Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Value of Making Mistakes: 2016 Valedictory Speech

UCHS 2016 Valedictorian Lydia Soifer was kind enough to share with us her inspiring speech, delivered at the May 18th graduation ceremony.  Lydia attended U. City Schools for 13 years, beginning with kindergarten at Jackson Park Elementary.  She will be attending Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina this fall, studying  biological sciences. 

All of us have gone through thirteen years of school to make it to this point. At times it was great — we succeeded by getting a good grade or pulling our grade up after studying really hard for a final. But at other times the journey was a bit rougher. Maybe you didn’t quite get the grade you had hoped for or maybe there were things going on outside of school that made it difficult to get homework done. Either way, at these rough times we are faced with potential failure.

About a month ago, I stumbled upon a quote that stood out to me, as it was describing a predicament I see myself facing on a regular basis. It was a quote by Eckhart Tolle, “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” For me, this quote applies to almost every aspect of life. In school, is it better to challenge myself even though I might fail, or should I take the easier route for guaranteed success? When I am in ballet class, should I try a triple turn and fall, or should I stick to a double because I know I can do one? In piano, should I practice even though I know I will fail the first few times, or should I continue to put off working on a hard piece because I am afraid I will never succeed? In each of these scenarios, the option that will result in improvement is the challenge, the option that might lead to failure.

Every single one of us has been faced with options such as these. None of us like to make the decision because the right choice requires us to step outside our comfort zone. We have to challenge ourselves even though it is difficult and may seem impossible because the difference between failure and success is not what distinguishes between a successful and unsuccessful person — what determines the difference is how we fail. One option is to give up, but this is no better than immediate success. We don’t learn anything, we don’t push ourselves, we don’t challenge ourselves to do better. The other option is to analyze our failure, figure out why we failed and how we can do better next time, and then, despite the fear of not succeeding, picking ourselves up and trying again. Maybe we will be successful the second time, but maybe we will fail again. We might even fail ten more times before we succeed, but each failure can teach us a lesson about ourselves. Whether it be learning a technique in art class or learning that if you think positively, you are more likely to make a successful pass in a football game, each failure can let us know how we can improve and eventually succeed.

As all of us leave U. City, we will find ourselves faced with many decisions, some of which will lead to immediate success and some which might lead to failure the first few times. We might be faced with the decision of whether or not to take the harder class in college, or we might have to decide whether or not to take a job that will push our skills beyond their current limit. At these critical points in our lives, we must remember that it is okay to fail. As we take the next step into life, we will be presented with many challenges, defeats, and failures. But these are not what marks our success. That is determined by our ability to take those challenges at which we did not succeed the first time, turn them around, and make them into successes which we can say we are proud of.

Thank you for your wise words Lydia, and best of luck to you in all of your future endeavors!  We know you will continue to make U. City proud!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Barry Williams: A Student's Tribute

Here on the "Say Yes to U. City Schools" blog we love to talk about our fantastic students, teachers, and programs. Today we have a story that combines all three: a touching Facebook tribute to a former Brittany Woods Middle School teacher from a student whose life was profoundly affected by the robotics program he started. 

Science teacher Barry Williams served in the district from 2000 until his retirement in 2013, with four years as the science department head. In 2009 he started the district's first FIRST robotics program, the Soaring Eagles FLL team. Since then the program has grown and spread, and hundreds of U. City students have benefited. 

One of those students, UCHS 2015 graduate Walter Deitzler, took to Facebook in 2013 to talk about how Mr. Williams influenced him:

"June 7, 2013
Today I played guitar at the retirement ceremony of the single, most influential teacher in my life, Mr. Barry Williams. Many, if not all of you, know that I am addicted to robotics, Mr. Williams is the teacher that influenced all of this. Before 7th grade, I knew that I wanted to go into a STEM field, but was not sure what exactly I wanted to do. Then, I joined Mr. Williams' FIRST Lego League robotics team, and ever since my life has been changed. He had a passion for us doing robotics. If we wanted to meet before school, he would be there bright and early to let us into the lab. He would allow us into his room at lunch to build robots, and on top of that, we would have our meetings after school for 2-3 hours each day. On Saturdays he would arrange for the school to be open so that we could build robots for another 6-8 hours. In 8th grade, he was my Science teacher, and allowed us to build our robots for FLL in his class. He led us to victory in every single qualifier that we ever attended, and we had reasonable success at St. Louis area championships, both years I was in his program. He nurtured my passion for science, and made me the budding young mechanical engineer I am. he will be sorely missed in the district.
Thank you Mr. Williams!"

Mr. Williams passed away earlier this year, and now Walter is a mechanical and aerospace engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville

. Once again he took to Facebook to remember Mr. Williams and his impact:

"June 7, 2016 
Mr. Williams passed away earlier this year. He had a large impact on all of those he taught, and especially me. He dedicated all of his free time to inspiring students to go into STEM, and was just a great all around teacher."
Rest in peace Mr. Williams."

Barry Williams was just one of many, many excellent and dedicated teachers we are so fortunate to have here in U. City.  These individuals make a lasting impact on our students each and every day, and we are grateful.