Commentary: Bullitt Co. superintendent works to get eighth graders thinking about their "potential energy," starting with the college, career choices they make

Pioneer-News, Shepherdsville, Feb. 27, 2017

Moving Forward
Energy in schools - Potential versus kinetic
by BCPS Superintendent Keith Davis

Most readers will know that to say “potential energy” is another way of saying “stored” energy, like when you turn the propeller on the balsa wood rubber band powered plane until it is so twisted it is getting ready to break.

To turn it into kinetic energy, one just has to let go and away the plane soars.

During the last couple of weeks, I had my yearly opportunity to speak to our 8th grade class at all six middle schools.

That adds up to just over a thousand 13- or 14-year-old young men and women.

They are the only group that I speak with as a class, and that is on purpose.

They stand on the edge between childhood and adulthood and are the very embodiment of potential energy. They are the rubber band twisted to the limit and they are ready to soar.

Can you, the reader, remember what it was like to be getting ready to go to high school? I didn’t go to a middle school; we were simply the oldest elementary students in the school.

I don’t recall anyone talking to us about anything.

I remember that we had an “open house” the week before the start of 9th grade, where we were given our schedule of classes, were talked to by the assistant principal about how to behave, and then we were released to wander the halls to try to find our classrooms in preparation for the next week.

My friends and I had heard all about swirlies (nobody got one), and getting locked in lockers (didn’t happen), and even that there was a swimming pool under the gym floor (there wasn’t).

We didn’t know who picked our classes or why. We pretty much just did as we were told. In short, there wasn’t a great deal of excitement, but mostly worry. The future wasn’t on the radar in any real sense.

It is a lot different now.

The reason I pick the 8th graders is because, in Bullitt County, this is the point where the choices really start to get real.

Today’s incoming freshmen are faced with more choices at 14 than most of us faced at 18 or 21. The paths they choose, though not permanent, can have a profound effect on their lives.

I tell them clearly that their decisions in the next few weeks can have very real consequences on their future work lives, on their future happiness, and on their ability to afford the things they want.

Our current 8th graders can, for example, choose to enroll in a college preparatory course sequence, with a lot of dual-college-credit opportunities and Advanced Placement coursework that will allow them to walk into a highly competitive university armed with the ability to compete with anyone.

Or, they can pursue a slightly less rigorous college prep pathway, that definitely prepares them, but leaves a little more time to pursue other interests, maybe in the arts, technology, or work during their high school careers.

Maybe, the want to really push and apply to the Bullitt Advanced Math and Science program and have two years of college and two Associates degrees paid for and completed before they graduate high school.

Perhaps they want to own a Heating and Air business, or oversee the robotics systems in a manufacturing plant, become a nurse, a pilot, or a building contractor; if so, they may wish to apply for the Career Readiness Center and pursue a variety of career pathways which will lead to internships, additional post-secondary education, or apprenticeships and then to very lucrative careers.

They can do any of these things right in a school district that has continually sought to increase the options and opportunities for our students and meet the workforce needs of our community.

And, if they don’t see an item on the very large menu, we want them to ask for what they want and we will do everything in our power to make a program that suits them.

The choices they make now truly can change their family tree. I tell the 8th graders that if they are from a poor family, it makes no difference.

There are ways available to do whatever they want to do in America.

I also tell them that if they are from a wealthy family, there are no guarantees for their own children unless they take advantage of the opportunities before them.

My big ending message is that the responsibility for their ultimate success or failure rests not with me, or with their teachers, or their parents, or you, or anyone else. It rests with each of them as an individual.

Our community has determined to provide a tremendous source of opportunity and, like the farmer, we can lead the horses to water.

It is up to them, with our continued prodding and guidance, to deeply drink of the opportunities before them.

I hope that they were listening and that they all find the means to convert all that limitless potential energy into real kinetic action that provides them with a prosperous and fulfilling life.

Keith Davis is superintendent of the Bullitt County Public Schools.

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