Grads getting head start on life

Graduations are beginning to take place around The City. And while we celebrate our high school graduates, we also know that what happens next for our youths is one of the most important tests of how well our education system has worked for them.

While the path to success looks different for everyone — and sometimes it is a long and winding road — we know that it is our responsibility to help prepare our students with the skills and dispositions that will help them on their journeys.

When I visit our high schools and witness firsthand the intelligence and creativity of our students and those who teach them, I am extremely hopeful. What follows are just a few examples of how our high school students have been getting ready for life after high school.

Having a point and making it

In my job, I face tough questions — and am expected to have data at my fingertips to back up my answers — all the time. But there are students who actually do it for fun! The San Francisco Unified School District has a small but growing contingent in the Bay Area Urban Debate League, where they learn the competitive debate style called policy debate, meaning teams take turns presenting their arguments and counterarguments on a topic within a limited time. The pressure is incredible. And this year, students from Balboa High School and June Jordan School for Equity beat out other Bay Area students in the junior varsity division of the organization’s league championship.

Persistence in and out of the kitchen

Everybody likes to watch those chef competition shows on TV, but how many of us get up and do it? Four students at the new culinary arts and management class at O’Connell High School not only created a three-dish menu for the state Pro-Start Cup competition, but they prepared it in one hour from scratch. Turns out they didn’t make it to the national competition. But you know what they did on their long ride home from Los Angeles? They created a PowerPoint of the whole competition and started planning their strategy for next year, including a business plan and presentation. These kids are going places.

Scientific thinking

The Lincoln High School Biotechnology and Green Academy students got together and dug into some tortilla chips. Not to eat them, but to see their DNA. It was a science lab to find out if some common snack foods include the DNA from genetically modified organisms. When they finished the lab, the kids in biotechnology had gained valuable data for an upcoming International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation synthetic biology competition at Stanford and MIT. And kids in the Green Academy presentation discussed how GMOs in food might affect humans and the earth. This is 21st-century learning in action.

Helping others

Did you know that Burton High School helps low-income residents file their taxes for free? Students in the Finance Academy are certified to prepare tax returns and open an actual office for community members to come in and get help filling out their returns. This year, Finance Academy students from Burton served 35 residents, finding more than $68,000 in tax refunds.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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