true-but many colleges offer merit money only to students that have completed FAFSA. Complete the FAFSA just to keep all your financial options open. Many high schools and universities have experts available to help students and families complete this "complicated" form. Ask a guidance counselor or college counselor for assistance. It is not necessary to pay steep fees to financial planners or advisers. In Los Angeles alone, there are several activities and programs available to help students and families complete the necessary forms. The L.A. Cash for College is an invaluable resource to help families with questions.  Check out events and workshops in your area. 

2) Be sure your spring semester courses have been accurately reported to all the colleges to which you have applied. If you change your schedule and/or modify the classes you have reported in ANY way-the student MUST report the change to each school and an explanation for the change. Sometimes the college will say that it is "not a big deal" that you dropped a class, but an application cannot assume this to be the case! 

With that said, students often think that senior year is a time to "relax" or slack off. NO WAY! This article called "Slackers, Beware" is something I have shared with students every year since it's release. Just because a school has chosen to provisionally admit a student, it doesn't mean that can't, or won't, be reversed. Take senior year seriously. Take all enrolled courses just as seriously as you would every other semester in every other year of high school. If there will be a poor grade on a report card, be proactive and speak with the college before they get a final transcript from the school. Do not give a favorite college a surprise of a "D" or "F" because chances are, they'll surprise the student back with a letter that begins with..."We regret to inform you..." and trust me when I say that kind major change in a person's future will affect the family relationship at home.

3) Review the college website-some (not all) may require students to submit a transcript for mid year (fall semester) grades. Many schools have early deadlines for this. If your school happens to be part of LAUSD, chances are the fall semester does not end until after the college deadline has passed. Be sure to report that discrepancy to the schools so they don't assume you failed to submit required documents.

4) Placement tests. If you have applied for a Cal State school and you are not exempt from the placement exams, you must register for a placement test. You can take the placement test at a local state school so you don't have to take the test in San Jose if you live in Los Angeles. Also, register early for these tests! Some testing centers fill up quickly. I once had a student travel to San Francisco the day after his Prom because that was the only exam center and last date available to take the test. Learn from his mistake. Find out more information about the placement exams by reading the CSU Bulletin on Placement Tests.

UC Placement exams are a bit different but still require a student to demonstrate a mastery of the English language. The University of California Office of the President can offer more details. Check them out!

Are you applying to a community college? Many community colleges also require placement tests for math classes and English classes and can be found by google or perusing the school's website. The sooner a student completes the assessment, the sooner students can register for necessary and limited courses.

Students in other states would be at an advantage if they reviewed requirements for their own state or public schools and apply for these placement exams early (if available).

5) Scholarships! Yes, and students thought they were finished completing applications. There is often a misconception that most scholarships get unfunded because students do not apply. I don't believe it. I do believe that students that do not put their best foot forward on the scholarship application will not even be considered for an interview. As a scholarship committee chair for a large fund, I know that some years are better than others for scholarship applicants. One year, we got over 100 applications while in other years, much fewer students applied for our money. There are plenty of scholarships from which to choose. Sometimes a student is just lucky in the search and application process.

National search engines like scholarships.com and fastweb.com (that also offers way too much spam) are available for students to review and select scholarships from. Unfortunately, scholarships posted on those sites tend to get hundreds (or thousands) of applications from everywhere.

Often untapped are resources from the LOCAL scholarships of small business, non-profits and/or foundations for specific students in select regions. These scholarships often advertise to the local high schools, after-school programs or community centers. Hamilton High School's website has a host of scholarships for students as does the following site (just formatted a bit differently). Google can also be your friend when looking for scholarships.

Colleges and universities also have scholarship sites to peruse offering many scholarships exclusively for students applying or attending their particular school. While some of those scholarships are linked directly to the admissions application, many of them require a separate application selection process. Do some investigative work and see what's out there at your favorite school.

**Be sure to pay close attention to DEADLINES! Students, if you think you won't make a deadline for a reason beyond your control (i.e. a semester that ends incredibly late in the year) contact the college before the deadline.

At least 10% of admissions decisions are overturned (to rejections) because students fail to follow rules and deadlines. Don't let this be you.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Finding ones passion

Advice on what makes an applicant to college comes in all forms: counselors, parents, grandparents, television commercials, radio commercials, newspaper articles, expensive college coaches and of course-me.

I have the benefit and blessing of working with a diverse population of students with an array of talents. When I tell them to find what they love, it really means that...and they come back with some very interesting extracurricular activities. One student traveled to China for a video game competition, another started a literacy project with a local library, one star soccer player started coaching at the park because she was injured. My favorite, of course, is when a young person finds what they love by accident. I would like to share with you a practice essay from a student about training for and completing the Los Angeles marathon in 2011 (for the forecast on that day, one can check out local weather or check out this video or this one that captures the weather). It was tough.

When I crossed that finish line the rain pouring, my feet and hands were numb and swollen, and my heart was beating out of my chest. The day I finished my first LA marathon, the first of two, will be the day I remember for the rest of my life. I had been training for 8 months which meant months of pushing my body to its physical and mental limit and it all came down to one day. The sky was pitch black at 3 in morning as i started my morning routine as I prepped myself repeating to myself “you can do this”, “you’re definitely ready for this”, and “this is what you’ve been training for can’t give up now” but i still remember the moment I was getting out of the freeway and the school bus came into view, I turned to my mother and asked desperately if she thought i could make it, because at that moment I didn’t.

I was terrified, the air was extremely cold and clouds filled the sky as I waited at the start line at Dodger stadium, I huddled with the rest of my running mates giving each other words of encouragement. I felt my heart speed up as the gun was shot, I thought to myself this is really happening, I’m actually going to run 26.2 mile today. As I progressed to the 1 mile mark, I felt the start of rain and as the race progressed so did the rain. I was challenged to the ultimate limit, people were dropping from hypothermia because of the extremity of the weather. I was determined to finish. I met my mom every 5 miles and mid-way she had asked me if I wanted to quit. It was a turning point in my life.

I was determined to finish this, I would not give up, and I told her “I would finish even if I had to drag myself”. That was the day I proved to myself I could truly accomplish anything; it changed my life. I gained confidence and truly believed in myself. I was a completely different person after I opened up to people and seemed more at ease with myself. That day truly changed my life I had overcome even my own expectations and transformed me into who I am today.

This writer is not your typical athlete or runner. She decided to run the marathon not to add to her extracurricular activities but to accomplish a goal. I wrote more about young runners earlier in the blog. I encourage you to find what moves you, even if it seems crazy...like running a marathon. The writer of the earlier statement can be reached at cloudiski23@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on Advanced Placement...

In the last few weeks, I have had the same question from parents of incoming 10th and 11th grade students...."should my child take that AP class?" While politically, I have my own thoughts about Advanced Placement courses and the rat race that many of our students have unexpectedly jumped into, the question goes beyond my ethical perspective.  An AP class is an intense commitment.

AP courses are a new concept for many parents, even those that attended high school and university in the United States. Parents have shared their own high school experience with me and whether they took/did not take AP classes and they still got in to college X.

Times have certainly changed in the last 15-20 years in post-secondary admissions.

Research supports the position that students who participate in a rigorous course of study while in high school perform much better in college than other peers their age. Rigor to us adults (as we remember our high school career) is much different than rigor to current high school students.

I support students that choose to take the AP class over an honors or non honors class, to an extent.  If the student has the appropriate background and preparation for the class, then they certainly should have the opportunity to take the class.

Students should always have the opportunity to experience the insane intensity that is an AP course. If it's too much, then they definitely need to consider other options and drop the class.   Sometimes taking one AP course over another may not be in the best interest of the individual student (and we as adults should be able to say that).

To the parents, please allow the child the opportunity to experience it and allow them to say that it is OK or too much. From what I see, one of the big challenges parents of new high school students encounter is helping their teenager make the decision to screw up or overwhelm themselves.

Young people will have a challenging time in the future if someone else makes decisions for them and if they don't learn how to screw up, especially in high school. Making the decision to take an AP course is a very big decision for a young person. The best thing an adult can do is help their young person come to the conclusion of taking the course or not taking the course.

Now, the bigger question to pose is balance. Is there a balance in the young person's life-academically and socially? Why do people take AP classes? "To look good for college" of course! However, colleges are not only looking at a child's transcript of several AP classes, colleges also look at students that have made a contribution (of some sort) to their community, have enjoyed an Art class on the weekends, who come alive when they play the violin in front of an audience. Character comes in more that one package and is not always evident in the amount of AP classes a child takes in their high school career.

I do encourage you all to check out a previous blog post specifically on AP classes and be realistic in determining a student's abilities. Ask for guidance from a counselor, teacher, or someone else that knows not only the student well, the AP program well.

Or ask ME and I may be able to help guide you in the right direction...or at least help you ask the right questions!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Parent Workshop for 9th and 10th grade families

Are you a parent of a 9th or 10th grade student? Do you have (what seems like) hundreds of questions to ask someone about the college process? Do you wonder whether your child is taking the appropriate classes?

Stop by Hamilton High School's workshop on understanding where your child should be academically, what they should be doing off campus and how to get into college (and even the school of their choice).

9th and 10th grade parent seminar
Monday, February 27th at 7pm
Goldman Library of Hamilton High School
2955 S. Robertson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Questions? call
(310) 280-1485

Presented by Marlene Garza of Guidance by Garza.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The life learning process

In the midst of spending countless hours reading applications for students, clients and admissions, I think I forgot about this obligation that is blogging.


I was working with a client the other day with brainstorming and writing the many personal statements needed for the many schools to which she was applying. The writing prompts were so exciting for this young thirty-something year old but not to her. She showed me her list of prompts with a blank stare and words of defeat. Slowly, and after many questions posed by me in the process, we were able to tackle the list of prompts that included her writing more about herself and philosophical perspectives.

One question posed from a top school seemed a bit easier to work through; it asked the applicant to write about a time that they learned something about themselves that they did not expect to learn. Seems a bit introspective, right? For many people, this question is at the heart of psychotherapy and discovered after many hours (and dollars) of therapy.

This particular topic got me thinking about myself and about what I learn every day in my profession. In addition to my day job, I train high school students to complete the Los Angeles marathon with a program called Students Run Los Angeles.

Yes, I have run a marathon. Several times.

Thinking about this supplemental college application questions in my own life, I got to thinking about how running with these young people has changed me not only as an educator, but as a human being and as a marathoner.

I realized this last week as I sat in a marathon leader meeting with over fifty other leaders (educators-turned-marathoners) from across Los Angeles. The SRLA coordinator was speaking to us about the upcoming half marathon. Our 3,000 students would be running with many other community runners and our student runners needed to put into practice the many lectures pertaining to "Runner's Etiquette" that have been instilled since the beginning of the season. He went on to mention that there have been complaints in the past to race directors about the challenges with having students run the races with other community runners.

I thought about my last marathon that didn't include my team of high school runners. I traveled to the bay area for one of my favorite races in one of my favorite cities in California, San Francisco. I wanted to PR at the race. I hoped for cool weather. I hoped for well trained running legs. I hoped for happy faces and sweet swag. Mostly, I got that.

My biggest challenge on the course whilst running was weaving through runners along narrow (and sometimes not so narrow) running paths. Runners were socializing and running in "walls" or groups of more than four or five runners wide, making it incredibly challenging for others to pass. They walked through the water stations and one runner dumped half of her water out nearly splashing my shoes. Walkers chose to walk right in the middle of a narrow path rather than walk to the right (as is proper running etiquette).

I thought of my kids. I thought about how much I drill into their fast-paced teenage heads that they cannot run in groups because it blocks other runners. I drill into their head about running sans both earbuds in their ears so they can hear other runners on the course (they know the routine as I run by with my "one ear!" statement while pointing to my one bud-less ear).

I remember how frequently I remind the young people at the beginning of the season to walk to the right during our runs if they choose to take a break on the course. I think about how less frequently I need to say it and how more frequently I say "thank you for walking to the right" as we approach marathon day. I remember how often I hear "thank you" from my runners to police officers blocking the roads from cars, or to volunteers at water stations on race day or to parents out with us during practice.

I remember how supportive they are to each other along the course. I think about how pumped they are after completing a milestone in training. I think about how much energy fills their weekly runners journals about what they loved/hated about the runs and what they look forward to in future training.

Training for a marathon changes everything about a person, from eating habits to goal setting, from perspective to humor. The teenager in September will be an incredibly different person in March. They complete 26.2 miles, a feat not accomplished by more than 1% of the U.S. population and yet these young people are not quite welcomed into the runners community and I wonder why.

It's because they are teenagers. Not everyone likes teenagers. Frankly, many people are just annoyed with the immaturity, the lack of impulse control and the fact that they don't always have their shit together.

Working with teenagers takes patience.

They are in complete learning mode, even if it is at a starting line for a marathon. Teenagers absorb everything, they eat up compliments, love the support and get hurt/defensive when adults (or their peers) are mean to them.

And they screw up. A lot.

I have to remember how much I screwed up in high school in order to be a bit empathetic. It takes a while to dig into the memories but I sometimes have to.

I wonder if other adult marathoners wonder about the progression these young people have made in their lives in order to get to that starting line. I contemplate if the adults can comprehend the adrenaline running through these young students already pumped bodies as they stand in line with the thousands of other runners. Drastic changes have been made in diet, life choices, training expectations, study habits and friendships, just because running a marathon is now so attainable to them.

They are teenagers. Imagine the growth potential after this feat!

One of my students still has no idea what he wants to do with his life. He's a junior in high school. He loves to run and loves Biology. He knows he can run a marathon. He somehow wants to incorporate these things into the rest of his life. Running the marathon for the first time last year changed his life. It changed his entire family's life. He marches forward, okay with the uncertainty of his future but knowing that it will work out. He is one of my thirty-nine this year. And one of over 100 runners I have worked with through SRLA in the last six years.

Running the LA marathon alone for the first time was an experience. Running with these young people has transformed me. I want to be better. I want to eat healthier. I want to treat people better. These teenagers watch my every move. They learn from me. They learn how to say "excuse me" to pedestrians and how to say "good morning" to the couple walking their dog along the same street we are running on. They wave an appreciative hand to the car that yields to them in the cross walk.

I want to know as much as possible about running to share with these young people. I want to perfect my running form because it's what I expect from my runners. They take everything in from training like a sponge and speak a mile a minute to their parents and adults about workouts, how sore they are from practice or how many miles they completed on Sunday morning. They walk the halls of school with a newfound sense of confidence after another set of miles has been logged into their training journal.

They are part of the running community now just as much as I am. These young people are hungry for more running and they are just as serious about marathon training as the adults I know in the community. They yearn to better their performance and to better their life. They seek to learn more and I am so excited to teach them because we are part of that exclusive marathoners "club." It's my responsibility as an adult to be this source of education for young people outside the confines of a school. These young people are not born with the tools to succeed or the confidence to become great. It's a learned skill. If I'm not helping them learn how to be a better person, who will?

I never realized how much this program has changed my life until last week when my two worlds collided in my head. Who would have thought that a prompt for a personal statement on someone else's college application would inspire me to think and write about the unexpected learning about myself?

*raises hand*

I now ask you, can you think of a time where you learned something from a place or person that you were not expecting?