Four soon-to-be graduates of the Berlin High School Class of 2017 sat down with Mr. Hutchinson, Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment, to share details about their post-graduation plans, as well as how the opportunities provided by Berlin CSD, their teachers and their parents made huge differences in their lives.

Below is a brief article written by Mr. Hutchinson after interviewing BHS seniors Alex Flowers, Ioann Popov, Samantha Hebert and Jesse Davis. Keep reading to find out a student’s perspective on what makes Berlin CSD a great school district.

This month I was fortunate enough to find some time to sit with a few of our current Berlin Seniors. This conversation initially sprouted from the February Round Table discussion with the Board of Education regarding the new New York State Science Standards and the approach to Project-Based Learning that we embrace at all levels of instruction in the Berlin Central School District (BCSD). Though this is where the conversation began, after speaking at length with each of the following students, I was pleasantly surprised that there is so much more that we offer as a school district. This can be gleaned from what the students see, understand, and express appreciation for about their lives both in the school and in the larger community beyond the school.

To begin, let me introduce each of these four students for their merits and their accomplishments. I will discuss each of them in the order in which I was able to meet with them.

The first of these students is a young man named Alex Flowers. Alex is eighteen years old and, since our initial discussion, has learned that he will be the Salutatorian at this year’s graduation ceremony, having attained the second highest GPA in the graduating class. Alex is a college-bound student, supported and encouraged by his parents to dream big and work hard. He is a very practical young man who applied to fifteen colleges across the country and was accepted to twelve of them, with two applications still awaiting response from the colleges’ Registrars. His goal is to major in Mathematics with a focus on Data, or Statistical Science. Ultimately, he hopes to work in the field of education, finding ways to make student data more accessible in order to make educational systems more productive, more efficient, and more fulfilling for students. Ironically, perhaps, it was not until he began to study for the SAT and the ACT (both college acceptance exams) that he was certain of his primary focus. It was in studying for these, in reviewing the fundamentals of Mathematics, that he truly fell in love with numbers. According to Alex, “It was the review of fundamentals in relation to the application [of Mathematics]” that he made this personal discovery.

Alex lives at home with his mom and dad. His dad is a data analyst, while his mom is at home, “always there,” according to Alex. While dad certainly lent his tendencies to Alex regarding the appreciation of data analytics, mom fostered in him a sense of the “esoteric.” According to Alex, he and his mom “spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the big picture and the world” we all inhabit together. It is clear to me from speaking to this young man that he not only understands the world he lives in, but also has a deep and abiding appreciation of it. In our conversation it became a clear trend of his to credit those he loves and appreciates. A reflective young man, I am sure that Alex will do very well in any endeavor he chooses. Certainly those with whom he chooses to associate will be enriched for having known him.

The second student with whom I had the pleasure of speaking, Ioann Popov, has the distinct honor of being this year’s Valedictorian. Besides being a great, thoughtful, and analytical young man himself, Ioann is also Alex Flowers’ best friend. This relationship brings me to the first trend I see among all the students to whom I spoke for this article. The relationships that the students have with their peers seems to play an incredibly important role in each of these young Mountaineer’s respective successes.

Ioann is a Russian immigrant, born in Israel. He moved to the U.S., to New York City to be precise, in the year 2000 when he was just two years old. From there he moved to Rotterdam and then to Berlin where he attended elementary school in Grafton prior to the merger with the Berlin Elementary School. As with Alex, Ioann gives a lot of credit to the support he received from his parents. “I do all my homework without exception,” he says. “I can’t enjoy anything if the work isn’t done first. I don’t like that feeling of the pressure to get it done.” Ioann and Alex both expressed to me that a sense of work ethic matters. In fact, work ethic is another common theme of all four students with whom I spoke.

In the fall, Ioann will be the latest Berlin graduate to attend an Ivy League school when he attends Yale University. This being said, Ioann was accepted to other colleges and institutions but has chosen Yale because he feels it will give him the best opportunity for diversity and personal growth. “My vision for my undergraduate [program] is to learn to think more.” This desire to expand his thinking he attributes to the programs and teachers in the Berlin School District. “All of the Science Department always treated me as an equal,” he said. “They never talk down to me.” As with Alex, Ioann is math minded. When I asked him which teachers had the biggest impact on him, his list was rather extensive. Mr. Christian, because of his approach to learning, which is “entirely experiential”; Mr. Mellor, for much the same reason; Mr. Cornell, who “would not spoon feed you;” Mrs. Kabir, who provided the reasoning behind grammar; Mrs. Lamontagne, who pushed critical, active reading and taught the students to revise, revise, revise; and the list goes on–Mr. Fisher, Mr. Gould, Mr. Santarcangelo, and so on. Frankly, I think that Ioann was able to find specific and important reasons for nearly every teacher that he had at while at the Berlin High School.

I asked Ioann, who will be traveling to Chicago for the Masterminds Tournament with Alex and four other bright young BCSD students, if he had any advice for those students who will follow him through our excellent educational system. “Practice makes you better,” he said. He would also like to remind the younger students, as well as his contemporaries, that “the people who work here, without exception–everyone truly cares.”

The third student with whom I met in preparation for this piece is a young lady named Samantha Hebert. Samantha, also a senior and also college-bound, applied to six schools and was accepted to each of them with the exception of Clark. She is pursuing Biochemistry and Forensics and has the difficult decision of choosing between SUNY Potsdam, Canisius, or the University of Maine, as these were her top three schools. Once she has completed her undergraduate degree, she intends to continue on to medical school for Forensic Pathology. Samantha, “Sam,” got enticed into this field by shows like NCIS and CSI when she was younger.

Sam lives with her mother and four cats in Stephentown, where she attended elementary school. She attributes her love of science to her early experiences there, specifically the Science Fair. This love of Science was further nurtured by Mrs. Vanderhoef because she encouraged experiential and inquiry-based learning. Admittedly shy, Sam recognizes how the
support she received from her teachers has impacted her development. As a junior, she was an integral part of the all-girls InvenTeam that won a patent on their invention to provide access to Physical Education classes for students with restricted movement. Mrs. Wetmore, another positive influence on Sam, is the advisor for this club. Both teachers spoke to me about the respect they have for this young lady. Neither is surprised by her continued success, nor do they have any doubts that Sam will continue to be successful throughout her life. Through her school experiences, Samantha seems to have identified both her own interpersonal tendencies as well as ways that she can (and has) challenged herself to move beyond her tendencies into more public realms where she has proven her strengths and aptitudes in rather highly public ways. Sam was raised to believe in herself, to be confident, but not braggadocious, and to value relationships and responsibilities. In many ways, she is very much like the two boys discussed earlier, but in many ways she is very different. When I asked Sam if she had any advice for the underclassmen at Berlin, she offered this wisdom: “Expect failure; it’s going to happen. It’s what you do with that failure that defines who you are.” She attributes this sense of resilience with what she learned while attending the Congress of Future Scientists and Technicians at Boston College, another opportunity she received as a result of her education in Berlin Central Schools.

The fourth and final student profiled in this piece illustrates most profoundly the trends that have created success with this cohort of Berlin students mainly because his approach to his post-secondary plans is so vastly different than the others.

Jesse Davis is from Petersburg, where he lives with his mom and dad. He describes them both as hard-working and entrepreneurial. A young man of few words, he spoke with relative enthusiasm about his parents, who own a flooring store and a gun store. He described his parents as “self-starters” and expressed that hard work was the core value around which he was raised. Jesse will be attending the University of Northwestern Ohio in the fall, where he will be studying High Performance Motorsports. Jesse admits that he did not find school anything but an obligation until his Junior year. It was at this time that he had an epiphany–he needed to do something other than “blow [school] off.”

Jesse attends the Automotive Technologies Career & Technical Education program through Questar III. In my day, we called this VOTEC. Jesse makes a really profound argument for vocational education, an educational opportunity that had gone largely under-appreciated through most of the last decade and a half. This program has provided Jesse with an internship where he could learn the inner workings of the business model needed for successful entrepreneurial enterprises while getting hands-on experience working with automotives.

Jesse tells a story of a kid who loves his parents, loves working with his dad, who was once a drag racer, and loves getting his hands dirty. His story is one where a kid grows into himself, into his interests, and is not grown into them by an outside force. He was disinterested in traditional academics, unlike the three other students, and it wasn’t until the system met his interests that he became interested in the system. Now, as a Senior, however, Jesse does recognize the support and assistance he received from teachers like Mrs. Vanderhoef, Mrs. Gilbert, Mr. Connolly, and Mr. Fisher, who worked with him to help him understand the importance of traditional schooling. Still, Jesse is an atypical student, if the definition of a “typical student” includes homework and studying. I highlight Jesse as our last student because he challenges this definition, but in this challenge of what makes a student, he also helps to define what makes a successful student.

When we look at each of these young people, each with his or her own aspirations and own accomplishments, we can see a picture develop. I think this picture is the real picture of what Berlin Schools is all about. As parents, if you give us your children, we will build connections with them, beginning as early as elementary school. We will offer them ways to discover their own interests and practice their own skills. We will cultivate relationships of support and express to them our caring. We will tirelessly search for ways for them–ways to engage, to embrace, to explore, to achieve, to succeed–regardless of what path they may choose to follow. We are a flexible school district, filled with teachers who are willing to go the extra mile, and never quit on a kid (even if he or she is in the Junior year and still hasn’t found a way). Berlin Schools is a dedicated place, dedicated to kids and all they bring to the table.

There is another consideration, however, and it is evident in each of the stories these students have to tell. These students from diverse backgrounds each have a story to tell, regardless of whether they have one parent, working hard to make ends meet, or two parents whose self-sufficiency is what feeds the family–each of these students shares at least one very important thing in common. Each one of them has learned the value of hard work and persistence from a parent, or parents, who supported them by insisting that they give it–whatever it may be and however it may be defined–absolutely every ounce of energy, every measure of success that it takes until it is finally done, and done well.

The Berlin School District is a great place to educate your kids (we placed 35 out of hundreds of other schools in New York for our SAT scores, after all), but the causality behind our strength is dependent on two primary factors. First, we have great people, and second, we have great parents. When Dr. Allain offered a rally cry in September of this year that “we are all in this together,” what shemeant, I suppose, is that we are all –teachers, parents, staff, administrators…everyone–we are ALL in this together!