This spring, however, Patterson High School students — along with leagues of other students across the county — will have a chance to cap off their four-year run with a memorable moment, as they vie for the opportunity to host President Obama as their commencement speaker.
A joint effort by the White House and the Department of Education, the Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge is a competition to encourage public school students to show how their school promotes personal responsibility, academic excellence and college readiness via a two-minute video and four essay questions.
Patterson High School is among more than 1,000 schools — many of whose videos are already streamed on YouTube — to take part in the inaugural launch as of the March 15 application deadline, according to the Department of Education.
“It isn’t very often that world leaders decide to come and speak at a high school graduation,” said PHS senior Ignacio Llamas, one of six students who wrote, filmed and edited the entered video. “And who could be better to come and speak than the president? We just couldn’t pass up the chance.”
The group’s mentor and history teacher, Jesus Mendoza, beamed as he described his students’ dedication to the project, especially how they applied some of his lessons on campaigning in the video.
“This was definitely all them,” Mendoza said. “The students did all the research, put in the long hours to meet deadlines, and learned how to work together. I’m so proud — they put together a quality product that will be seen by basically the whole country.”
In the video, the students present Patterson High as a diverse, “tight-knit rural school” that is the embodiment of the president’s “change” message. An increase in graduation rates and SAT scores, higher enrollment in Advanced Placement courses and more students planning to attend college are evidence of the school’s present and future educational successes, the students said.
“It’s so cool that we were able be part of something like this — to say we participated in one of the first competitions like this a president has offered,” said senior Alejandra Zeja, who also worked on the video. “Now it’s just about waiting. If we actually get this, it would be crazy.”
Six finalists will be selected by the White House and Department of Education and will be featured on the White House Web site. From there, the public will vote for the three schools they think most fully meet the president’s goal of showcasing “the best” the nation’s education system has to offer.